Got a Problem to Solve?


Got a Problem?

Families and couples often come in with many problems to solve, stuff that’s built up over time, and they want to solve it all in the first session. Reality check: We’re going to start with the most pressing problem first, and solve one problem at a time. That’s ONE at a time.


First, (and this is important, folks), problem-solving is NOT the same thing as venting. They are two separate things, and should be done separately. Problem-solving when you are angry is a sure-fire way to fail at it. So, vent feelings first. Once you vent and feel heard by the other(s), and are in an emotionally calm space, only then can you move to problem-solving.


A pen, some paper, and an open mind.


Ask the other person(s) involved if this is a good time for them to do problem-solving. If it is NOT a good time, make an appointment with them, and choose a time that is more likely to be less stressful (i.e., not the minute they get home from a long day at work). Problem-solving should be done when all parties are sober.


Name the problem, and be specific. Choose only ONE problem to solve. (This is one of the hardest things to do during this process…stick to only ONE problem. Try to stay focused on just the one problem first introduced.)


Make a list of every single option you can think of which might be a solution to the problem. In this step, DON’T EVALUATE or judge the options or give an opinion about whether you think they will work or not. JUST list them, as many as you and the others can think of, no matter how unrealistic they may seem at first.


Once you have exhausted all the possible options, go back and write the pros and cons of EACH option. Each person involved is allowed to say what, to them, are the pros and cons of each option.


Come to an agreement on which option looks the best at this time, and choose it. Reality check: There is seldom “THE IDEAL” option; there is only the best option available for this time and this place and whatever other limitations exist right now.


After choosing an option, decide how you and the other(s) will implement it. Decide who will do what/when/etc., and write it down. Decide on a trial time. In other words, how long will you try this option? A week? A month? Until it no longer works?


Put the option you chose into effect. After the agreed time, meet again and evaluate how well it’s working. If it is working, great…keep it up. If it is not working, STOP doing it. Go back to step three, and re-evaluate the other options or come up with more options. Also consider whether your chosen option just needs to be slightly tweaked in order to be effective, and make those small corrections, and see how that works.


When problem-solving fails, THIS is usually why:


  1. We try to do it when we are tired, angry, discouraged, or rushed.
  2. We confuse problem-solving with venting feelings.
  3. We don’t stick to ONE problem during the problem-solving process. We keep bringing up new problems during the process, which bogs the process down and derails it.
  4. We criticize options that are suggested during step 3, and the other people involved feel discouraged or hurt by this.
  5. We don’t let everyone (who is a party to this problem) participate in the process.
  6. We let people who are NOT a party to the problem get involved. Boundary setting is important here.
  7. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Sometimes decisions are made without every participant being “on board” (agreeing to it). Excluded participants may try to sabotage the plan once it is put into place if they did not feel like they were a legitimate part of the process.
  8. If the first option tried doesn’t work, we give up and throw out the whole process, saying problem-solving “doesn’t work.”

If your continued efforts at problem-solving are not working, try to identify which of the above you are doing and make a commitment to stop doing it.





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