Friday, June 7, 2013

Exterminating Relationship Bugs

I heard a story once about someone running a classified ad with the title, "100% Guaranteed Bug Eliminator.  Only $5."

Turns out that what was mailed to gullible customers was simply two wooden blocks with the following instructions:

1) Place bug 1 on block A.
2) Press block B firmly on block A.
3) Repeat with bug 2, etc.

While that may not work for household pests, it may serve as a model for dealing with relationship conflicts. In other words, start by clearly identifying what's "bugging" the partnership, and then attack the problem (the "it") rather than the other person.

In marriage counseling I often recommend partners holding regular couple's meetings for the sole purpose of addressing their problems. Here they make whatever progress possible in resolving them, and then file any unresolved ones until their next weekly or bi-weekly meeting. In that way they can spend more of the rest of their time in their "problem free area," keeping unsolved problems filed for future sessions.

Here's an outline of some steps a couple could follow:

1. Share compliments and appreciations.

2. Review any unfinished business from past meetings.

3. Review calendar and do necessary scheduling, including planning some good "problem-free" activities together.

4. Discuss any financial issues, take care of paying bills, etc.

5. Agree on priority problems, then address one item or problem at a time, as follows:

    a. First discuss the issue in terms of each of your underlying interests (why this is important?). Delay stating your position (what you feel should be done).

    b. Throughout, always take turns being the speaker and the listener. When you are the listener, make sure you fully understand the other before you take your turn to speak.

    c. Take time to brainstorm possible solutions, generating as many new options as possible (no evaluating or critiquing during this part of the process).

    d. After discussing some of the more agreeable options you've put on the table, decide by consensus. If you can't come up with a win-win solution, delay making a decision, or just agree on an interim solution (or decide to see a mediator or counselor for help). Remember, no agreement needs to be set in stone for all time, but will be honored until it is reviewed and changed.

    e. Decide how and by whom a decision is to be carried out, and what will happen if it isn’t. To avoid misunderstanding, you may want to put both the agreement and any friendly, agreed on a reasonable and friendly “consequence-for-not-following-through” you put in writing.

6. Decide on a time for your next couple’s meeting, and who will be responsible for making sure it happens (Of course, either can respectfully ask for a special meeting at any time).

7. Keep it under an hour, and end with some activity you both enjoy.

A step by step example of this kind of couple's meeting can be found in chapter 11 of my book, "Lasting Marriage: The Owners' Manual."
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