By Elliot Connie
No one likes to talk about problems with their love partner. That’s not surprising, because problem-focused talk starts with a negative statement and assumption: We have a problem.
For many years, I’ve been working with couples and training couples’ therapists using a different approach. It’s called solution-focused communication. When we turn problem-focused talk on its head and look to find a solution instead, the results are dramatic, positive and surprisingly quick.
The next time your partner says, “Honey, we need to talk,” see if you can steer the conversation in an upbeat, solution-focused direction. Here are five ways to do it:
1. Discuss it as a goal, not a challenge: When you partner says, “I’m not happy when you do XYZ,” gently suggest to him or her that you could talk about ways to make things better. Discuss the issue in terms of a goal–what you both like, what makes you happy. When you begin the conversation with goals, it gets both partners thinking about solutions, possibilities and opportunities for change.
2. Notice “did wells” and “did rights”: Sometimes when we get into a negative pattern with our partners, it’s too easy to notice all the things we don’t like–pet peeves, annoying habits, even his or her tone of voice. See if you can think back over the last few days and name some things your partner did well and got right. Maybe he reminded you about your doctor’s appointment, or she took the time to fix you breakfast. Share these observations with each other. Doing so helps each partner feel noticed, valued and appreciated.
3. Establish a true partnership: In business, people are assigned to the specific jobs for which they are best qualified. Couples who divide their roles in terms of who is equipped to do the job better have fewer problems in their relationships. Talk to your partner about what you’re each good at (your strengths) and what you’re not so good at (your weaknesses). Then match the household jobs with your respective strengths. This will create an effective and high-functioning relationship dynamic that brings out the best in both people–and minimizes conflict.
4. Recall your honeymoon phase: Couples spend a lot more time talking about conflicts and problems than they do about all the qualities that made them fall in love with each other in the first place. Sit down with each other and retell the story of how you first met. Try to remember details from those first few months–everything that surprised and delighted you. Having this conversation will stimulate many good ideas and feelings.
Related: 7 Ways to Know If It’s Really Love
5. Continue to date: Remember what it was like to date your partner? Maybe he brought you your favorite take-out. Or she wore that dress you loved. When you were dating, both of you said and did things to make each other happy. It’s simple to get out of a relationship rut by reintroducing some of those early behaviors, from kissing each other when you leave for work in the morning, to sending the occasional love text, to surprising your partner with a night out. The key is to do these romantic things daily and regularly.
Elliott Connie is a best-selling author, well-known relationship therapist, and an internationally known speaker and teacher who trains clinicians in Solution-Focused Brief Therapy around the world. His newest book is The Solution-Focused Marriage (2013). Learn more at www.elliottspeaks.com.