The Perpetual Problem in Relationships

Do you seem to have the same fight over and over with your partner? You’re not alone. I will never forget this statistic from graduate school: 69% of problems in a relationship are "perpetual problems," or problems that never go away. It's easy to think that all problems can be solved and put to bed in tidy fashion. But when it comes to relationships, forget about it.

According to researchers Drs. John and Julie Gottman, only 31% of problems in relationships are "resolvable" problems. The rest--the 69%--are problems that keep coming up over and over, resulting in couples repeating the same argument.  

These perpetual problems in relationships, the Gottmans say, are rooted in fundamental differences in personality or lifestyle needs. This could include you and your partner having differences in approaching finances, disciplining children, or deciding the right amount of time to spend together. 

If these problems don't go away, how do you deal with them? Here are some tips to help you manage these conflicts:

  1. According to the Gottmans, it is critical to establish a dialogue about the perpetual problem. The goal isn't to "solve" the problem per say, but to better understand your partner's position. Try to figure out what is behind it--what your partner's position means to him/her, whether there is a dream or goal underneath, whether there are ties to old stories or childhood memories.
  2. Don't make assumptions in your relationship. In my work with clients, I see this frequently. It's easy to assume that your partner already knows everything about your position, and vice versa. Challenge this. Get curious and creative. What haven't you already asked and/or shared? Have you listened carefully in previous discussions? Typically the conversation can go deeper.
  3. Let go of trying to convince your partner you are right and they are wrong. When you talk to your partner, it is important not to criticize, but it's also important to stop trying to convince your partner that he/she is wrong. Your partner may see your convincing as criticism, which can make things worse. And it takes a lot of energy to try to convince and change someone else. When you let go of the energy wrapped up in trying to change your partner, notice what that frees up.

The goal is not to make the perpetual problem in your relationship go away forever. The nature of perpetual problems is that they will rear their heads over and over again. The goal is to better understand your partner, honor each other, and try to make space for each person to realize goals and dreams. Need help with your perpetual problem? Reach out to me today and I can help you both figure out how to manage your conflict.