How to Work Through Major Problems

Most of us are fairly good at working through minor problems, which are common in every relationship. But when we have those major conflicts, we often don’t have the right kind of tools to communicate our way through them. 

What a lot of couples end up doing is stockpiling their problems instead of resolving them. And so, when future conflicts arise, what comes out are reruns from those stockpiled problems – eventually leading to resentment and some emotional drifting. 

Here are five steps to help you work through major problems:

1. Focus on the person, not the problem

Where we mess up is that we are focusing on the person, not the problem. We get into this knee-jerk reaction. When we focus on the other person, things can really flare up. 

2. Keep your emotions in check.

When your emotions get triggered, you allow that intensity to keep rising, and if you keep communicating around that intensity, you’re not getting anywhere. Once you’re feeling that intensity, take a few deep breaths immediately to calm your physiological system. 

Fear or anger is actually a secondary emotion to something that might be a little bit deeper, and the primary emotions are generally underneath. Get hold of your emotions and figure out what you’re really feeling and then express that. 

For instance, instead of saying you’re angry, say you’re feeling pressured. This way, you’re infusing respect into the conversation. It’s more controlled so it brings the other person’s defensiveness down.

3. Use the “I” terminology to express your thoughts and feelings.

“You” statements are inflammatory. But when you begin statements with “I think” or “I feel,” your partner is less likely to be defensive and it slows things down. 

It shows the other person that you’re reflecting on your thoughts and feelings. But you’re doing it in a way that invites them to understand it, and that won’t make them feel like they’re responsible for it. 

4. Give mutual consideration to each other’s input.

Mutual means you have to come in together to understand each other. Otherwise, if you’re only pushing your point of view, there’s going to be a power struggle.

A better approach is to take turns. Listen to the problem and let the person talk about it. Then repeat what the other person said and then give your point of view.  This way each person is given a chance to be fully heard. 

Validation is the most powerful element of communication and the least often used element in communication in interpersonal relationships. 

5. Collaborate to find a mutually satisfying resolution.

Once you collaborate with each other, everything just shifts. You become more open and creative.

If you want to learn more about how to work through major problems, check out