If you’re like most of us, hearing the following four words from your partner is akin to getting punched in the stomach: “We need to talk.” That’s because we’re conditioned to expect conversations to be about problems rather than solutions.
Amazingly, it only takes a few simple behavioral shifts to flip problem-focused talk into its positive counterpart: solution-focused communication. I’m going to show you five key areas in your relationship where you can practice this new approach. In my many years of experience working with all kinds of couples, I have seen remarkable changes happen between two partners when they apply these solution-focused strategies.
Replace “where we’re at” with “where we want to be.”
For any prickly issue that’s causing conflict in your relationship–whether it’s sex, money, kids, or division of labor–you have a choice when it comes to discussing challenges. One choice is to view the issue as a problem and discuss who’s to blame, how it happened, and how it makes you feel. A better choice is to discuss the issue in terms of a goal. If one person is doing most of the housework, for example, what would be an ideal scenario that takes both partners’ skills, schedules, and other contributions into consideration? When you begin the conversation with goals, it gets both partners thinking about solutions, possibilities, and opportunities for change.
Look beyond flaws and discuss your honeymoon phase instead.
Couples get into a negative state of mind when they start to fixate on pet peeves: their partner’s annoying habits, shortcomings, and flaws. Talking about what you don’t like about each other only does damage–there’s no opportunity for positive feelings to emerge. Instead, try this activity. Retell each other the story of how you first met. Try to remember everything you loved about each other–all the traits about your partner that surprised and delighted you. What did your partner do that led to the relationship moving forward? What did your partner do that let you know they were interested? How did you keep the passion going in the beginning? Having this conversation will stimulate lots of good ideas and feelings.