Relationship problems: solvable or perpetual?


Sharni Zaknic, Psychologist, Cumberland Park SA

9th May 2018

Relationship problems: solvable or perpetual?

According to Gottman research, there are two types of problems couples argue over, solvable problems and perpetual problems.  It is incredibly important to identify which problems fall into which category to allow couples to understand how to more helpfully manage their arguments.

Solvable problems are problems that can be resolved by making practical changes to your relationship, such as altering work hours so one partner can drop the kids off at school, or arranging who will cook dinner and who will do the dishes. However, just because a problem is solvable, doesn’t always mean that it is going to get solved. Lots of things can get in the way of solving solvable problems, such as the way discussions are initiated. Do you discuss solvable problems calmly and politely, or does a discussion deteriorate into blame and criticism?

Perpetual problems are not solvable are called perpetual because they are not solvable. They are the problems that reflect a difference in each partners personality, temperament, values, beliefs, dreams, goals and childhood experiences. Interestingly, perpetual problems account for around 69% of couples problems! Yes, you read that right. The majority of couples problems are perpetual and unsolvable!

However, research has informed us that all couples have these perpetual problems and there are many couples out there who have high levels of marital satisfaction. The secret to living in a healthy relationship fraught with perpetual problems (as all relationships are) is to stop trying to solve these problems.

  • Stop trying to convince your partner to sacrifice a part of their values and identity. Instead, discuss these problems regularly with humour and compassion.
  • Listen to your partner explain why their position is so important to them.
  • Find out when did they first developed that belief (probably during childhood) and what does it mean for their goals and future.

This will bring forth greater understanding around the perpetual problems, thus making them less of a problem!

The majority of problems will never get resolved, however it is possible to live with these problems peacefully.   



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