5 Ways to Solve Any Relationship Problem

Principle #4: Set the right stage for discussion and negotiation of the problem.

There's a correct time and place to work on your problems. Let's deal with place first.

I can't tell you the exact room of your house that will work best for you, but a good rule of thumb is that it should be a location that's both quiet and comfortable -- maybe it's your kitchen table or your den? It just shouldn't be in public or at a friend's home. Major discussions deserve to be held in a consistent, appropriate location. Forgetting to set the scene is a crucial blunder made by a lot of couples, so put some thought into this.

The right time for the negotiation is just as important as place. I believe that there are three important considerations in this area:

First, you must (and I can't stress the word must enough) point out a problem the very first time it arises. You'll have more leverage if you don't allow something to snowball into a pattern of behavior. Many people finally put their foot down when their partner has made a major mistake for about the 32nd time, but by then it's simply too late. The reality is this: The longer you allow your partner to get away with unacceptable behavior, the harder it will be to have any power to get them to stop. If you hold your tongue and just hope that your partner will change on their own, don't complain that you never get what you need.

Second, make sure that you have enough time available to thoroughly discuss the problem. Some of my patients will bring up an extremely important issue right before our time is up for the session and then get angry when I say that we have to stop. The same principle applies to your relationship: If you and your partner begin to argue just as you're leaving for work or getting ready to go out, then the discussion will be nonproductive. Alternately, if you put off the issue too long, you run the risk that the problem will never be solved. So set aside an appropriate length of time for a face-to-face meeting (notice that a phone conversation is generally not intimate enough).

Third, when you and your partner have been sitting there for hours still hammering away without a compromise, it may be time to call it quits for the time being and readdress the problem again later. When you both get tired and start to go 'round and 'round, it's acceptable to say, "How about if we agree to disagree for now and pick up our discussion later when we're both fresh?"

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