Problems! What Can I Say?

Almost all relationships will have problems at some time but really don’t know how to go about talking about them in a constructive way.  Here are some powerful ways you can talk about any problem without tearing your relationship apart.

It’s how you say it: Problems can either destroy or build a relationship and there is rarely a middle ground. How you present and approach your problems can help you protect and build your relationship while you solve the problems that life and intimacy naturally bring.

If you want a positive solution to a problem, the first thing you must do is to phrase the problem in a positive way to your partner. Finger pointing, blame, defensiveness, and argument usually bring only more of the same. How ever you start a conversation, positively or negatively, it will probably end the same way.

When Sally says, “We wouldn’t have this money problem if you’d just listen to me,” Jim is automatically going to react defensively and they are more likely to argue than to solve the problem. If Sally says, “In what ways can we be sure that we understand each other so we can solve our budget problems?” she is inviting Jim to participate instead of pushing him away. The difference is night and day.

The case for choosing our words carefully is strongly made. Marital researchers such as Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, and John Gottman have been teaching us for years that “I” statements are much more acceptable than “you” statements are. “You” tends to be heard as a four-letter word, bringing on a defensive reaction, while “I” does not. Dr. Gottman’s latest research also shows that stable relationships are characterized by the woman softening the start-up of conversations. Further, phrasing problem statements as questions has been shown to lead to better solutions and a less stressful process. Stereotypical roles are for women to start most of the relationship related discussions while men tend to be on guard and defensive when discussions start.

Positive questions invite positive solutions: When a major problem threatens the very fabric of a relationship, the ultimate question is, “What can we do together to solve this problem so it doesn’t hurt our relationship? I am willing to do this…” In two short sentences, the health of the relationship becomes the priority, the problem is made a joint issue for joint solution, and whoever made the statement is offering a first step to a solution. If you ask the question enough times and truly make a joint effort to answer it, you will most surely find solutions to even your most difficult problems.

Here are some invitational phrases that you can use during your problem solving discussions to invite solutions with positive questions. These will put the focus on the issues and on finding solutions together in a positive way.

Invitational Phrase


Wouldn’t it be nice if…

Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t argue over our relatives?

What do we need to understand about…

What do we need to understand about this problem to solve it?

What else do we need to understand about…

What else do we need to understand about what is important to us to find solutions together?

In what way might I (we)…

In what way might we change our vacation schedule with our parents so we are both happy?


How can we keep our relationship and our family the top priority without losing touch with the rest of our family?

How else…

How else could we keep our relationship growing and prospering?

What can we do together to…

What can we do together to create our own holiday traditions and still spend time with our parents?

What else can we do together to…

What else can we do together to keep our love alive while we solve our problems?

Understanding is the key. The vast majority of relationship problems can be addressed with mutual understanding. Questions will help you understand the problem and find solutions. You may find it useful to take notes as you talk so you don’t lose ideas and information. When you ask the question as a team, answers will come easier. List as many answers as you can before you judge them. And then judge them against criteria that are important to both of you. You are bound to find acceptable answers when you ask enough questions. Remember that your tone of voice and body language must match your positive words.

The promise: The promise of choosing a positive and inviting approach to problems is that you will not only find better solutions but you will also strengthen your relationship. When you have a problem to discuss, ask yourself what your motive is and then choose to act accordingly. You will reap what you sow: negative or positive. Which do you want for your relationship? Now, we have one question for you to ask yourself each day, “What can I do today to create a better relationship?” The answers will guide you to the healthy, happy, loving relationship you deserve.
Read our article on how to Become a better Listener and our article on Teammates