In his study involving thousands of couples observed over several decades, relationship expert Dr. John Gottman demonstrates that 69% of problems in a relationship are unsolvable. How are we to understand (and deal with) this less-than-encouraging piece of data?
Some of our personality traits and differences will inevitably rub up against those of our partner’s; the same problems will therefore crop up repeatedly throughout our lives as a couple. Trying to solve unsolvable problems becomes counterproductive, as we argue about the same issues over and over again, sometimes for decades.
Gottman proposes we focus on constructive management of conflict around unsolvable problems, rather than the searching for the ultimate resolution. Successful navigation of a recurring problem involves the capacity to express acceptance of one’s partner’s different way of being and thinking, and the capacity to discuss and appreciate the underlying meaning of the other’s position on the issue at hand.
When we feel heard and understood at that deeper level, the need to be right and “win” becomes less urgent.