Couples Conflict: Can All Your Problems Be Solved?

Couples conflicts are to be expected. All of us have disputes with our partners at times. Some are simple disagreements, while others can end up full-fledged battles.

To keep a relationship flourishing, however, we must learn to address our differences in a collaborative way, without anger, criticism, or defensiveness. The first step in this process is to determine what the conflict is about, and if it is a solvable or an unsolvable problem.

The Difference Between Solvable and Unsolvable Problems

According to statistics, about 1/3 of couples conflicts are solvable problems. A solvable problem is simply linked to a situation or topic that has resulted in conflict. The situation can be fixed or a solution to the topic can be found, and the problem is off the table.

The majority of couples conflicts, some 2/3 of disputes, however, are unsolvable problems. These perpetual issues will turn up repeatedly and require a lot more patience to address. Why? Because they’re based on fundamental differences between partners – either in personality or lifestyle needs.

Unsolvable, or perpetual problems, have certain clear characteristics. They usually make one partner feel frustrated, hurt, or rejected by the other. They cause both partners to become entrenched in their positions about the topic, to the point of belittling and vilifying each other during arguments. Because the couple makes no headway in their conflict, they eventually disengage emotionally.

Consider an example:

Perhaps you have a difference with your partner about a household chore, like taking out the trash or doing the dishes. You get upset about their lack of taking care of the task, and they get annoyed with you becoming upset.

This problem could be solvable if it’s simply about the situation of not handling the chore. Taking care of the task would keep you from fighting.

However, if you end up arguing – you call your partner lazy and they call you nagging – you have turned each other into villains. The problem at this point has become perpetual, or unsolvable because you’re not arguing over the chore, you’re arguing over deeper issues – responsibilities in your relationship.

How to Address Unsolvable Problems

By now, it has probably become obvious that you can’t simply fix unsolvable problems and take them off the table. There is a whole lot of digging to do to clarify the underlying troubles, to find an explanation to why you keep rehashing certain things.

If you can accept that unsolvable problems simply won’t go away, because they are about your individual perspectives, you’ve taken the first step to addressing these conflicts. The second step is to find a way to establish a dialogue about the problem.

Having a dialogue means to converse with one another, not at one another like you would do during arguments. You must learn to listen and work together to reveal the deeper meaning of your recurring conflict. What hidden meaning are you both trying to express? Where does the issue stem from – your past relationships, family of origin, anxiety, or perhaps fear?

Once you understand and respect the deeper meaning, you can choose to appreciate your differences and prevent the loss of your connection and friendship. That, in turn, will allow you to eliminate fussing and arguing. It won’t change your fundamental personality differences, but acceptance and understanding will help you to compromise.

So, in the end, what is the resolution to couples conflict?

Focus on fixing the solvable problems and work together to find a compromise for the unsolvable, perpetual issues. Keep in mind, though, that just like these perpetual problems come up over and over, you must revisit acceptance, understanding, and compromise on these issues again and again. It’s an ongoing process.