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In the last section, we discussed three key assumptions that can help couples approach learning steps to solve problems together. These three assumptions are all couples have problems, couples who approach problems as a team are more effective at problem solving, and rushing to find answers does not produce lasting solutions.
In this section, we will discuss the "Address with Respect" five-step structured problem solving technique I use with couples in conjoint therapy. The five steps in this technique are discussion, agenda setting, brainstorming, agreement and compromise, and follow-up. Like the Speaker-Listener technique that we discussed in Section 6, I have found the Address with Respect technique a helpful tool for couples seeking to change the communication patterns in their relationship.
Candice and Alexi, married for 8 years, had sought marital counseling after they began having intense fights. Alexi stated, "Everything piled up - Bills, budgets, problems with our in-laws... With so many problems Candice and I weren’t talking about, we just weren’t talking at all! Whenever we tried to talk, it turned into a screaming fit, with both of us hurling dishes at the walls! I was lonely… so I started seeing Jodi. I felt bad about it, I do love Candice, but I didn’t know how to talk to her anymore."
♦ Problem Resolution
♦ Step 1: Statements that are Heard
♦ Step 2: Agenda Setting
Alexi stated, "That’s right. In fact, just about anything we argue about comes back to money! It’s just such a huge issue there seems to be no hope of ever making any progress!" As you know, agenda setting can be very useful for clients like Alexi and Candice. I suggested to Candice and Alexi that they set up a time to meet to discuss their money issues, and that they agree ahead of time exactly what small part they would discuss.
I stated, "Candice, you mentioned that you argue frequently about who is responsible for paying bills and balancing the checkbook. A good first step might be to sit down and decide who is responsible for which bills, and for the checkbook. That way, you know exactly what you will be discussing, and you can feel yourselves making progress."
♦ Step 3: Brainstorming
♦ Step 4: Agreement and Compromise
I explained to Alexi, "It’s true that in order to make a decision that you both find acceptable, sometimes neither of you will get everything you want. But really, by putting the needs of your relationship first, you are both winning." Are you treating a client, like Alexi, who equates compromise with losing?
♦ Step 5: Follow-Up
Would this problem solving technique be beneficial for a couple you are treating through conjoint therapy?
In this section, we have discussed the "Address with Respect" problem solving technique I use with couples in conjoint therapy. The five steps in this technique are discussion, agenda setting, brainstorming, agreement and compromise, and follow-up.
In the next section, we will discuss dealing with core impasses in couple's therapy by using the vulnerability cycle model. We will specifically discuss core impasses, the vulnerability cycle, survival positions, and diagramming the vulnerability cycle.
- Carter, B., MSW, & Peters, J. K. (1996) Love, Honor, and Negotiate: Making Your Marriage Work. New York, NY: Pocket Books.
- Rosenblatt, P. C., & Rieks, S. J. (June 2009) No Compromise: Couples Dealing with Issues for Which They Do Not See a Compromise. American Journal of Family Therapy, 37(3), 196.
Baker, L. R., Kane, M. J., & Russell, V. M. (2020). Romantic partners’ working memory capacity facilitates relationship problem resolution through recollection of problem-relevant information. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 149(3), 580–584.
McNulty, J. K., & Russell, V. M. (2010). When “negative” behaviors are positive: A contextual analysis of the long-term effects of problem-solving behaviors on changes in relationship satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(4), 587-604.
Williamson, H. C., Hanna, M. A., Lavner, J. A., Bradbury, T. N., & Karney, B. R. (2013). Discussion topic and observed behavior in couples' problem-solving conversations: Do problem severity and topic choice matter? Journal of Family Psychology, 27(2), 330–335.
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