The problem is the problem

June 12, 2016

 

 

Many people seek therapy because they are experiencing trouble resolving a particular situation. In most cases, people already know what the problem is and in fact they may already know what they need to do about it.  With this in mind, why do we abstain from resolving our problems if we know what we have to do?

 

Some years back I met with a very young couple.  Three months into their marriage and they were already thinking about divorcing.  I explained to them that marriage does not have a "90 day satisfaction guaranteed or your ex-girlfriend returned," and there is definitely no money back!  I began with the typical question: "what seems to be the problem," to what they responded, "We are tired of each other".  In my mind, I thought, "It's barely 3 months!”  It took some time to get their problems on paper in order to understand their situation.  

 

Some of the problems were:

 

  • She nags all the time

  • He prefers Call of Duty over me

  • We don't have sex

  • We have money problems

  • His mom!

 

No matter how simple their problems were, they were not able to resolve them.  Screams, flying cups and tears were not enough to resolve the situation.  Unfortunately, this is an incredibly common problem among couples, family members and co-worker: We just argue, but don't fix stuff!

 

When we think about problem solving, it's often important understand that not all problems are the same; therefore, not all problems will have the same solution.  There is no Pepto-Bismol for all our argument needs.

 

Here are some steps to problem solving:

 

 

1. Identify the category of the problem

 

A husband was working late one night and then receives a call from his wife "can you bring laundry detergent?” she asked. "Of course, I'll stop by after work".  The man gets home empty handed and naturally his wife gets furious.  "What happened to the laundry detergent?” "ONE THING! I only asked one thing, but if it was.... (Another person), you would have bough her the washer and dryer!". "If you had not spend too much money, we would have been able to buy three of them,” the husband replied.  The couple went on for hours using their greatest marital hits to include divorce, the mother, the kids, and friends among other issues.  The truth is that this just required a simple solution.  When we stop and think about this problem, it's not a financial issue nor an attention or jealousy issue.  It is simply a DOMESTIC issue. 

 

Some categories are:

 

  • Domestic

  • Financial

  • Relationship

  • Academic

  • Parenting

  • Family

  • Social

  • Personal

 

 

2. Explore possible solutions

 

Once we know what kind of problem is it, it should be simple to explore what can we do with it.  With this in mind, a domestic problem should only have a domestic solution:  He goes back and gets the detergent, she gets it, they both get it, or they simply do not do the laundry that day.  

 

It is important to note that we should only fix one problem at a time.  Staying focused on that one problem will allow remain objective. Although we may have several possible solutions, we have to take into consideration all possibilities.  There are many solutions to one problem and in return, there are possible consequences to such solutions. 

 

 

3. Choose and plan

 

Choosing a solution and planning for it is way harder that what it sounds like.  A wave of "what ifs" floods our head and sometimes makes it difficult to just choose. Even though the goal is to resolve OUR problem, sometimes others may influence our decisions.  How many times do we think of other people when we choose something?  "Should I buy another pair of shoes? I'll just have to put them on and leave the box at the car so my husband doesn't notice them".  Sometimes in families, we have a democratic decision making system in which the committee must approve all affairs.  "Ask your brother to go with you to buy the car" "let me call my dad to come check out the house and see if it's worth buying it" "Mom, should I use angel hair or spaghetti?”  Even though this sounds like a very unified thing... at times it may impair our decision-making.  When choosing a solution must consider WHO WILL IT BENEFIT AT THE END.  If you're going to be driving the car, then maybe you should be the primary person to choose for it (unless you’re not paying for it).  Sometimes gathering multiple opinions may impair our original plans.

 

One we have chosen the solution we want, we must ensure that our plan for it is realistic, attainable and measurable... Just like goal setting.

 

 

4. Act

 

The world is full of ideas, inspirations and innovative thoughts.  The problem is that most of them never become materialized.   One of the benefits of talking to people for a living is that I get exposed to all kinds of thought processes, personalities and anecdotes.  The fascinating part of it is that some of them have fantastic ideas about many things yet they never get to do them.  Some people talk the talk but refuse to walk the walk.  What keeps us from doing what we think?

 

Once we figure out what the plan is for our problem, we just have to DO IT.  Although our decision-making is full of factors, once we know what the best solution in out mind is... we just have to try it.

 

The primary factor our lack of action is the avoidance of failure.  We must understand that we will succeed as much as we will fail.  Nonetheless, we will become better at succeeding if we learn from our previous mistakes.  Understanding that our plan is based mostly on logic, experience and common sense, the probability to fail decreases.  With this in mind, our capacity to act upon our task is just accepting the idea that our solution may not work.  What happens if our idea does not work? Then we try another plan... Simple as that. 

 

 

5. Prevent

 

Being able to fix a problem is one thing, but being able to prevent it from happening again is crucial.  Most of the issues people struggle are typically repetitive issues.  We go through something then forget about it when it’s over allowing it to come back once more.  "I'm just gonna go back with him... I'm sure he will be different this time".  The constant avoidance of dealing with a problem after its over can cause a greater problem than the original one.  Therefore, all it takes is making sure it does not happen again.  Preventing a problem may take a little time to modify the factors that contributed to the problem and at times it may take a modification in our lifestyle, ourselves or the people around it. 

 

Fixing a problem is not as complicated once we remove all external factors affecting our decision.  After all, the problem is only the problem.

 

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Gerardo Rosas