Psychotherapy Perspectives

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Couples, Relationships and "Fix"

By Garth Mintun, LCSW

Work solutions aren’t necessarily transferable to “fix” relationship problems. What you do on the job does not necessarily mean it will work at home. For example, if an engineer, attorney, clerk or technical person tries to fix the relationship with his/her intimate significant other; the results may not be what he/she wants. At our employment we are trained to fix problems and are paid to be “problem solvers”. The problem solving method usually works like this:
*isolate the problem and find what is “not working”
* Rationally figure out what the problem is and try to fix it
* Minimize the bad effects of the problem
* Plan a pro-active solution to the problem

Intimate relationships involve a different process. First it involves emotional and physical “sparks” which in our western culture is called “falling in love”. Then the couple goes through a courtship period of time where they learn how to be with each other and see if they can get along after the “honeymoon “period which is often an infatuation state of mind where both are on their best behavior. The couple often imagines what it like is to live together and try to picture themselves as a “unit”. Both bring their “stories” of the good and bad of their life into the relationship. Some relationships even believe
that their significant other will “fill the other half” and they are more whole when they are together. Both individuals when they come together as a couple bring stories of how they were raised by their parents, how their parents interacted together and how they fit into the family. All these old histories go into the new relationship. And guess what happens when couples bring all this together………………..they change too and are different than they used to be.

So what happens if a couple works with a relationship problem and one of the couple tries to fix “the problem” as if they were at work? Usually one of the couple becomes the “rational one” and is not emotional while the other is “emotional” and is upset about the so called problem with the relationship. Let’s pick a “problem” with couples for example “trust”. One of the individuals has a trust issue with the other. Let’s say there was an emotional affair with another and this brings up discourse in the relationship. The person, who had the “affair”, admits it and then tries to fix the issue. He/she may think that if they say “I won’t do it again, the problem is fixed”. But alas, when he/she tries to “fix” the problem, it moves to another issue, the problem does not stay fixed on one point or theme. The person who has the affair presents a plan for fidelity and wants to move on. However the other person wants to talk about what happened and will bring up many issues of how it affected him/her. So just when the one who had an affair thinks that he/she has a solution to the problem by promising fidelity, the problem shifts. Now the affair becomes a trust, listening and judgment issue. The problems seem to be escalating and the person who had the affair, feels beat up and tries to stop the talking by silence or cutting off from the conversation. This seems to make matters worse and then the other party mentions separating or divorce.

The couple could not “fix “the problem with tools used at work because there were many factors in the relationship that caused the affair to be the symptom of the relationship difficulty. Infidelity was not the only breakdown; there were many cracks in the relationship. Every time the couple tried to fix the problem, more problems came up and it was very exhausting for them.

It is our experience that it is helpful that couples understand that the aftermath of an affair is very difficult and cannot be fixed like problems at work. Feelings and stories of pain need to be honored and shared with the couple over the infidelity. The pain and hurt of what the “other did to them” needs to be transitioned to how the couple can keep destructive forces out of their relationship. We collaborate together on how to keep the “destructive forces” out of their relationship. We often ask couples to externalize the “problems” and encourage them to collaborate against the “problem” utilizing strategies that have assisted them in the past and access alternative stories of how they have been helpful to each other in the past. This enables the couple to develop comprehensive response together warding off the “destructive forces” which try to come in their relationship.

In relationships the problem solving model at work is too static and views problems to be fixed. Relationships are never static and couples continually add to the stories of their relationship through experiencing emotion and logic together. Unlike work, couples are the experts of their life and they have the ability to change their life together as expertly as they want.


  • Hello,

    My name is Shelly and I just stumbled across your blog. Thanks for the information.

    I work for the Family and Marriage Counseling Directory and I wanted to invite you to submit any relevant articles you have written.

    Thanks for your consideration and warm regards, Shelly

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 2:09 PM  

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