A recent study published in Personality and Social Psychology Review examined how couples can influence each other to better solve relationship problems. The researchers suggested a model of problem-solving including the following stages.
- Recognizing a problem and understanding its root causes.
- Generating possible solutions together and evaluating which is most likely to succeed.
- Preparing for obstacles and ensuring that solutions are implemented.
- Determining the success of the solution and making changes accordingly.
However, progressing through these stages is significantly influenced by the approach both partners take towards the resolution. While oppositional behavior in a conflict is characterized by confrontation, blaming, persuading, commanding a partner to change, expressing anger or resorting to passive-aggressive tactics like sarcasm, door-slamming or avoidance, cooperative behaviors are grounded in mutual support.
Here are three ways to engage in cooperative, compassionate problem solving and why it is beneficial to relationships, according to the study.
1. Create A Positive Emotional Environment
Being faced with oppositional behaviors decreases positive emotional states and increases negative ones. While experiencing negative emotions can motivate couples to recognize and solve the problems causing them, research shows that they can also impair the ability to generate and implement effective solutions.
On the other hand, a compassionate approach involves displaying emotional support. This includes expressing understanding, concern and empathy for your partner when they are distressed, as well as reassuring them of your love and support. This soothes a partner’s negative emotions, which in turn facilitates solution-focused ideation.
2. Provide Uplifting Feedback
Research shows that being supportive and nurturing of a partner’s self-improvement leads to improved relationship quality, as opposed to being critical or invalidating. Negative feedback has a detrimental effect on a relationship. It influences a partner’s sense of self-efficacy, which refers to the belief in one’s ability to achieve a goal, such as solving a relationship problem. Lower self-efficacy reduces a partner’s motivation to invest effort in maintaining the relationship.
Additionally, indirect oppositional behaviors, like sulking and passive-aggressive displays, only signal that a problem exists without making any contribution toward a resolution. Clearly and directly indicating the problem and suggesting how to fix it is infinitely more helpful.
Providing feedback that reminds your partner of their skills, abilities and past successes in resolving similar problems can enhance their relationship motivation as they are more likely to make changes while feeling confident and trusted.
3. Offer Instrumental Support
While relationship problems often involve contrasting goals and motives, couples can also share the common goal of resolution. Couples can mutually provide “instrumental support,” whereby they offer each other tangible resources and support in other areas of responsibility, allowing them to invest more time and effort into the relationship.
For instance, the researchers explain that in the scenario of a conflict due to financial trouble, instrumental support could look like providing your spouse with career advice as well as taking up more child-care responsibilities so that they can focus on getting a promotion or a raise.
Mutual support is crucial in ensuring a healthy and thriving partnership. It is vital for both partners to take personal responsibility for their actions and contributions to the relationship. By acknowledging their own behavior and attitudes, individuals can actively work on improving themselves and fostering a more harmonious connection with their partner.
Instead of assigning blame or picking nits, a compassionate approach allows for the empowering insight that each partner plays a part in their relationship dynamic.
Compassionate problem-solving in a relationship cannot be not a one-way street. It hinges on the collaborative endeavor of creating a positive and supportive environment together.
When both partners actively participate in comprehending and resolving issues, while nurturing an atmosphere of empathy, trust and cooperation, they equip themselves to navigate relationship challenges with greater ease and a focus on thriving together.
If you’re unsure whether the problems you’re facing in your relationship are a cause for serious concern, you can take this test here: Relationship Satisfaction Scale