How To Stop The Back and Forth and Get To The Root Of An Issue

You ever wonder why some of the most basic relationship issues turn into these monster arguments that end up consuming your time, patience and energy?

Well, one thing I see happen ALL the time with couples is that when trying to resolve a problem, they put their focus entirely on the wrong thing. Many times, the problem they're trying to fix is really just the symptom of the real issue.

So today, I want to share a tool with you that I use as a coach, which will really help you to get past the fussing and fighting and to the bottom of the issue.

I call this tool “Trimming The Fat”, because it’s purpose is to help you and your mate cut everything out of the conversation that isn’t important and focus on what matters.

The first step is to Identify “The Thing”.

What’s the thing? The thing is the problem. Let’s use the example of a couple fighting about spending habits.

Jen often asks David to cut back on shopping for things like clothes and electronics because she feels it’s too much.

But for David, he’s always arguing with her to stop nitpicking at what he does with his hard-earned money, because it’s getting annoying.

What would you say the problem is in this situation?

If you’re of Jen’s school of thought, you probably believe David is a reckless spender, and that it's a bad thing. On the other hand, if you’re of David’s school of thought, you probably feel like Jen is making a bigger problem out of this than it needs to be.

The Thing [the problem] for Jen is David's spending. The Thing for David is Jen's nitpicking.

But arguing about The Thing isn’t bringing them anything but more frustration. And it’s why the problem keeps coming back. So the next step to help bring them closer to a solution is to ask this question:

What does The Thing mean to me?

Let’s talk about Jen’s beef with David.

To her, David’s frivolous spending means he lacks the discipline to achieve more important financial and life goals down the line. To David, his spending is simply a means to enjoy the money he works hard for, and so he doesn’t see it as a bad thing.

Now we’re beginning to uncover the real problem.

She sees something fundamentally wrong with the spending, but he doesn’t. And David’s approach of arguing about her nitpicking still doesn’t get to the root of the issue.

So, to take it a step further, let's ask the following [and final] question of this exercise:

How does the meaning of The Thing make me feel?

David’s "lack of discipline with money” [remember, that’s what the thing means to her] makes Jen feel unsure about their ability to have a stable financial future together.

And THAT my friends, is the problem.

It has nothing to do with him buying stuff. It has nothing to do with him celebrating his accomplishments by shopping. It has everything to do with how his behaviors make her feel about their future together.

So the solution for THIS problem can be as simple as sitting down and talking about how they can manage their money so they can contribute to things that will bring them more stability, while being able to spend some for what they both feel are important individual expenses.

At the core of every disagreement is the desire to be understood.

And understanding doesn’t come from just talking about the problems on a surface level. It comes from digging a bit deeper into what those things really mean and how they make you feel.

By this point, you can clearly see the difference between arguing about “The Thing”, vs. “How The Meaning of That Thing Makes You Feel”.

So the next time you and your mate are faced with a dilemma you can’t seem to figure out, asking yourselves these three questions will bring you a lot closer to a solution:

  1. What is The Thing [the problem]?
  2. What does The Thing mean to me?
  3. How does the meaning of The Thing make me feel?

It also might save you a trip to your favorite coach’s couch to figure it out!

So what are your thoughts? Where do you and your partner seem to be getting stuck within this process? and what are you doing to move past it? Let me know in the comments!

Also, don’t forget to share this with your friends!

**This post is a part of my Relationship Toolbox Talk series, where I discuss specific tools I use with couples and in my own relationship that would be helpful for you to apply in your own relationship as well.