By Dr. Joti Samra, CEO & Founder of the Psychological Health & Safety (PH&S) Clinic and MyWorkplaceHealth
Every couple is faced to some degree with fundamental differences in terms of beliefs and values. Successful couples are able to respectfully negotiate, comprise on or resolve difficult issues. Many couples, however, are unable to work past major differences despite their best efforts. Others attend to differences in a very mindful way, yet for a range of reasons may decide that they are too great to overcome.
Solvable issues or perpetual issues?
Dr. John Gottman, an internationally renowned marital researcher, has written an excellent book called The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (which I often recommended even to couples who aren’t married or cohabitating). In this book, he defines issues that lead to relationship conflict as falling into one of two categories: solvable issues or perpetual issues.
When we are faced with challenges or differences in a relationship, the first task is to identify whether or not the differences comprise perpetual or solvable issues.
Perpetual issues relate to conflicts that will never disappear from the relationship. They stem from fundamental differences in personality and beliefs. Beliefs regarding the value of all life forms, including animals, for example, may be a perpetual issue that leads to different dietary choices. If one is a vegetarian because of their beliefs about animal rights, this is likely a perpetual issue.
Solvable issues, on the other hand, are logistical or practical concerns that have workable solutions. The manner in which a couple handles grocery shopping and meal preparation, for example, would be a solvable issue. If one person is a vegetarian because they think it’s healthier, and there is no other underlying values driver, this is likely a solvable issue.
Every relationship has perpetual issues. So the make-or-break factor is not whether an issue is perpetual or solvable, but rather how the solvable ones are worked out and how the perpetual ones are managed and ultimately accepted by each partner.
How to work through all types of issues
So, how do we maintain relationships when there are core differences?
So, do we have a future?
Every relationship is faced with challenges. It’s how the people involved are able to respectfully negotiate, comprise on or resolve difficult issues that determine the longevity and health of that relationship.
Excerpted from Dr. Joti Samra’s “Ask the Psychologist” weekly column in The Globe and Mail.
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