Imagine getting into a cab and when the driver asks you where you’d like to go, you say, “Not here.”
That’s the analogy couples therapist Elliott E. Connie, MA, LPC, used when explaining that the traditional approach of focusing on how to remove problems isn’t helpful. “[I]f you don’t like where you are, the most logical solution is to figure out where you’d like to be, and figure out how to get there.”
When we focus on fixing what’s wrong, we focus on the problem. When we focus on the problem, all we learn about is the problem, he said. “Whatever we focus our attention on will inevitably grow.”
Instead, Connie believes in focusing on solutions, strengths and goals. Connie is the author of several books, including The Solution Focused Marriage: 5 Simple Habits That Will Bring Out the Best In Your Relationship.
He conducts and trains clinicians in Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, which builds on a person’s strengths and values to create objectives and solutions in their lives.
For instance, instead of talking about what led to infidelity in a marriage, Connie helps his clients work through what needs to happen to regain trust in that relationship.
Below, you’ll find three ways to bring out the best in your own relationship by focusing on solutions, not problems.
1. Create goals as a couple.
Think of what you’d like to build and create together, Connie said. Consider everything from emotional to pragmatic goals, he said. In The Solution Focused Marriage, Connie suggests couples come up with 50 goals.
Use positive and present-focused language, and create the list together. For example, instead of writing down “We won’t be fighting,” write, “We will be communicating effectively.”
And don’t forget to compliment each other when you’re contributing to your goals, Connie said.
2. Use your strengths.
In his book Connie suggests couples assign household responsibilities based on their individual strengths. Specifically, he suggests couples have a meeting and do the following:
- Create a list of at least 10 strengths for each partner.
- Create a list of household goals.
- Create a plan for achieving each goal that employs each partner’s strengths.
Then have progress meetings every month where you evaluate how your plan is going and whether any changes need to be made. And, if you need to talk about problems, save that for after the meeting.
3. Have a dating mindset.
Be sure to date your spouse. You’ve probably heard this advice before. But Connie’s suggestion goes beyond having dinner out every Friday. Rather, he stressed the importance of keeping the mindset you had when you were dating.
When you were dating, you probably made an extra effort to be kind to your partner and make them smile. You probably did other things to help grow your relationship.
Today, you can apply this mindset in big and small ways. Take the small example of opening the door for your spouse. You might’ve opened many car doors for your spouse in the beginning of your relationship. But over the years, you stopped. Keep that chivalrous gesture going.
According to Connie, keep doing the things that bring happiness and joy into your relationship like you did when you dated.
Focusing on your goals and strengths as a couple helps you bring out the best in your relationship. As Connie writes in his book, “The Solution Focused Marriage is a marriage built on conversations about progress instead of plagued with conversations about problems.”