Stop Locking Horns with Your Spouse — Try Brainstorming
Do you sometimes feel like you and your partner are stuck in a disagreement? By using the brainstorming for solutions technique, you can end up with a resolution with which you’re both happy.
Corporations use a structured brainstorming process in order to make good decisions. This method also works beautifully for couples seeking to resolve differences.
How Couples Can Brainstorm for Solutions
To create a good climate for brainstorming, respect differences in a positive spirit. Make sure that you understand each other’s perspective. Do this by using the active listening technique.
So before starting to brainstorm, do listen to what each other says. Recognize where there is disagreement and accept it. Avoid the common mistake of casting blame or telling your partner that he or she is wrong.
Once you understand each other’s viewpoint, you’re ready to take the first step in the brainstorming process, which is to define the problem or challenge.
How to Brainstorm for Solutions
Here’s how the brainstorming process works, step-by-step:
- Define and write down the issue in a way that respects the validity of both partners’ viewpoints.
- Solicit suggestions and fresh, including out-of-the box thinking, and do not make judgments.
- List each idea on a piece of paper, on a whiteboard, or in whatever visible way works for you.
- While remaining receptive to new ideas, partners look over the completed list.
- Together, partners decide whether the first suggestion is worth considering.
- If either partner vetoes it, eliminate it by drawing a line through it.
- Repeat the process, going down the list.
- After finishing steps 5 through 7, partners assess pros and cons of each idea still on the list.
- Partners rank the remaining possible solutions.
- Partners circle the idea(s) they decide to implement.
Example of a Couple Brainstorming
Carlos was upset with his wife for keeping their garage so full of her “junk” that there was no room for his car. Maria treasured her scrapbooks, photo albums, spare cookware, boxes of hobby supplies, and other paraphernalia. Seeing how upset she got when he complained, he continued to put up with the situation, but unhappily. At a Marriage Meeting workshop, Carlos and Maria volunteered to be guided by me through the brainstorming process while the other couples watched.
First I asked them to use the active listening communication technique and tell each other how they felt about the garage situation and how they would like it to be. Almost in tears, Maria said, “I feel nervous when you say you want me to get rid of things. My scrapbooks and photo albums are treasures. I need the sewing machine, art supplies, my bike, clothes for when I lose weight, and extra sets of dishes. Our kids will be glad to pass on their saved toys and outgrown outfits to their future children. I want to keep almost everything.”
Touched by her emotion, Carlos replied, “I hear you saying that what you have in the garage is really important to you and also might benefit our future grandchildren.” Once Maria and Carlos had conversed respectfully, and long enough for both of them to feel understood, they were ready to begin the brainstorming process. Here is how it went, step-by-step:
- First, we agreed to define their challenge as: “How can we live together in harmony when one of us likes to fill the garage with her things and the other likes it to be empty enough for his car to be inside?”
- Then, we listed suggestions for solutions. I encouraged fresh thinking, asking the couple and other workshop participants to toss in their ideas. If anyone said, “No” or “That won’t work,” I reminded them that we needed to accept all suggestions for the time being while keeping an open mind, no matter how disagreeable or off the wall they might seem. Here is the list that resulted:
- Rent a storage space.
- Divide the garage in half.
- All that fits in the attic goes there. The rest gets tossed.
- Move to a place with a much bigger garage.
- Have a yard sale.
- Put a storage hut in the yard.
- Jointly pare down.
- Do nothing.
- Wait for rats.
- Organize. Get boxes and install a storage system with shelves.
- Bring in a professional organizer.
As each suggestion was offered, I wrote it on a whiteboard. I instructed Carlos and Maria to stay open-minded as they looked over the completed list. Next, I asked them to look at the first suggestion (rent a storage space) and decide whether it might be a possible solution. I told them that if either of them vetoed it, it would get crossed off. Neither wanted to pay to rent a storage space, so I drew a line through it.
We repeated the process, going down the list, crossing out whatever either spouse vetoed. Next, Carlos and Maria evaluated the three suggestions that remained on the list, noting pros and cons. Then from these suggestions, they chose the ones they were ready to act upon. They both liked the “jointly pare down” suggestion, which involved going through everything in the garage and seeing what each of them was willing to eliminate. They also liked the idea of getting boxes and shelves to organize what would remain in the garage. They agreed to bring in a professional organizer only if they were not able to succeed on their own. They ranked their preferences for a solution in this order:
- Jointly pare down.
- Get boxes and shelves to organize.
- Hire a professional organizer if necessary.
This example shows step by step how to brainstorm for solutions. Often active listening can be enough to resolve an issue. But if not, you may well create a win-win solution by brainstorming — and fun in the process!
Note: Brainstorming for Solutions is one of seven communication techniques explained in detail in Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted, by Marcia Naomi Berger.
Couple brainstorming photo available from Shutterstock
Berger, M. (2018). Stop Locking Horns with Your Spouse — Try Brainstorming. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 7, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/stop-locking-horns-with-your-spouse-try-brainstorming/