What to Do About Unresolvable Problems

by James Rudy Gray

In life, a person will have many different types of relationships. In those relationships, difficulties or problems will inevitably come. When problems are encountered, what can people do?  They often turn to a counselor or pastor for help.

One of our tasks as counselors is to help clients discern the difference between problems that can be solved and those that cannot. Some conflicts are perpetual while others can be resolved.  John Gottman has pointed out in his research that about 70 percent of conflicts are in the category of perpetual problems, particularly in marriage. He states: "Despite what many therapists will tell you, you don't have to resolve your major marital conflicts for your marriage to thrive."

Psychologist Dan Wile in After the Honeymoon has observed, "When choosing a long-term partneryou will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you will be grappling with for the next 10, 20, or 50 years."

While this sounds somewhat negative and even depressive, something can be done that is healthy, constructive, and positive. For those problems that can be resolved, we must help counselees see strategies for resolving them. That would involve helping them to have a strategy that includes: 1) entering the dispute with a soft rather than a harsh attitude or manner, 2) making sincere efforts to give and receive reconciliation, 3) monitoring your own physiological state in order to stay calm, 4) learning how to compromise. Compromise involves give and take. It includes having an open mind, listening attentively, and honestly considering another's viewpoint before making a decision.

It is especially important to think rationally rather than emotionally in a conflict.  Men generally do not handle emotional stress as well as women. However, no one will be effective in a conflict once he or she has become emotionally charged. In fact, if your heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute, you really won't be able to hear what the other person is trying to share with you. The best course of action is to take a long break before continuing.

Solvable problems may be difficult and take some time, but the encouraging thing is that they can be solved or resolved.

However, perpetual problems present a different challenge—and they constitute about 70 percent of the problems we will encounter in relationships. How can a person deal with this type of problems? We can learn to adapt, adjust, and cope. Most of these perpetual problems are typically personality differences that are not going to change appreciably over the course of time. Therefore, if there is to be a less conflicted relationship, adapting, adjusting, and learning to cope are essential tools in the process.

Adaptation is similar to compromise but also different. When you adapt you make an appropriate fit for a particular situation. It may involve yielding on an issue or confronting the issue without attacking the person. The use of compromises would also be a form of adaptation.

Adjusting means changing enough in behavior, manner, etc., to enable the persons involved to be more conforming and less conflicted.  Coping includes working with difficulties so that they become manageable or even workable. Sometimes a resolution is found through coping. In such a case, a perpetual problem or conflict is settled, at least temporarily. As you can see, this most likely will apply to the people we encounter, not to the situations themselves.

Scripture teaches us that we are to love God and love our neighbor. Whoever God puts into our lives with a need we can meet is our neighbor. Often, we may attend church with these people, work with them, or socialize with them. Whenever people are grouped together, there is always the potential for conflict. Differences are sure to exist. However, Christians have the enormous power of the love of God working in and through them. Thus they can help make conflicted situations less stressful, circumstances more tolerable, and strained relationships better.

There are certainly times when no matter what a person does he cannot seem to make things better. When this occurs, it is important to remind clients that the key to their own spiritual vitality and mental health is not what they can't control—the circumstances—but what they can always control: their thoughts. This situation becomes a great opportunity to apply God's Word to their personal situation in life, regardless of the circumstances in which they find themselves.

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