The 5-Step Exercise My Partner and I Used to Solve Our Relationship Problems
It's simple and effective
Let’s just say that day was a complete disaster.
I flew to another country to visit my boyfriend two weeks ago. We hadn’t seen each other in a few months, and in the first week of being together again, we’ve had more issues than in the whole duration of our relationship.
Okay, maybe that’s an over-exaggeration. But when you have so much drama piled up in a week, you kind of feel like the sky is going to fall on you any second now, so throwing in a little bit of hyperbole doesn’t really hurt anybody.
“Do you want to discuss it?” he asked after we got upset at each other yet again.
“I don’t even know what to discuss anymore,” I said, defeated. Everything was wrong, and I had no idea why. All my insecurities were poignantly boiling underneath my skin, making me frustrated, attention-seeking and angry. Something about the relationship triggered these feelings, and I found it extremely hard to sort through the mess that was in my head and to actually come to some viable solution with my partner.
“I’ve got an idea,” his eyes brightened up suddenly. He grabbed a piece of paper and spread out pens of different colours. “Choose your colour.”
This is how he introduced me to the issue-solving exercise that he had used with his ex-girlfriend in the past. Since I’m now in the picture, the exercise obviously didn’t miraculously make their relationship survive (for which I’m selfishly glad) — however, it’s been a remedy to basically all our issues ever since we did it that Sunday evening.
Every day is wonderful now, and every time I look at him, I marvel at how much in love I am. My insecurities have successfully melted away and the constant sense of doom is far gone.
Here’s how we solved our issues in one single sitting, and how you can do it too.
Step 1: Write down all your problems
Each of us picked a colour, and then we took turns writing down what currently troubled us about the relationship.
The key to making this work is to tell yourselves that there’s no judgment on this paper. You can write down all the stupid things that don’t make sense, all the hidden emotions you’d rather not have, everything that you find frustrating about your partner’s behaviour.
You need to have an open mind and an accepting approach. No scorning, no automatic defence mode, no comments until you both write down every single little thing that’s on your mind.
It’s okay if one partner has more problems than the other one. Be patient with each other.
Our list took about four A4 pages.
Me: I HATE it when you don’t keep your promises because my parents never did and because it drives me NUTS.
Him: I find it hard to predict or understand your moods.
Me: I don’t feel reassured in you wanting me here or cherishing my presence.
Him: I want you to feel how much I love you.
Step 2: Understand each other’s perspectives
When you’re done writing everything down, read through it. The next step is to grab a new piece of paper or to turn the page, and to try to sum up your partner’s feelings.
Once again, you can take turns or write everything down one after the other, it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that you make a real effort to learn the core of your partner’s struggles, and you express this in your own words.
This helps you both to see the problem through each other’s eyes.
Him: You want me to keep my promises.
Me: You never know when I’ll get upset, and it frustrates you.
Him: You are uncertain about how I feel towards you.
Me: You find it hard to express yourself.
Step 3: Correct each other’s summaries
“And now,” my boyfriend said, “comes the crucial part. We’ll get to tell each other if we got it right or not.”
You look at each other’s statements about one another, and you correct their summaries to make them understand you better. Remember, this exercise needs to be done with an open mind — no scolding if your partner misunderstood you.
Each of us added on one more thing that seemed important to us that the other one missed.
Me: It’s difficult to navigate my way here when the dynamics in the flat has changed since I was last here.
Him: I find it hard to understand your needs.
Step 4: Write down solutions
You now have a pretty comprehensive list of issues that are also boiled down to the main essential points.
This lets you see what the main problems really are, instead of covering them up with daily belittlement and unnecessary frustration. It can be a real eye-opener.
The time has come for you to write down how you’re going to get out of this mess. Take it step-by-step, there’s no need to rush.
One of you will write down a possible solution to one of the problems, and the other one will either accept it with a tick or decline it with a cross. If the latter happens, the one who declines a solution will make sure to write down a different way to solve the issue, which you can then approve or cross out in return.
This step wasn’t that hard for us personally — we approved all solutions except for a single one which my boyfriend altered a little. Every couple can struggle with different steps, though, so just try to work together in order to come up with a reasonable solution that will benefit both parties.
Him: I always keep my promises.
Me: I tell you about the small stupid things so you can explain and so I don’t make assumptions.
Him: I do more to make sure this space is yours + we’ll bake together.
Me: I try not to make assumptions in the first place.
Him: You get more of my full attention.
Me: You explain things more thoroughly when I ask about your feelings.
Step 5: Go over the list every morning and every evening
It’s vital that you don’t forget what you promised you’d change about your behaviour. Every morning, go through the list either together or in your own time if you have different schedules.
Read all the solutions, one by one. During the day, try to remember to fulfill some of the promises you’ve made, while also avoiding the kind of behaviour that your partner finds hurtful.
At the end of the day, read the solutions together again and check in with each other to make sure that you both did your best. If you notice that your partner isn’t following the list throughout the day, this short session in the evening gives you space to bring it up and talk about it.
Plus, if both of you do everything right, it only confirms to you how great you’re doing and how better everything is each and every single day.
When you’re both trying to stick to your resolutions, don’t forget that you’re only human. There might be days when you screw up on one of the points, and there might be days when life gets in the way and you don’t have as much time to focus on your relationship.
And that’s okay. The only way to make this exercise work is to be able to forgive each other’s mishaps, to encourage one another to do better next time and to accept that nobody is perfect.
Love isn’t always unicorns and glitter. Making a relationship work can be hard work, and that doesn’t automatically mean that the relationship is doomed and everything is in shambles.
Sometimes, you just need to meet each other as two imperfect humans who love each other deeply and who try to make it work. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes, try to be gentle and caring.
There’s no need to give up just yet. This exercise didn’t help my boyfriend’s relationship with his ex survive, however, it’s definitely helped us overcome our first crisis.
So why not give it a try? It might just as well be one of those little things that, when all accumulated, help you get through hardships with the person you love. You might even get to be there when they’re blessed with their first wrinkles in a few decades.