Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

Establishing Rules and Solving Problems in Relationships

By Daniel W. Trathen, D. Min. Ph. D.

Romans 12:18 states, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. In this verse the Apostle Paul gives us a great principle to live by, but how can we apply it to our relationships? In order to realize this verse in our relationships, we must first look at guidelines to help us when we experience conflicts.

There are six powerful Ground Rules that I recommend couples agree to use when they experience disagreements. When we really apply these principles in our life, we will be taking control of the conflicts in our marriage rather than allowing the conflicts to take control of us.

1. Either one can bring up an issue at any time, but the “listener” can say “this is not a good time.” If the listener does not want to talk at that time, he or she need to take responsibility for setting a time to talk in the near future (usually within 24 to 48 hours).

2. When conflict is escalating, we will call a “time out” and either
          a. try again using Speaker/Listener Technique OR
          b. agree to talk later, using the Speaker/Listener Technique.
     Proverbs 29:11 A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.

3. When we are having trouble communicating, we will engage the Speaker/Listener Technique.
James 1:19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, . . .

4. When using the Speaker/Listener Technique, we will completely separate problem discussion from problem solution.
Proverbs 18:13 He who answers before listening–that is his folly and his shame.

5. We will have weekly couple meetings.

6. We will make time for the great things of marriage: fun, friendship, and sensuality. We will agree to protect these times from conflict and the need to deal with issues.

These Ground Rules can have a powerful effect on your marriage if you agree to use them together. You can modify and adapt them to the way your relationship works best. The key is that you have agreements for how you will handle the more difficult and emotional issues that come your way in life. This is crucial. Too many couples go through life feeling as if they are walking in a minefield of marital conflict. They don’t know when the next explosion will come, but they know they can’t let their guard down because it will come. You do not have to be at the mercy of issues coming up at any moment. You can work together to deal with issues on your terms, and at the times you choose. The Apostle Peter gives us the foundational attitude we need to emulate as we seek to resolve issues: 1 Peter 2:17 Show proper respect to everyone…

There are many ways to try to solve problems and come to agreements. The following model is one way that many couples have found helpful. Great marriages are characterized by an abiding sense of teamwork based on deep, mutual respect and love. In some ways, this model is like a road map to keep you on the path and moving forward when you have a specific problem to work through. Try it out and see what you think.

Step One: Problem Discussion
Proverbs 18:13 He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him. (NKJV)

Separate Problem Discussion from the Problem Solution phase.
Premature problem solving leads to poor solutions and poor follow through.

Step Two: Prayer
I believe that this step is missing during most conflicts and I would emphasize the value of a couple praying together and seeking God’s direction and help. Whether silent or out loud, at this point in the process or earlier, there is power and peace in acknowledging God in your working together

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; [6] in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Step Three: Problem Solution
Agenda Setting

  • Pick a very specific piece of the issue you are working on to try to solve right now.
  • Stay on this focus for solution ideas.

Brain Storming

  • Suggest any ideas at all and be creative.
  • No criticism or evaluation.

Agreement and Compromise

  • Talk out the ideas you came up with.
  • Try out different combinations.
  • Try to find the trial solution that will have the best chance of working.

Follow up on Trial Solution

  • Set a time frame to see if the solution is working, and change it if necessary.

Conflict it inevitable in life and relationships. What separates marginal from good relationships is our ability to stay connected and work through hard issues and hard times. Couples who experience this type of relationship realize that working hard toward resolving conflict allows for more positive feelings of wanting to spend time together, “living in peace” and experiencing more fun and friendship time. Remember, the relationship you save, maybe your own!

Material adapted from A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage. Stanley, S. M., Trathen D.W., McCain S., Bryan M., 1998, Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers. San Francisco, California.

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