By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Is your life full of problems?
If you’re one of those people who seems to go from problem to problem, maybe it’s time to change the way you handle problems. Problems can cause you a lot of unhappiness, derail your life and result in depression and anxiety, or they can simply be one more thing you must handle today. Unresolved problems can fester and damage relationships at home and work.
The problems you don’t tackle can undermine your self-esteem and hold you back from the life you want to have. Here are some simple steps you can take to move from a problem-filled life to a “problems handled” way of living.
This approach is often used by companies or businesses, but you can easily modify it for solving personal issues or family and relationship problems.
Define the problem accurately.
A couple comes in for relationship counseling, the problem they describe is that they are constantly fighting over money. Before this couple can solve this problem, we need to get more specific about what the problem is. For some couples, this is largely a financial problem. Scraping by from month-to-month, not being sure you’ll be able to pay the rent and the power bill can put a strain on any relationship. The solution will be learning some financials skills.
Another couple has plenty of income, and their expenses would be manageable if they could agree on how to spend their money. What we need to establish is whether this is a relationship issue or is it about power and control? Maybe one of them is a saver, and the other wants to spend. If one’s goal is a large savings account and the other’s goal is to do lots of traveling the problem to solve is not financial, but how they make decisions.
For couples whose problems are primarily fighting about money, the real issue may be that they barely have enough income to survive. When you live a life where what you earn each month is less than what you must spend, and you make up the deficit by using credit cards, eventually something must give, either before bankruptcy or after. The stress of unpaid bills can result in a lot of irritability and arguments.
Start any effort to solve your problems by creating an as specific as possible definition of the problem.
Who owns this problem?
What if your problem is someone else? Your partner makes you angry, or your kids won’t behave. It’s hard to develop a plan for anything you can do when the problem is someone else. There are three possible approaches, try to change the other person, change yourself, or stay miserable while insisting that things shouldn’t be the way they are.
While it’s difficult, it is sometimes possible to change the other person. Every relationship, especially couples and families, develop a pattern of how they relate to each other. Therapists call this the “family dance.” If you want to change the interaction, you must change the dance, and you begin this by doing different steps than you’ve done before. As you change others will be forced to change in response, though they may not always change in the way you want them to change.
Both changing yourself and the process of encouraging others to change are skills you can learn. You might want to look at the posts about problem ownership and behavioral modification.
Generate possible solutions for your identified problem.
Once you are clear on what the problem is and who needs to make the changes, you can begin to generate a list of possible solutions. Let’s take the “fighting about money” problem.
It may be hard work, but a first step would be to develop a budget. You need to know how much money is coming in each month and where it is going. The couple needs to agree on how important savings are to them. What percentage of each month’s income do they plan to save? Saving should include putting something away for retirement. A small amount saved each year can grow to a substantial amount over your working lifetime.
You also need to prioritize what you spend your money on. That mixed coffee drink can be a nice treat. But if you add up what you spend on those lattes and compare it to the cost of making a pot of coffee and taking a mug with you, having the money to pay the power bill the first of the month may be worth more than those daily splurges.
Solutions you might consider for solving your financial issues could be ways to earn more income, ways to reduce expenses, or sell something you have, to raise some extra cash. Many people find that their payments on expensive cars or credit card balances are the hole the drains money faster than they can earn it.
Solving financial problems is often painful, but if you don’t solve these problems, the stress can damage your mental health and destroying your relationship.
Explore the advantages and disadvantages.
Any effort to solve a problem comes with pros and cons. The last real estate downturn forced people to choose between making large payments for houses that were worth less than what they still owed on them, or giving up their dream home.
To solve a specific problem, you may have to give up something or do something you don’t wish to do. Evaluating your options can be difficult. You will never have all the information you would wish for. But eventually, you must choose to change something, or you will choose to continue to live with the pain of an unresolved issue.
Implement your selected solution.
This step trips up a lot of people. The couple decides they need to let things from the past go and focus on the future, but the next time there’s a disagreement about raising the kids or spending money all that past stuff gets thrown into the argument.
You may have decided to stop splurging on little expenses, and the next day, when you feel a little down, you start spending again. If you decided the way to solve your financial problems was to stop making impulsive purchases and pay down your credit card debt, be careful of making exceptions and buying something just this one time because you want it.
When you have these little slips and don’t follow your plan, don’t beat yourself up and don’t toss the plan away. Accept that you’re not going to be perfect the following the plan. Redouble your efforts again the next day.
Evaluate the results you are getting from your plan.
Whatever the problems you’re trying to solve, you need to do periodic reviews and evaluate whether what you’re doing is moving you in the right direction. Some problems may be easily solved. Others may require effort over a long period. Don’t get discouraged. Do give yourself credit for the effort you put in and for whatever results you achieve.
Modify the solution as needed.
Be careful about getting locked into one solution. Some ideas you may have had for solving your problem won’t work. Others may take more effort and time than you’re willing to put into them. Make whatever changes you need to make to reach your goal.
What should you do if your solutions don’t work?
At any point in the process, you might want to seek out professional help. For financial problems, you may need financial counseling. For work-related issues, you might need to see an educational or career counselor. For mental health and emotional problems consider therapy. If the problem is your relationship consider couples, marriage, or family counseling.
Behavioral problems such as excessive anger or a substance use disorder are likely to require professional help also. If your relationship is full of conflict, a relationship counselor can help you work through the conflict.
Don’t feel that it’s a sign of weakness to seek professional help. Athletes have coaches and businesses hire consultants. Sometimes the investment of a few dollars spent on professional help can pay off in huge improvements in solving your emotional and relationship problems.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller.
David Joel Miller MS is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC.) Mr. Miller provides supervision for beginning counselors and therapists and teaches at the local college in the Substance Abuse Counseling program.
Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.