Problem-solving Skills: Creating New Possibilities

Developing strong communication skills like those described in the previous unit is one important aspect to effectively handling issues that might arise in relationships. Couples also need good problem-solving skills. The problem-solving approach described in this unit can be used with any type of problem, whether of a religious nature or not.

A Step-by-step Approach to Problem-solving

The following model for solving problems can be helpful when a couple are stuck or having conflict around a particular issue.

Step One: Define the Problem – The first step is to define what issue will be addressed. In some cases, the problem will be easy to define. In other cases, it may be difficult to determine how specific or how broadly to define the issue.

Step Two: Identify the Underlying Needs – Before generating solutions, it can be helpful to have each person state the needs that the solution will ideally address.  This encourages both parties to seek solutions that meet both individual’s needs, which makes the process more collaborative.  Solutions to complex problems are seldom perfect, so individuals may need to prioritize which needs are most important to them.

Step Three: Brainstorming – Once the needs have been identified, brainstorm possible solutions. Brainstorming is meant to be a creative process, encouraging you to think outside the box. Try to identify as many solutions as possible, without worrying if the ideas are feasible or practical. Don’t critique any idea or solution at this stage because an unconventional idea may have some merit or provide the inspiration for another idea. Be careful not to exit this step too quickly. You and your partner need to put time and energy into brainstorming ideas, considering possible solutions from as many different angles or perspectives as possible. Exploring how other couples have handled similar issues can also facilitate brainstorming given they may have an outlook or perspective much different from your own.

Step Four: Evaluate the Ideas – After you have generated a sufficient number of ideas through brainstorming, you can begin to evaluate the ideas. One way to do this is to list the advantages and disadvantages for each idea. Unconventional ideas should not be immediately discarded because they may have some merit, or could be modified into a more realistic solution. After evaluating each option, choose an option that seems to offer the best solution for addressing both you and your partner’s needs. Hopefully, you will be able to identify a solution that offers a win-win for both parties. Often finding an acceptable solution requires compromise. Solutions that strongly favor one person’s needs over another’s are less likely to be as successful as those that require compromise from both individuals.

Step Five: Implement the Solution – In this step, discuss the specifics of how to implement the solution. Each of you will describe what you will do to put the solution into practice. It is usually recommended that the solution be implemented on a trial basis, and then the results re-evaluated to see if the solution worked (see Step Six). Therefore, you and your partner should agree on how long to try the solution.

Step Six: Evaluate the Success of the Solution – Finally, evaluate if the problem has been successfully resolved. Are both of you satisfied with the outcome? If not, you could consider trying an alternative solution. Or, it may be necessary to go back to an even earlier step to make sure the problem and needs have been properly defined, or to brainstorm new solutions in the hopes of identifying a better alternative.


In the last unit, you had the opportunity to share your perspectives about a problem of moderate difficulty. For this exercise, revisit the same problem you and your partner discussed in the communication unit, this time applying the problem-solving approach described above. If the problem you discussed in the earlier unit was resolved by simply coming to a better understanding, then select a new problem to discuss and problem-solve. The problem should be of moderate difficulty (e.g., 5 on a scale of 1 to 10). As you become more practiced at using the skills, then you can apply the problem-solving approach on more difficult problems.