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The 5 Basic Skills for Handling Relationship Problems


Jun. 19, 2022 Psychology Today

You’re not rattled so quickly, can mentally turn crises into problems, and develop a solid core of competence that increases your self-esteem and helps you feel confident.

Relationships are no different. Yes, there’s plenty of information out there, and if you get into the weeds, you’ll probably find about 300 things to worry about and have to do right. But you don’t need to worry about those 300. Here’s a shorter list: Five core skills that, like handling the house, car, and kids, can make your life a bit easier:

1. Control Your Anger

If you have that 0-to-60 temper, blow up at the drop of a hat, or even do that slow burn/fed-up, periodic but damaging explosion every once in a while, you need at some point to learn to rein it in. This isn’t about just relationships but running your life. If you can’t, not only will you hurt your relationships and, with that, your life, but you can easily develop a me-against-the-world stance where the only problem is other people who make you angry rather than you—a lonely and anxious life.

If this is a struggle for you, tackle it—with therapy, medication, meditation, something.

2. See Control as Anxiety

Yes, some folks are controlling to be controlling. For them, it’s about power and manipulation and using others as objects to get what they want, but for most, control is tied to anxiety. You constantly feel micromanaged by your boss, but likely she’s a worrier who is always looking ahead at possible worst-case scenarios. The control can feel more suffocating when you are living with someone, or even worse if this has been going on for years. 

Control as anxiety means that the other person gets anxious, and their automatic response is to get you to do what they want you to do. If they can, and you do, they are less anxious. To help you feel less like the ten-year-old under the thumb of an obsessive parent, substitute the control you feel for their problem with anxiety.

Next, instead of snapping and saying, “Get off my back!” say, “Tell me what you’re worried about.” That’s the driver; that’s what puts the problem back in their court. But you need to practice saying this calmly: Think less about you feeling like a victim and more about the other struggling.

3. Look for the Problem Under the Problem

You feel your partner drinks too much or is too rigid or lazy, driving you crazy. At this point, the problem is yours, not theirs. For them, what you consider a problem is for them likely a solution to another underlying problem: that drinking helps them deal with stress, that rigid is about structure that reduces anxiety—or that lazy is in the eye of the beholder and is about different priorities or view of how to live your life.

Rather than complaining or trying to micromanage all the time, stop and ask about the problem under the problem: I’m feeling upset about _______; how do you think about it differently; help me understand better why you do what you. By doing this, you change the conversation, avoid slipping into a power struggle, and have an opportunity to find better ways of either seeing the issue differently or together solving the problem in a better way.

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