I love doing Sudoku puzzles—the ones where you need to put numbers in those little squares to get a result? You can find them at your local bookstore, in the newspaper, and now on your iPhone. I do them on my iPad and in my newspaper. I’ve purchased those big books too. In fact, I love the very complicated ones—the ones with 9 and 13 boxes all embedded together.
Naturally, I didn’t start with the most challenging ones first. I started small with those regular 9x9 squares and worked my way up. Solving problems in a relationship is similar in many ways to solving a Sudoku problem. Consider these 4 steps.
Look for possible and easy solutions at first glance.
When you start with easy problems, finding successful solutions gives you the confidence to tackle the more difficult ones. In relationships, we often have different types of problems: those that are easily handled by simply saying yes or no, those that really require a lot of time for thought, and those that require exploration of alternative solutions and outside help. Starting with easier challenges gets you in the mindset of taking care of those smaller problems so that you are able to focus on more difficult issues. It’s like a warm up exercise, if you wish.
Start to create a method/system to find solutions.
Making assumptions and building on false assumptions leads to disaster. Guessing at a solution creates more problems. Instead, look at what works well for you when you resolve issues. What is your method? Do you write things down on paper to make it easier for you to see the whole picture? Do you make a list of pros and cons? What goes on in your head when trying to solve a puzzle or a problem? This becomes your method or your system to finding solutions.
When a solution seems impossible, walk away for a little while and then come back.
This will clear your head and give you some fresh perspective. How often have you worked on something for hours, trying to find what would work best and then when you finally think you have an answer or you’ve determined you can’t do anything about the problem, you walk away for a while? How often do you come back and see all the possibilities right there in front of you? In relationships, when we are too close to the problem, when all our energies are focused on trying to solve this issue, we sometimes forget to look “outside of the box.” That’s what happens when we step away from the situation just long enough to help us get some new fresh perspective on what can be done. It’s a great ego booster also, to realize that we can do something about a problem that might seem impossible to handle.
Sometimes we just need to wipe the slate clean and start over.
There are times when just starting over is the best solution. I don’t mean getting a divorce. What I mean is to agree to disagree, but only on the things that don’t seem to be working. Then, all of a sudden, when you decide to start with a clean slate, you discover the real problem areas, which might not be where you had spent all your energies or time arguing. Starting from scratch with your partner gives you an opportunity to explore new solutions to an old problem, but you need to come to this problem as if it’s new, not a continuation of an old issue.
Just like doing Sudoku or any other puzzle, the more you do them, the more skillful you become at finding easy solutions. The more skillful you are, the better you feel about your ability to work on your relationship, because you have had lots of practice and success at solving smaller issues and working your way up.
Always remember that you can always ask for help, that you are never alone. The answer always lies somewhere close to you. You just need to reach out and ask.