Creative Problem Solving

Creative Problem Solving

Which is more beset by problems: a new marriage where so much has to be negotiated and jointly decided, or a long-standing marriage stressed by life's complex nature? Whatever your personal opinion, you will agree that a skill vital to maintaining a meaningful and effective marriage relationship is knowing how to recognize and solve problems.
 
Many well-meaning people think that the first step in solving problems is discovering their causes. Will that approach guarantee finding the best solutions? Often delving into the cause of the problem brings up hurtful memories, or erroneously gives the negative impression that if the root of the problem is so firmly entrenched, there is little hope for change.
 
 Let's challenge this concept and explore more creative ways of thinking about problems and solving them. To make the following work in your marriage, you will need an open mind and the willingness to try something just a little bit different.

The first step is learning how to properly identify problems. Not all problems are ours to solve. Not all problems deserve our attention. Some problems disappear on their own if a small, albeit important, change is made:

 Creative Solution 1:

Recognize that a problem belongs to the person whose needs and desires are not being met.  This means that the fact that your sister-in-law is bored up in the mountains alone is her problem, since her needs are not being met. As long as you and your spouse both agree that staying home is the best decision, and you thank her and tell her you'll accept her invitation another time, the problem remains hers and doesn't threaten your marriage. However once you assume ownership over someone else's problem and allow it to effect your relationship, it does become your problem. Too many couples adopt other people's problems, thus causing needless strain on their own relationship. The next time you think you have a problem, stop, think and ask yourself: Is this truly my problem or is it only masquerading as mine when in reality it "belongs"  to someone else? You might be happily surprised at the answer.

 Creative Solution 2:

Categorize your problems. The next time you feel overwhelmed by problems, take a few minutes to list them under the headings, PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE, with subheadings MINE and TO BE DELEGATED.  The bus you missed, as well as the appointments for which you arrived late, go under the heading PAST. They were upsetting, but since they clearly belong to the past, no amount of creative energy can change them. Under the heading PRESENT, you will note that you will need to call a plumber to repair the faucet. You must also think of a quick, alternative supper menu or a way to delay supper (serve a huge salad to ward off hunger pangs and play with the children until the microwave-defrosted chicken gets done in the old pressure cooker you haven't used in years?).  Can calling neighbors to locate a reliable plumber be listed under TO BE DELEGATED? Can you delegate an older child the task of entertaining the younger ones by preparing a huge salad together?

Creative Solution 3:

Attempt to identify a single cause for a cluster of problems. This is certainly a daunting list of frustrations. However, after listing them you discover that they are all directly connected to the word "car". Sit down with your spouse, take out your checkbook and credit card bills and add up what car ownership costs annually, including insurance, gas, and repairs. Then think. Do you use the car that often? What do other family members do for transportation when the car is being used? Would it actually be cheaper, in the long run, to sell the car and to take taxis whenever any family members need transportation?

Creative Solution 4:

Share your problem with someone else. This advice is rooted in our holy Torah that teaches, "De'aga belev ish yeshchena". A person should seek out someone with whom to share his worries" (Mishlei 12:25). If your problem is a private matter, it is best to consult a rabbi or a religious competent counselor. However if your problems are of a general nature, discussing them with any wise, compassionate person can do wonders.
 When dealing with a difficult problem remember the advice of Chazal, "Assei lecha rav, knei lecha chaver". Acquire a rabbi, buy yourself a friend" (Pirkei Avos 1:6) Don't rely on your own logic when dealing with life's difficulties. Learn from the wisdom of others, request the support of friends, and learn from their past experiences. Understandably, if your spouse is sensitive and feels some issues are personal, even if you feel otherwise, for optimum results decide together how much to share and with whom.

Creative Solution 5:

Ask the correct questions. A vital skill in creative problem-solving is finding ways in which to prevent, or at least minimize, problems. One way is not to look for appropriate answer to a problem, but to know how to ask the appropriate question.
 What questions might have run though the mind of the woman who was frantically looking for her husband so they could leave the wedding together? "Why is it that he is never where I need him to be?" Or, "Why doesn't he remember that he has a wife and inch closer to the mechitza, so I can spot him when we need to leave?" Or, "Why can't anything we do together work out right?"
 If this woman is like most, these are the questions she would have been asking. However the answer to these questions would not have left her feeling good about her spouse, or about her marriage. So let's replace those unhelpful, negative-sounding questions with better ones.
 "Does my husband realize I have been looking for him for the past half-hour?"  The answer, assuredly, is "No". "Did we both forget to make up a time to meet outside the hall as we usually do?" The answer is clearly, "Yes".  

 Asking the right questions leads to the avoidance of bad feelings, whereas focusing on inappropriate questions leaves the woman feeling that her husband himself is the main problem and their entire marriage has been one long history of disappointments. How disheartening!  The example given in this practice problem highlighted a woman's frustrations, but creatively searching for the correct set of questions leads to a clearer, more mature estimation of the situation -- regardless of gender. Often through the use of correct questions one realizes that foresight on both your parts might have avoided the problem. It might also discover changes you can implement to prevent future recurrences.  Asking the "correct" questions is definitely Torah-based. Before we make any decision that doesn't require halachic ruling, we are taught by our Sages to ask "Will this bring credit to me? Will it earn the esteem of my fellow man?" (Pirkei Avos 2:1)

 So the next time you find yourself fuming about a problem, before attempting to solve it, check to see if a change in your "questions" might make the problem appear less upsetting, or even non-existent.


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