Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

Options for Solving
Relationship "Problems

Tools you can use

By Peter K. Gerlach MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council

The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/relate/keys/guidelines.htm

Updated  01-31-2015

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      This brief YouTube clip previews key points in this article. The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons. I've reduced that to seven.

      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. These articles build on Lessons 1 - 3, and prepare you for Lesson 5 (evolve a nourishing family) and Lesson 6 (learn to practice effective parenting).

       All relationships create conflicts or problems - clashing values, perceptions, needs, and preferences. Your beliefs and knowledge shape how well you're able to resolve the relationship problems you encounter among your personality subselves and with adults and kids. This article proposes (a) 18 premises and (b) practical guidelines to help you avoid or resolve any relationship problem. To use these resources effectively, you'll need your true Self to guide you in any social situation..

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it.

  • self-improvement lessons 1 thru 3 ,

  • perspective on human needs,

  • requisites for a nourishing relationship, and...

  • how to analyze relationship problems

   NEW  Status Check

      Begin by reflecting for a moment. Think about various relationship problems you've had, and rate your ability to resolve them "well." Which of these statements best describes you?

_  I know how to define "effective relationship-problem resolution" now.

_  My true Self usually guides me in most social situations (Lesson 1)

_  I/m fluent in the seven effective-communication skills now (Lesson 2).

_  I'm consistently able to effectively resolve any relationship problem with adults or kids

_  I can resolve some relationship problems effectively, but not others.

_  I'm usually unable to resolve significant relationship problems effectively.

_  I know how to resolve relationship problems among my personality subselves.

I'm _ slightly _ moderately _ very motivated to improve my relationship problem-solving ability now..

Premises About Relationship Problems

      A "premise" is a point of view about something. See how these premises compare with your beliefs. Circle which of these applies to each premise below: A = "I agree," D = "I disagree," and ? = "I'm not sure," or "It depends" (on what?)

   1)   NEW  An interpersonal "relationship" exists when the presence, absence, attitudes, and/or behaviors of one person (or personality subself) ":significantly affects" another person or subself. "Significantly" is a subjective judgment.  (A  D  ?)

   2)   NEW  Adults and kids vary in their need for social relationships. "Introverts" find more comfortable stimulation within themselves. "Extroverts" need social relationships to feel stimulated and valued. The degree of introversion or extroversion is determined by which personality subselves usually control the host person. That depends of how much nurturance the person got in early childhood.  (A  D  ?)

   3)   NEW  Social relationships van be mutual ("reciprocal") or one-way (one person is somewhat to totally indifferent to the other)  :(A  D  ?)

   4)  Regardless of age, gender, and setting, mutually-satisfying relationships usually have most of these four sets of ingredients. Missing ingredients cause "problems." (A  D  ?) 

   5)  A need is a physical, mental, psychological, or spiritual discomfort. The word problem means "one or more unmet needs."  Neediness is normal, not a "weakness." (A  D  ?)

   6)  Needs vary from superficial ("I need the car now") to primary ("I need reliable, accessible  transport, and security"). When people focus on surface needs and ignore the primary needs that cause them, "problem-solving" is temporary at best. Once aware of thee need-levels, anyone can learn to identify primary needs using awareness and dig-down skills  (A  D  ?)

   7) all human behavior is caused by each person trying to fill their current primary needs well enough. So solving major relationship problems hinges on all involved people wanting to identify and fill their current primary (vs. surface or secondary) needs. (A  D  ?)

    Premise 8)  Most social frustrations, conflicts, and divorces happen because people (i.e. their ruling subselves) don't...

  • identify and own their primary needs,

  • genuinely rank their and other people's needs and dignity as equally important and valid, and people...

  • weren't taught how to fill their mutual needs (problem-solve) well enough.

Once aware of these factors, anyone can learn reduce them.  (A  D  ?)

    9) Healthy adults are responsible for filling their own primary needs! If you are able-bodied and mentally healthy, and you expect your partner, a child, or others to regularly fill your needs, you're inviting disappointment, frustration, hurt, anger, and resentment. This is specially true if the others accept the responsibility! (A  D  ?)

    10) If you regularly accept responsibility for filling another competent adult's needs, you are enabling them (blocking their growth) and encouraging a dependent relationship. Enabling (vs. empowering) someone is inherently disrespectful. (A  D  ?)

    11) Needs can conflict between our personality subselves, causing "ambivalence," "uncertainty," and "confusion." One subself may need their host person to act (thought stream: "Come on, pick up the phone and call!"), and one or more other subselves may urge "No, no! You'll probably get lectured at and rejected again, which will hurt. Don't call!" These inner clashes are so common we're often not aware of them. (A  D  ?) Lesson 1 offers a way to reduce inner conflicts effectively. .

    Premise 12) A relationship problem between two people can really be a cluster of concurrent internal and mutual conflicts:

Jack's conscious
surface needs

<< conflict >>

Jill's conscious
surface needs

Jack's semi-conscious
conflicting primary needs

Jill's' semi-conscious
conflicting primary needs

       For example: if Jack says "You never listen to me" and Jill dutifully or anxiously tries to improve her listening, Jack may stay dissatisfied because his unspoken primary need is to feel more valued and respected by Jill. That would take spontaneous (vs. requested or demanded) new behaviors from Jill. It also might take Jack reducing his old shame wound ("insecurity"), which has nothing to do with Jill. (A  D  ?)

      Recall - these premises form a foundation for solving relationship problems effectively. How do they compare to your beliefs so far?

     13)  People who focus on resolving inner conflicts (among their personality subselves) first are best able to resolve interpersonal problems because they minimize confusing contradictions, double messages, and ambivalences. (A  D  ?) If you agree, is that what you usually do?

    14)  Internal and social relationship problems often involve a stressful dynamic described by Dr. Steven Karpmann in 1968 as Persecutor - Victim - Rescuer (PVR) triangling. Problems between two people (or subselves) often involve a third person in a way that keeps the problem going. (A  D  ?)  With your true Self in charge, use the seven communication skills in Lesson 2 to avoid and dissolve PVR triangles 

    15)  PVR triangles are often (a) caused by values conflicts, and (b) may create or amplify loyalty conflicts. These three stressors often occur together in any human group. They're specially common in low-nurturance (dysfunctional), divorcing, and step families. Few adults are aware of these three stressors or what to do about them. (A  D  ?) 

    16): Interpersonal relationships can be...

interdependent, where both partners genuinely feel "I choose to be with you, and I can live well enough without you if I must." Social surveys steadily report this feels best, and lasts the longest,


dependent, codependent, or enmeshed, where one or both partners give their power and personal responsibility to the other, believing "I can't live without you." Such people are usually wounded, and will experience significant relationship "problems" until they commit to personal wound-reduction;

 or relationships are...

independent: neither partner really needs much from the other, and has a weak or no emotional/spiritual bond with them. They may pretend otherwise to themselves and/or other people.

The level of childhood nurturance (low > high) and the mix of each person's dominant subselves (false selves vs. true Self) determines which type of relationship they (you) usually form. (A  D  ?)

17) Without personal and process awareness, most of us try to fill our needs by...

  • fighting and arguing (about who's wrong, and/or whose needs come first);

  • projecting, repressing, minimizing, and numbing;

  • intellectualizing, over-analyzing, discounting, and/or ignoring emotional and spiritual needs;

  • threatening, controlling, and manipulating (my current needs outrank yours), and...

  • avoiding, postponing, defocusing, denying, and/or withdrawing emotionally or physically.

None of these strategies fill adults' and kids' primary needs well enough. People who use them are unaware and often wounded, not bad, childish, selfish, arrogant, or stupid! (A  D  ?) This is why Lesson 1 (identify and reduce psychological wounds) is essential for effective relationship problem-solving.

Premise 18: When based on genuine mutual respect, seven communication skills can empower any adult or child led by their true Self to analyze and resolve their innerpersonal and interpersonal problems (need conflicts) well enough. Few parents or schools teach all these skills, so you and  your family members probably need to learn them together.  (A  D  ?) See Lesson 2.

      How aware were you of your premises about relationship problems? Who's responsible in your family for learning, modeling, and teaching such premises and effective-communication skills?

Learn something about yourself from this anonymous 1-question poll.   

        Before reading further, pause and identify several "relationship problems" you have at home, work, school, or socially. Keep them in mind as you read these...

  Problem-solving Guidelines

      Let's put these premises to work. Resolving any relationship "problem" (need-conflicts between subselves and people) involves specific proactive steps. The first steps aim to answer six questions:

  • "Is my true Self (capital "S") guiding me now?" If not, make achieving that your first goal.

  • "Is your Self guiding you now?" If not, see this after you finish here.

  • "What do I really need now?"

  • "What do you really need now?",

  • "Do you and I see each other's needs as equally important now?", and...

  • "What - if anything - blocks filling our respective needs well-enough now?"

      Reflect on each of these options, and decide if anything prevents you from acting on them now. Hilite or asterisk any that seem specially important. Option - checkmark any guideline you're using already:

1) Commit to mastering (at least) self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 4. Test your knowledge with these quizzes.

2)   Grow the habit of confirming that your true Self is in charge of your personality. When s/he is not, lower your expectations.

3) Accept that you are responsible for deciding what you need and asserting respectfully to get it. If you can't accept that, suspect that a well-meaning false self controls you.

4)   Use this framework to analyze what is the relationship problem - for whom?

5) Be aware of thinking or saying that "this problem is a crisis / disaster / catastrophe." These are emotionally explosive terms that can scare your subselves and other people, and promote impulsive (unwise) reactions.

6) Make (vs. "find") undistracted time to work on the problem alone and with others involved.

7) Grow and use a Personal Bill of Rights to help, and affirm others' equal rights. Shame-based (wounded) people have major trouble with this until they commit to true (vs. pseudo) wound- reduction ("recovery")

8) Accept that your opinions, values, rights, and needs are just as legitimate and important as anyone else's, regardless of age, role, race, faith, or gender.

9) Help everyone accept that being needy (wanting to reduce current  discomforts) is normal and healthy, not weak or shameful! That includes needing and accepting help.

10) Note that trying to help someone who doesn't want help is really about your needs, and is inherently disrespectful.

11) Help each other accept that conflicts among subselves and people, and the emotions that go with them, are normal and potentially healthy, not inherently negative, wrong, or bad!

12) Accept that all emotions are useful pointers to unfilled needs. Emotions are natural and neutral, not "negative" or "positive". How our subselves express or act on emotions can be productive or harmful.

      More guidelines for resolving any relationship problem...

13)   Focus on identifying unmet primary (vs. surface) needs, vs. who's wrong or at fault (blaming and defending). Criticizing, minimizing, denying, and defending hinder effective problem-solving, and suggest false-self control. Use this table and cooperative digging-down to help identify your and your partner's primary needs:

14) Stay aware of your problem-solving  process, and help each other learn and use all seven communication skills with patience and mutual respect. Identify simultaneous need-conflicts, separate and rank them, and work on one at a time.

      The alternative is "riding off in all directions" and not filling each person's needs. Use the resources in Lesson 2 and its guidebook to patiently strengthen the effectiveness of your thinking and communicating.

15) In important social situations, practice objectively noticing your and your partners' E(motion)-levels, R(espect)-messages, and awareness bubbles.

16) Aim for good-enough compromises and solutions rather than perfection, "winning," or being right. Be alert for and avoid power struggles. They're sure signs one or both of you are controlled by a false self.

17) Help each other brainstorm viable solutions, vs. doing black-white, either-or thinking. There are always more than two options!

18) Help each other stay focused on identifying and filling current primary needs vs. detouring too often into the past or the future.

19) Enjoy growing the art and skill of praising and affirming yourself and each other. Learn how to assert dodge-proof compliments and affirmations!

20) Identify what problem-solving techniques (e.g. these) consistently work for you as a person, a pair, and as a family. Then help each other do more of them. Help each other stay aware of your process! This minimizes having how you communicate amplify your relationship problem

21) If you or another person feel stuck in resolving a mutual dispute,

  • review these guidelines as teammates, not opponents;

  • review these common communication-blocks and tips together. They apply equally to dialogs among your subselves and with other people; and...

  • Periodically review these communication basics together, and help each other improve your seven communication skills.  

22) Reality-check your expectations of yourself and each other. Your problem-partners may not be able or willing to fill your expectations.

23) Check to see that you partners are each able to spot and resolve values and loyalty conflicts, and associated relationship triangles.

      24) Review these effective problem-solving steps. and read these examples of  win-win problem-solving. Then learn from this conflict-resolution inventory.

25) Keep a wide-angle perspective. This article is a summary outline. To fully optimize your subselves' and social relationships, patiently study (at least) lessons 1 thru 4 in this ad-free self-improvement course.

      Notice also how many relationship-problem-solving options you have. Go back over this list and rank-order which guidelines you want to learn and try first. Accept that reaping the rewards of these options will take steady commitment, awareness, practice for months, and a willingness to see mistakes as chances to learn.

      If you have young people in your life, note your opportunity to teach them these premises and resolution-guidelines over time. If you don't - who will?


      This Lesson-4 article offers (a) premises about relationships and relationship "problems"; and (b) practical options for solving inevitable relationship problems (conflicting personal and mutual needs). Mull and discuss these premises with the key people in your life, toward clarifying what you each believe. Your beliefs will inexorably shape how effectively you resolve your conflicts (fill your respective needs) together.

      Option - print and place your version of these premises and options where you can access them easily. With specially difficult problems, read them out loud to each other...

      Pause, breathe well, and reflect - What are you thinking and feeling now? Recall why you read this. Did you get what you needed? If not - what do you need now? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self, or ''someone else''?

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