Spring Cleaning with a Twist – Refresh Your Relationships

April 19, 2012

By Dr. Carolyn Nowakowski PsyD, LCP

Springtime is here, complete with all the symbols of renewal and re-growth.  There is spring cleaning, planting, opening of windows to let the fresh air in and tuning up bicycles to greet  the fresh air on it’s own turf.

Refresh Your Relationships

Did I mention spring cleaning?!  Ah yes, the joys of dusting and washing and polishing and renovating in the places we call Home.  But what about spring cleaning the Home of our relationships?  How do we dust and wash, polish and renovate our relationships when they have collected the debris of communication problems or ruts in emotional intimacy?

So, rather than focus on spring cleaning tips for the household (which we all know and love to avoid!), how about if we talk a bit about spring cleaning our communication in relationships? Because this is a broad topic, I’ll focus on one of the foundations of effective communication:  healthy problem-solving strategies.

Problem-Solving Strategies

How you think about a problem is more important than the problem itself – so always think positively.
– Norman Vincent Peale

Healthy problem-solving is a foundation because it can be applied to so many situations and can solidify the sense of connection and respect in relationships.  In The Power of Two:  Secrets to a Strong & Loving Marriage, author Susan Heitler, Ph.D. talks about a five-step process of problem-solving in relationships:

  1. Listen to your feelings, which indicate problems and preferences
  2. Describe the dilemma, the situation that troubles you
  3. Make a request, suggesting at least one solution that would help
  4. Listen to the response, to understand your spouse’s (or other loved one’s) concern
  5. Devise a solution, that works for both of you

It’s Worth It!

I imagine that some of you are thinking, “Yeah, right.  It  would be easier to do spring cleaning in ten households than accomplish those five points!”  No one said it’s easy, but it is so worth it in the long run when you and those you love make a habit out of this process.  Obviously, inherent in the strategy is respectful words and tone of communication.

Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.
– Henry Ford

Spring cleaning communication through problem solving strategies does take time and effort, but aren’t our relationships worth it?  Not only do these strategies support healthy connection and respect, when using them we are being resilient and effective role models for any little ones in the home.  And, as most of us know through experience, avoiding problem-solving can lead to much bigger problems down the road.

Family Problem Solving Worksheet

A wonderful tool to model healthy problem solving is the Family Problem Solving worksheet  in Skills Training for Children with Behavior Disorders:  A Parent and Therapist Guidebook by Michael L. Bloomquist. (Don’t be scared off by the book’s name, by the way, because there’s lots to learn from it even for families in which the children do not have behavior disorders!)

Remember to stay in the “here and now” (no criticisms about old stuff) and use healthy words and tone.  The following guideline can be used for couples or the whole family, and involve using a worksheet to follow the steps:

1.  Stop!! What is the problem we are having?

Approach the problem with openness and avoid blaming individuals.  Instead, focus on the way in which interactions as a whole are causing problems.  Specifically identify the problem so everyone agrees.

2.  What are some plans we can use?

Brainstorm as many alternative plans as possible, without criticism to any ideas.  Write them all down and don’t discuss solutions until completely done generating possible plans.

3. What is the best plan we could use?

Think about how each plan could be implemented, how each person would feel and what likely outcomes would be for each plan.  Choose the plan that is most likely to succeed toward the goal and make most family members feel ok with the option.  Try to reach an agreement by most or all family members if possible.

4. Do the plan.

Put the chosen plan into play as best as possible.  If needed, set up a timeframe for using a particular solution.  Do not criticize the plan or each other once it is implemented.

5. Did our plan work?

Evaluate the plan, and see if everyone is satisfied with the way the problem was solved.  If the plan you tried did not work, go through the process again and choose another possible solutions.

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.
– Mother Theresa of Calcutta
Spring cleaning?  Not so bad!  Gather your bucket of kindness, polish your smile, dust away the cobwebs of indifference, and put the shine back in your eyes.  Approach those you love with open ears and an open mind.  And then dive into the challenging but fulfilling work of assertive communication and healthy problem solving.
Hoover & Associates’ team of licensed psychologists, counselors, and social workers is here to offer you help and guidance. We’ve been providing mental health services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago since 1985. We’re conveniently located at 16325 S. Harlem Ave., Suite 200 (2nd floor), Tinley Park, IL, 60477. Our offices are conveniently located near Orland Park, Orland Hills, Homer Glen, Mokena, Frankfort, Matteson, Country Club Hills, Flossmoor, Homewood, Hazel Crest, Markham, Oak Forest, Midlothian, Crestwood, Palos Heights, Palos Park, and Palos Hills. Call to make an appointment: 708-429-6999.