Are your relationship issues actually solvable? Check out what this surprising research says

May 08,2020

According to relationship researcher John Gottman, a whopping 69% of relationship conflicts are not solvable.

Yeah, you read that right.

69% – that’s more than 2 out of 3!

After years studying thousands of couples, Gottman found that 69% of their major sources of conflict were never able to be resolved. The couple would return to the conflict over and over again throughout the course of their relationship.

It became a “perpetual problem.”

Now, that might initially seem like a pretty depressing statistic.

When I first read it, I found myself thinking, “I’m seriously going to have to deal with my husband Xander’s chronic lateness for the rest of my life?!” and “Please, please, please let our arguments about Xander being late be a part of the other 31%!”

It’s OK if you’re having a similar reaction! 

In Gottman’s research, he looked at the different ways that couples dealt with these perpetual problems. He found that the key difference between a couple breaking up and a couple making it long-term was this:

Their ability to communicate about the problem.

Not resolving the problem, just talking about it.

Successful couples were able to accept their partner’s differences, and communicate about them in a loving way. 

And the very best couples could approach their differences with a little humor and amusement!

My old line of thinking was: “Ugh, why is Xander late ALL THE TIME? It’s really not that hard to look at the clock.” But it turns out this wasn’t particularly productive!

And there was also a part of me that really and truly thought I could “fix” his chronic lateness. Maybe if I reminded him of the time every 5 minutes, he would finally start looking at the clock on his own. Maybe if I nagged him enough times about being prompt, he would finally start to value it. Maybe if I got mad enough at him over being late it would finally get through to him!

But I challenged myself to think about his lateness in a different way. Could I just accept that I have a temporally-challenged husband? That yes, something as simple as glancing down at his phone every now and then is actually pretty darn challenging for this otherwise remarkably intelligent and thoughtful creature? I’m chuckling to myself even as I write this, so clearly this different approach is working.

Xander is just going to be a chronically late person for the rest of his life, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

But that doesn’t mean that we just have to accept defeat!

I know that Xander is often late because he’s working on something else that he’s promised me he’ll do, like finishing a work project for our business, or a household chore. He’s never purposefully trying to be a jerk about being late! Maybe Xander could try to get better at telling me what he’s doing, to remind me that he’s late for a good reason. 

I could accept that Xander-time is different than Vanessa-time, and start planning my time accordingly. So when we agree to take the dogs on a walk at 6:30, I secretly know to expect that it will be closer to 6:45. Or I could even suggest 6:15, knowing that it’s more likely to be 6:30.

When we inevitably get ourselves in frustrating situations due to his lateness, I can try to remind myself of my own “incurable” problems, like my tendency to shut down and clam up when I’m upset. I can remind myself that we’re both inconvenienced by each others’ perpetual problems!

And I can also remind myself of Xander’s numerous positive qualities. His unbelievable kindness and generosity. How ridiculously smart he is. His ability to be vulnerable instead of defensive during tough conversations. The way he loves me – with a completely open, fearless heart. That’s worth putting up with some annoying chronic lateness!

I don’t have to “fix” Xander, and he doesn’t have to “fix” me. We just have to work together, as teammates, to understand and accept our unique strengths and challenges. And make each other laugh every once in a while.

Doesn’t sound so bad after all, does it?

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I'm Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist and writer specializing in helping you have more fun in the bedroom.

I have bachelor’s degrees in human sexuality and sociology from Brown University, and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. I’m also a licensed psychotherapist. I’ve been working in the sex therapy field since 2002 and have been featured by The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, and many more.

If you’re interested in improving your sex life, you can work with me via my online courses or personal coaching sessions. I look forward to supporting you in creating the sex life you’ve always wanted!