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Different By Design, Part 3: Problem Solving Together With Your Spouse

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Problem Solving: Do You Step In or Step Back?

When you’re faced with a problem, do you step in and work to solve it right away – boldly and directly? Or maybe you step back cautiously and calculate the costs of your options before you make a decision.

Chances are, you tend towards one option which is more natural to you. So does your spouse.

Problem solving is one area of differences that regularly causes conflict for two spouses in a marriage – and Roger and Darlene are no exception. You’ll recall this couple had reluctantly agreed to attend a marriage conference at their church. At first they were surprised to learn that their God-given differences were actually strengths in disguise … and that they could view their incompatibility as a good thing, purposefully designed by God to help them complete each other.

But now during the conference discussion about problem solving, the couple remembered their confrontation that morning over paying the bills. Frustration washed over Roger anew as he pondered his wife’s deliberate wariness. Meanwhile, Darlene re-experienced the uneasiness that had become commonplace every time Roger moved to make a decision quickly. Would they ever be able to solve problems together?

Do You Step Into a Problem … or Step Back From It?

infielder catching ball

Image: Japan Times

One of the best ways to understand the power of differences in marriage, particularly when it comes to problem solving, is by examining the roles of baseball players during a game.

When a baseball is hit by a batter, two kinds of players on the opposing team respond. Their goal is the same: field the ball and make an out. Yet each has a different strategy.

Infielders – those players stationed closer to the batter and inside the baseball diamond lines – reach down to field a ground ball. They step into the ball, scoop it up quickly, and throw it to the nearest baseman to score an out.

Outfielders – those players stationed farthest from the batter and outside the baseball diamond lines – look up. They step back from the ball in order to see its trajectory. Only then do they catch the ball and throw it to a baseman.

outfielder looking for ball

Image: Birdland West

Batters on the offensive team hit close-in balls and outfield balls. Different defensive players – infielders and outfielders – are needed in order for the team to work together to field different hits. Both infielders and outfielders are crucial to a baseball team’s success.

The same is true with people. Various types of problems are continually thrown our way. God wires some of us to step into a crisis problem and make a quick play. They are known as Aggressive problem solvers. Others, the Reflectives, have the ability to step back, look at more complicated problem, and consider options to solve it.

Like infielders and outfielders, each kind of problems solver simply uses a different strategy. Both approaches are strengths. And both are necessary.

How the Outfield and Infield Work Together in Marriage

A problem in marriage arises when one or both spouses mistakenly believe that his way is the only way to solve problems. In doing so, they judge their spouse’s approach rather than valuing it, wrongly believing that their own “infielder” or “outfielder” approach is the best option.

That’s what Roger faces. When he sets about to solve a problem by stepping in and moving fast, he feels abandoned by Darlene. “She doesn’t respect me,” he thinks. “She doesn’t support my decisions.” While Roger is busy being decisive and quick, Darlene steps back. She feels devalued by his instantaneous choices. “He doesn’t need me,” she mistakenly believes. “He doesn’t care what I think.”

Roger’s infield movements are too much for Darlene, an outfielder who needs some time to think before making a play. Darlene’s caution frustrates her husband. Hurtful words are exchanged. Soon their conflict is not about the original problem to be solved, but now the isolation the husband and wife experience in the problem solving process. The couple feels further apart then ever.

Play the Ball Both Infield and Outfield

Instead of working separately to solve problems, you and your spouse can understand that each works differently. You can chose to value those different approaches, rather than let them tear you apart. Paul explains this kind of attitude:  “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-23, NIV)

Then rather than looking at how to solve a problem, you could choose to look at the best way to solve it. Which spouse is best equipped to handle this specific problem? Each can use his or her strengths in the problem solving process, depending upon what kind of problem has surfaced.

In a crisis or a time when a quick decision was needed, Roger could step in and take the lead. When the problem allowed for more deliberation, Darlene could take the time to step back, process the options, and point to a solution. As they worked together, they soon came to realize that it was more important to solve problems together than for one or the other to solve the problem their way.

Spouses solve problems together best when natural strengths in the relationship take the lead.

You can, too. Together, you and your spouse can field the balls that come your way … and win the game.

Hundreds of couples have discovered their personal strengths, their spouse’s strengths, and have built stronger, more intimate marriages with the Different By Design curriculum. Learn more.

Marriage Series: Different By Design

Different By Design, Part 1: Surprised By Differences With Your Spouse

Different By Design, Part 2: Incompatibility – a Powerful Basis for a Great Marriage

Different By Design, Part 4: Two Sets of Eyeglasses – Processing Information Together

Different By Design, Part 5: Starter or Finisher? Managing Change With Your Spouse

Different By Design, Part 6: Inside  or Outside the Lines? Facing Risk With Your Spouse

Different By Design, Part 7: Make a Plan to Use with Your Spouse From This Day Forward