Why you should solve your problems out loud

My husband appreciates many things about me. Possibly just slightly more than my good looks and charm, and of course my outstanding skills in the kitchen (har har) he appreciates the fact that I am a bit of a problem solver. 

Most of the time, if I come up against a mountain, I'll either figure out a way around it, a way over it, or a way through it. ('Around' is my preferred option by the way: 'over' is generally too hard, and 'through' is generally too dirty, although I'm not averse to either hard work or a bit of grit.)

He won't mind me telling you that he reckons he's learned a bit of problem solving from me over the years, and last week he came up with a solution to which I said, "Oh man, I wish I'd thought of that." He was suitably chuffed, and I felt a teensy bit annoyed. But I'll take it as a challenge, right? (No, no, we're not competitive at all...)

Where did I learn my problem solving skills from? My family. Specifically, my mother's side of the extended family. She has two sisters, both of whom had husbands and kids, and we all did a lot of things together in the months that my family was back in Australia. I have vivid memories of long, involved conversations about logistics: how we would get to places, who needed what, and the best way to manage things.

"You can take that car, with those people, and then, once you're there, swap the trailer over, so they drive it home, and then they can use it for what they need it for. Then you bring those kids home, but not that kid, because she's got to go to dancing, so she can be dropped off by that person, but they can only pick her up after they've arrived, at 3, because they've been off doing that other thing..."

"But what about the fact that the trailer needs to be used here until 4pm on that day?"

"Oh, you're right. So, let's rethink. They can take the other car. And you can drive the trailer..."

And so it went on.

I loved those conversations. They were lengthy, they were involved and they were complicated, but they were also optimistic and confident: my family were convinced that they could find a smart, efficient way of making everything happen that they wanted to happen. It was never too hard; if it didn't seem possible, it was only because we hadn't thought of the right solution yet. If we needed different resources, we'd find a way to get them. We were flexible enough to work together, to think creatively and to compromise if necessary.

I've hung out with other people since those days and been in conversations that have stalled because no one is either able or willing to do the thinking it takes to solve the problems. 

"It's too hard," they've said. "We can't do it." Or they've sulked. "I don't want to do it anymore."

Sometimes when this has happened, I've wondered what's so hard about it. "You could do this or that," I've offered as a solution, occasionally, but people haven't been convinced, or haven't wanted to try.

Doing Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) therapy with our son with autism, my husband and I were encouraged to do a lot of our thinking 'out loud' so that our son could model his problem solving on what he saw of ours. We did a lot of apparent talking to ourselves: "Hmmm, I'd like to go and watch TV, but I've got cupcakes in the oven. If I watch TV, maybe I'll forget about the cupcakes and they'll get burnt. I wonder what I could do? Oh, I know. I'll set a timer for the cupcakes. That way when I hear it, I'll remember to go get them out of the oven."

It reminded me of the logistical conversations of our family that I was able to sit in on as a child. From them, I learned creativity, flexibility, how to rethink, how to work together, and a whole host of wonderful adult skills.

My husband and I also model our argument-solving skills at home. I don't believe in parents arguing behind closed doors (unless it's particularly sensitive). Our kids get to hear the vast majority of what we say to each other. They hear the angries, the (cough cough, occasional) shouting, the complicated discussions we have about the exact words the other person said, and what tone they were said in, and what they meant, and what they could have said instead, so as to not raise the temperature in the room, and the reasons I'm feeling so grumpy anyway, and couldn't I just have a hug, and I'm sorry I was cranky/rude/horrible/dismissive/whatever.

These days, when we argue, the kids look at us, like, 'what, again?' and the six year old says, "Can't you two use your kind words to each other and stop bossing each other?" (which probably would have solved the problem from the get-go, let's be honest). But In the end, after figuring it all out, and knowing that they've listened to every single thing, we say, "Hey, you guys. We had an argument, and we talked about it, and we worked out the problem, and we are okay again."

I hope that my kids will take that example into the rest of their lives. I hope, just like I learned to solve logistical problems from my family, my kids will learn to keep communicating, keep talking, and actually resolve their relationship problems.

Let's face it, most of the examples they see on TV about how to solve issues in relationships are rubbish: people storm out of the room and slam doors, or they bury the issue and pretend things are fine, or they say sorry for things they shouldn't be apologising for. Good drama on the screen does not make for a happy, healthy real life, so I have made it my aim to give them a realistic, warts-and-all-but-generally-successful relationship example that they can look back to.

So, it's worth doing your problem solving out loud, even if that means hitting a few wrong notes or having an argument here and there. At the least, you'll be teaching your kids amazing skills that will make their lives better. At the best, you might notice your own problem solving issues and communication deficits, and want to work on them.


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