EducationChoosing Someone Means Choosing A Set Of Irresolvable Problems

Craig Toonder, MFT. Oakland Couples Counseling

Choosing Someone Means Choosing A Set Of Irresolvable Problems

          In any relationship, you will have to learn how to deal with the problems that naturally arise from basic differences in how each of us lives our life. In Dan Wile’s book, After the Honeymoon, Dan explains how choosing a partner means you are also choosing a particular set of “irresolvable problems” that you’ll have to learn to grapple with. These problems often lead to fights. In order to manage these fights and not let them ruin the relationship, couples need to learn to develop a relationship to their fights. They need to learn to gain an understanding and perspective of the fight to allow them to step back and not take things so personally. They need to develop tools to talk about what happened and tend to any hurt feelings that may have arisen.

          He further explains that these irresolvable problems are not signs the relationship is doomed, or that the couple is a bad match. To exemplify this, he describes a couple, Paul and Alice, who frequently get into fights after parties because Alice gets loud and awkward when she gets nervous, where as Paul gets quiet, shy and self-conscious.  Each of their reactions to feeling uncomfortable then exacerbates the other’s feeling of discomfort. In explaining why this couples isn’t just a “poor match” and should be with someone else, he writes:

            “If Paul had married Susan or Gail, his previous two girlfriends, he wouldn’t have had the particular problem at parties that he has with Alice. Neither of these women got loud and awkward when nervous, and neither objected when Paul got quiet.

            But if Paul had married Susan, he and Susan would have gotten into a fight before they even arrived at the party. That’s because Paul, who is rarely on time, would have kept Susan waiting. Susan would have felt taken for granted, which is something she is sensitive about. And Paul would have taken her complaint about his always being late as her wanting to control him, which is something he is sensitive about.

            If Paul had married Gail, he and Gail wouldn’t have gotten out the door, period. That’s because they would have gotten too upset about an argument earlier that day about Paul not helping with the housework. Gail would have experienced his not helping as abandonment, which is something she is sensitive about, and Paul would have experienced Gail’s insistence that he help as a way of controlling him, which, as I just said, is one of his sensitivities.

 If Alice had married Steve or Lou, her previous two boyfriends, she wouldn’t have had the particular problem at the parties that she had with Paul.

            If she had married Steve, she’d have had the opposite problem. Steve gets louder at parties than she does. He would have gotten drunk; she would have gotten angry about it; and they would have gotten into a fight.

            If she had married Lou, both would have enjoyed the party since it would have provided momentary relief from the disconnection that generally developed between them on weekends. But they would have had trouble when they got home and Lou wanted sex. Lou responds to disconnection by wanting sex. It’s his way of reestablishing connection. Alice would have responded by not wanting sex. Sex is something she wants only when she already feel close.”

             As you can see, no matter who Paul or Alice was with, there would inevitably be problems they would have to learn to deal with. Often times it is easy to get a good perspective on these “irresolvable problems” and books by Dan Wile or John Gottman can help. Other times the couple will find themselves struggling to get a hold on things, unable to discuss their issues without it re-escalating into a fight. Even in these cases, all is not lost. A couples therapist trained in system dynamics can help couples figure out how their conversation goes wrong and how to communicate with each other in a way that allows them to successfully grapple with their fights.


Dan Wile (2008), After the Honeymoon. Oakland: Collaborative Couples Therapy Books.