Is it a problem, or a constraint?

November 16, 2010

in 1 + 1 = 1, Understanding Her

Seth has a great post entitled “Problems and constraints”. In short, he says a problem is something you can solve, while a constraint is something that can’t be solved (at least not by you) and must be worked with or around.

I find the idea of problem versus constraint to be very useful in marriage. I would subdivide the problems category a bit:

  • Problems you can solve on your own.
  • Problems that can be solved if you and your bride work together.
  • Problems that she must solve, but that you can help or support her in solving.
  • Problems that only she can solve, on her own.

The last one above is, for you, a constraint – maybe short term, maybe long term, maybe permanent. The second and third are constrains if she is currently unwilling or unable to work on them.

So what do you do about marriage constraints? It depends on if you see the constraints as likely to change, unlikely to change, or permanent. If a constraint is permanent, then do all you can to work around it. Don’t see it as anyone’s fault (even if it could be construed that way) – it’s simply a reality your marriage must deal with, so deal with it and move on. Doing a lot to work around a constraint that is likely to change may be a waste of energy, and it may actually cause her to decide she does not need to solve the issue. In this case, make sure she knows any working around is a temporary thing – just until the problem is dealt with. The difficult category is constraints that are likely to be long term, but could be dealt with eventually. The problem here is the balance between enabling her (by working around it) and living in misery when you or both of you could be better off by working around the issue. There is also the issue of how you will feel “waiting” when you could make it easier – if you are going to be grumpy about it, then the work-around my be the best, most loving choice.

Have you looked at the “problems” in your marriage and divided them into what are problems you can solve and constraints you can’t fix? Clarity is always a good thing.


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