Very simple ideas are sometimes the most effective when trying to improve a relationship. One such idea from choice theory that can help with relationship problems is the “solving circle.”
The solving circle is an abstract idea, so to make it more concrete, you could create an imaginary circle on the floor and put a couple of chairs inside. Here’s how it works…
Inside the circle are three things: the two partners plus the relationship itself. That’s right! The relationship exists inside the circle; it’s just as real as the two partners.
To work on improving the relationship, both partners step into the circle. Yes, this requires both partners. After all, it wouldn’t bode well if improvement was important to only one of the partners, would it?
When you’re inside the solving circle, the following conditions apply:
1. The relationship takes priority. Both partners will have their own wishes, and if you are having a difficult time in your relationship, then some of those wishes will probably conflict. So when you enter the solving circle, you are acknowledging that the relationship takes priority over the wishes of either partner. The focus becomes, “Will this decision help the relationship?” rather than, “Is this the decision that I want?”
2. You agree to not hurt the relationship. No matter how strongly you might disagree with your partner, as long as you are in the solving circle, you must negotiate your differences, rather than arguing, blaming, criticizing, or doing any of the other behaviours that we know hurt relationships. Thus, don’t try to change each other. Make your choices based on how they will affect the relationship.
3. Each partner says what they are prepared to do to help the relationship. Often, that means preparing to make some kind of compromise.
4. If you can’t reach a compromise right away, then step out and try again later. As long as both partners are willing to go back into the solving circle, then both partners are demonstrating that they value the relationship above their individual wants.
Every problem will not instantly be solved by stepping inside an imaginary circle! However, this simple physical act of stepping inside the imaginary circle shows that both partners genuinely want to help the relationship. As you become comfortable with the idea, the circle is a good reminder of that third entity—the relationship—that you don’t want to harm.
If you do try to coerce or force your partner into doing something they don’t want to do, it’s likely that your partner will step out of the solving circle. That makes a clear statement that there’s no longer a negotiation; you’re back to the old arguments!
Whether you call it a solving circle, a solving rectangle, or a “solving kitchen table” doesn’t really matter. What matters is that while you’re in that space, both people recognize that they have relationship issues, they want to make it better, and they are choosing to make the relationship their top priority.
Do you think that the idea of the solving circle could be helpful for a couple with relationship problems?