The Solution to Tuesday Tip (#1)*

This was my “puzzle” (the paradoxical Tuesday tip) for yesterday:

The attempt to solve a relationship / marital problem is the cause of nearly all relationship problems. The refusal to solve the problem is nearly always the solution.


Many of you commented, and all had good things to say, which cheered me up and gave me some optimism that this new feature, suggested by Lisa Kelley, might be fun or useful for some of you! That’s great!

Two or three folks were really close to the target, and I would have to say, got it right.

Here is my explanation. Often two people in a relationship get frustrated because they cannot solve some problem they are kind of arguing about. For example, I once treated two divorced individuals fell in love and got married. They adored each other. But the woman, in her 30’s, really wanted to have a baby, since her first husband, who dumped her, was against having children.

However, her new husband was a super handsome and loving man who was 15 years her senior, and he already had five children from his first marriage, and he did not want any more. So they kept debating about the so-called “correct” solution to this problem. And, of course, they just kept running around in circles.

In a situation like this, there are really two different levels that one can think about when you view the interaction between the two people. On one level, you have the so-called “real” problem, which is: should we, or should we not, have a child? So you argue about what is “fair,” what is “just” and what will work out the “best.” etc. That is level one, the “content” of the argument, the intellectual side, you might say.

And the attempt to solve this “problem” IS the problem. Because, on some level, it CANNOT be “solved.”

But at the other level, you have a “river of emotion” flowing underneath the surface. She has many strong feelings, of sadness, of love for her new husband, of strong desires to be a mother, of frustration, of abandonment, of anxiety about growing old and childless, and so forth. He also has many strong feelings, of love for her, frustration, oppression, sadness, and anxiety about being overwhelmed just at the time of life he was looking forward to some freedom, to name just a few.

So the “solution” is to STOP trying to solve the problem, and instead to use the Five Secrets of Effective Communication to listen to the other person’s perspective, to acknowledge the truth in it, and especially to acknowledge how he or she is feeling, and to share, respectfully, your own feelings. The goal becomes the sharing of feelings, and listening to feelings, in an attitude of openness and respect, rather than compulsively arguing about the “best solution.”

This means letting go of feelings of entitlement, and focusing on how your partner is thinking and feeling. Getting back to a loving relationship. When two people feel loved, in most cases you won’t have to solve the so-called “real problem.” A solution will generally emerge.

So I coached them in how to do this, and we practiced in the office. I gave them the “assignment” to practice communicating, but both must refuse to try to “solve the problem.”

They were motivated because of their love for each other, and did their “homework.”

The wife called me in a state of excitement three weeks later to report that her husband woke up that morning and announced he’d had a sudden change of heart and wanted a baby. Their daughter was born less than a year later.

To learn to use the Five Secrets of Effective Communication, I would strongly recommend my book, Feeling Good Together, which you can order through and other booksellers. This book will be helpful to therapists, your patients, and the general public alike. You can also listen to my Feeling Good Podcast series on the Five Secrets as well as the series on Healing Troubled Relationships.

So now you have lots of new tools to use if you want to develop more loving and satisfying relationships with the people you care about!

Hope you enjoyed the first riddle and its solution. Next Tuesday, look for “Tip #2!”


* Copyright © 2018 by David D. Burns, MD.

Coming Soon! Live Session Sold Out! Still space online. Register now!

High-Speed TEAM-CBT for Depression and Anxiety Disorders 

I warmly invite you to attend this fabulous, one-day workshop by Drs. David Burns and Jill Levitt on Sunday, May 20th, 2018. Click on the link above for registration information.

  • 6 CE Credits
  • The cost is $135
  • You can join in person or online from wherever you live!

You will enjoy learning from David and Jill, working together to bring powerful, healing techniques to life in a clear, step-by-step way. Their teaching style is entertaining, funny, lucid, and inspiring. This is a day you will remember fondly!

In the afternoon, you will have the chance to do some personal healing so you can overcome your own feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. David and Jill promise to bring at least 60% of the audience into a state of spiritual and psychological enlightenment, WITHOUT years of meditation. That’s not a bad deal!

You will leave this workshop with renewed confidence as well as specific, powerful tools that you can use right away to improve your clinical outcomes!

You will LOVE this workshop. Seating for those who attend live in Palo Alto will be strictly limited, and seats are filling up fast, so move rapidly if you are interested. Online slots are also limited.

Jill and I hope you can join us!



%d bloggers like this: