Emotion Coaching for Couples: Part 5 | Exploring Strategies to Problem-Solve

By Caralee Frederic, LCSW
Certified Gottman Therapist | Couples Workshop Presenter

Applying Parenting Emotion Coaching to Couples

Part five of a five-part series on shifting your mindset to become a more capable Emotion Coach, and more Emotion Coachable.
Emotionally intelligent couples are more likely to feel connected, supported, and loved in their intimate relationship. And, emotionally intelligent couples are more likely to raise emotionally intelligent children.

Shift #5: Explore strategies to problem-solve

Depending on whether the problem you’re tackling is a solvable or perpetual problem will determine your goal. With both types, approaching your partner gently is a great way to start. We start gently by describing our own feelings and needs, not our partner’s actions or character. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Think or say things such as: “You may not have realized…” or “This is probably a bigger deal to me than it is to you…”
Look for and think about the positives in your partner – what you like and love about them.

Asking for Help

Express confidence in their ability to help problem solve (“I need your help on this”), and appreciation for who they are and what they bring to the table (“You’re much calmer than I am in these kinds of situations.) Think through exactly what is your “bid,” which is your request, desire, need or wish.

Then when you finally do come to your partner, describe your own feelings and thoughts about the problem (not about your partner) and make your bid for what you want more of. It’s generally more effective to say what you want more of, rather than only what you want less of.

For example, “I need more help getting dinner on the table this week.” Allow your partner to express their thoughts, feelings and needs about the problem as well. Invite your partner to help you and offer help to your partner in getting what is important to each of you. Brainstorm solutions from both perspectives, agreeing not to evaluate or decide quite yet.

Temporary solutions are good

I love to coach my couples through realizing that there are discussion conversations and decision-making conversations and they don’t all have to happen at once.

When you have as many possibilities on the table as you can think of, then it’s time to explore solutions, evaluate, eliminate some, and determine what to do. You will want to evaluate possible solutions based on your core values and the impact chosen solutions will have on anyone involved or affected. You will find that you are not in a crisis, even if it feels like one.

Instead, you will realize that you have differing core values, or differing intensities of values. This means it’s time to get curious again and go exploring to see if you can understand where one another is coming from more deeply. This requires asking genuinely interested questions to increase understanding, while suspending persuasion or deciding, temporarily.

Solvable problems are the ones where we can move through this process without too much distress. The problems don’t have much depth of meaning to one or the other. Perpetual problems take more time, more patience and curiosity, more accepting influence and more discussion. You may not “solve” these problems in one sitting. In fact, the goal with perpetual problems is not to “solve” the problem but to keep the conversation going without hurting one another. You will hopefully come to a compromise, a “temporary experiment,” or a decision “for now” – knowing full well that you will be returning to this discussion again in the future.


Adapting what Dr. John Gottman stated about the effects of Emotion Coaching on children to apply to couples, we would say: Couples become more resilient. Under difficult circumstances, they are more able to soothe themselves, bounce back from distress, and carry on with productive activities. The couple bond is strengthened; couples feel closer to one another, and their words have more impact and influence on one another.