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Problem Solving

Monday, February 25, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

A friend recently confided in me about a problem she's having at home involving her husband and her children. I know she came to me looking for support and validation, but actually, I'm pretty sure that she's the cause of the problem. What should I tell her?

Problem Solving

Dear Problem,

If this is an ongoing issue, she'll come to you again looking for the same validation, and the best thing you can do, at least for a while, is listen. It's possible that in talking the problem through with you again and again, she'll come to recognize her own role in the situation. If that doesn't appear to be happening, you have the opportunity to be a wonderful and supportive friend by helping her find a solution to something that's obviously bothering her. Just because the solution is that she needs to change her behavior, that doesn't make your help in her realization any less valuable. It does, though, mean you need to approach her kindly and delicately and without placing blame. 

If she says, "My kids come home every day from school and throw their coats on the floor. No matter how much I yell at them, they won't put them away when they walk in the door," then you could say, "That sounds really frustrating. Have you tried setting up a system where they get rewards if they put their coats away every day for a week?" That way, she'll see that there's a way to approach this that doesn't involve yelling without you having to tell her directly that she's making things worse.

If it's a problem that's more in the realm of well-being, you may need to be more direct in order to ensure that her family is not in an unhealthy situation. Rather than, "That sounds really frustrating," you could go with, "Have you ever heard of such and such parenting expert? She's teaching a class next week , and I'd love to go with you," or, "It sounds like you're under a lot of stress. Maybe you could benefit from talking with someone who can help you sort out your feelings and find some resolution to these difficult circumstances." 

If it's nothing this serious at all, you could also try humor, or subtle remarks, or relating what she's telling you to situations in your own friendship that you've found ways to resolve. Whichever direction you go, be sure that she knows that you're on her side and want to help her feel better about her home life, regardless of the source of the problem, and that she doesn't feel like you're compounding the problem by blaming her or making her feel guilty about her actions up until this point. Maybe she'll even benefit from this: If she's the problem, then it's within her control to fix it!

Be well,

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