During my Gottman training, one of the first things I learned was that the vast majority of relationship problems are unsolvable. Meaning, you can argue about it every day and you will likely not reach a solution.
There are lots of reasons for this. Sometimes it’s just how two people fundamentally are and it doesn’t matter how much you want or need the other person to change they simply can’t. So how do you deal with unsolvable problems?
One technique I like to use in my sex counselling or in my relationship therapy is scripts. I have everyone collaborate on a script they can turn to when they know they are about to go down a dead-end road.
A script might be something each person needs to hear in that moment. For example, maybe you know that you dislike how your partner kisses. And despite trying to explain how you like to be kissed, suggesting videos to watch, or texts on kissing techniques, it just isn’t getting better— your partner simply kisses they way they kiss. And maybe this causes tension because feeling sexually inadequate is related to earlier sexual trauma. Nobody is at fault here and no one needs to change— you have a right to your sorrow over no good kisses in your relationship and your partner has a right to their sorrow over feeling sexually inadequate.
So… how do you write a script?
- Only say what you believe. Don’t fill your script with empty compliments or empty promises. You can be honest about what is hard and you can add things each of you need to hear. Maybe your partner needs to hear that you aren’t going to end the relationship over it (and if you are, then it’s time to be honest and end the relationship). And maybe you need to hear that you’re in this together. Explore what the underlying fears are for each of you and how you can support each other in that. If you can’t support each other’s underlying fears, it may be helpful to work with a sex therapist to find out how you can attend to your individual needs and ways in which you can attend to each other.
- Use your own language and how you would say it. When I am writing scripts with client’s I often give suggestions for lines. If I notice that client’s are writing exactly what I said, I will often ask, “is that how you would say that? would your partner buy that in the moment?” It’s so important to use your own language otherwise it feels like a chore, some therapy homework crap— it will feel and therefore sound inauthentic, which can just hurt feelings further.
- Put it somewhere you can easily access it when you need it. When emotions are high, you don’t want to be scrambling to find it! Give your nervous system an easy win. Maybe stick it on the fridge (roommates permitting), tuck it in your sock drawer, wherever both of you can find it easily and quickly.
- Don’t be afraid to use it… But write it anyway if you don’t think you will. It can feel really silly and strange to use a script. We generally do not carry around scripts for difficult emotional moments! Don’t be afraid to give it a try. That said, I have often found that just going through the steps of writing the script sometimes makes future conversations easier even if you don’t pull out the script. Sometimes, especially when you write it in your own words, it comes easier to access the gentler, kinder words later.
- Get some help writing it! Book a booster session with myself or your local sex therapist to help you write it. It can be hard to get this kind of project started and there is no shame in getting help!