Tapestry of Faith: Principled Commitment : An Adult Program on Building Strong Relationships
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Activity 4: Interest-based Problem Solving

Activity time: 35 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Set up tables, or find books or other hard surfaces for writing.

Description of Activity

Use these or similar words to introduce the concept of collaborative problem solving:

Collaborative problem solving is a process of working together to understand the values and interests involved in a problem and weigh various alternatives accordingly. Instead of starting by debating options, couples start by identifying interests.

For example, if one partner wants to send their child Chris to day camp, and the other partner wants Chris to stay at home, the partners would first write down their interests. These might include "saving money," "spending time with Chris," and "developing Chris's social skills." They would then evaluate each option based on those interests and look for creative ways to satisfy the most interests.

Collaborative problem solving depends on effective communication and cooperation. It engages creativity and can help partners break through disagreements when they feel "stuck."

Distribute and review Handout 2, Problem-Solving Chart for Couples. Explain that it provides an example of how a couple might engage in collaborative problem solving. The couple in the example is trying to figure out what to do with a week off. Emphasize that both partners have unique sets of priorities that may involve friends, parents, children, organizations, work, physical needs, hobbies, or other interests.

Explain that collaborative problem solving involves reaching agreement on the interests involved, expanding the options, and then finding creative ways to satisfy as many interests for each person as possible.

Ask participants to pair up with their partners. Offer the following instructions:

You are invited now to think of a choice or dilemma you're facing as a couple. It doesn't have to be something profound. In fact, it's better for the purpose of this exercise if you choose a simple situation around which you don't have a lot of passion or conflict.

Practice using this chart, first by brainstorming interests, then by listing up to four options. When you've listed your options and interests, together you will evaluate how well each option satisfies each interest. For the ratings, you can use high/medium/low, plus/minus/neutral, a scale of 1 to 10, or any rating that makes sense to you. If you want to create totals for the various columns, you can, but it's not necessary.

Allow 15 minutes for partners to collaborate on the chart. Then draw the large group back together for discussion. Ask:

  • What are some of the interests you named?
  • Did you find that differences in your interests influenced which options you each preferred? If so, how?
  • Did analyzing a problem in terms of interests help you clarify the situation? Do you think this method can help you reach more agreeable solutions together? Why or why not?
  • How easy or difficult was it to find creative ways to satisfy as many interests as possible for each person?
  • What did you learn from going through this process together?