What if I am the problem?

Recently, I was talking with a client about relationship challenges he’s been having with his housemate. After summarizing the conversation and telling me about some of the recurring conflicts, he asked, “What if I’m the problem?”  

When we experience recurring relationship or communication issues that don’t lead to any visible resolution, insights or growth, we can start to feel exhausted, or “at our wit’s end.” This is the point where I often hear people asking the question, “What if I’m the problem?”  

All too often, this question is triggered by a sense of defeat or resignation. But what if we took a different approach. One of curiosity. What if we paused and asked ourselves, “What can I learn here that will help me grow?”

Relationships are always challenging. One of my favorite authors on relationships, Stan Tatkin, writes, “The hardest thing on earth is other people.” 

We are all, each of us ‘the problem’, and we are also, each of us, ‘the solution’. 

It helps, I think, to look at relationships not as a problem to be solved, but rather a process of learning and growth. 

We grow and evolve in relationship – to family and friends, romantic partners, teammates and colleagues, our community and the natural environment. The question is whether we like the direction we are growing in.  

There is the chemistry and alchemy of relationships – how our energies, gifts, perspectives, etc. mix to create something magical. And, there is the dance – how we move together to create something beautiful, and generative.  

How can coaching help?

No matter the type of relationship, skillful coaching can help us see a situation from a helpful distance, arrive at powerful insights, and generate energizing courses of action. Coaching helps us to decipher what’s really at play and find those opportunities for growth. 

Coaches don’t tell us what to do or say – or how to do it or say it – although, during those moments of exasperation in a relationship, we may wish we had someone in our ear telling us what to say next.  

Truly effective coaching is a powerful mirror and catalyst using provocative questions that help us reflect on our feelings, assumptions, triggers, and reactions. 

“What is the story you are telling yourself about this situation?”

“What would you like to see happen with this relationship?”

“At what point did/do you feel triggered?”

“If you were the wisest person you know, what might you do next?” 

When we can view our relationships as opportunities to grow, both individually and together, rather than just a transaction or tennis match – lobbing statements back and forth, we open ourselves up to a whole new way of operating. 

The relationship between coach and client is a partnership of exploration. I use questions to help my clients clear the fog to see something that may be in a blind spot; to see new options that they hadn’t thought of before; to take the next step knowing I’ll be there waiting to hear what happened. It’s the ultimate navigation of the most important relationship of all – the one with ourselves.