Saturday, August 15th, 2020

R Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin
How Do You And Your Partner Solve Problems?


Has this ever happened to you? At work you have a run-in with one of your co-workers. Your feelings have been hurt and you go home hoping to find support. As you begin sharing your experience with your partner, you notice that he/she is becoming agitated and angrily says to you, 'Just quit that stupid job! Tell her off and leave. That job is not worth all this hassle.' Your reaction might be, 'I can't talk to you. Just forget it.' Your partner may recoil with shock and confusion; 'I was just trying to help you.' He/she does not understand why you are upset. This communication dynamic is often an interchange between the Feeler and the Thinker.

We are still exploring the first stage of marriage called the Romantic Stage. We have been looking at some of the individual dynamics we bring to our marriage. Often these dynamics are not noticed until the next stage. Also we have said that what attracts us to the other person may be the qualities, turned inside out, that get on our nerves; however, the more we understand how our partner operates, the more we can see differences as gifts.

Last month we explored the gifts and conflicts of a relationship between an Extravert and an Introvert. This month we will be highlighting the relationship between a Feeler and a Thinker.

If you are a Thinker, you are a person who lives primarily in your thinking world, a world of thoughts, standards, logic and principles. If a decision is to be made, you will use this mode and try to fix the problem with a thought. In the working world, you are probably rewarded for your ability to problem solve. You care and feel as much as a Feeler but when a decision has to be made or a problem is presented, you will go to your thinking world which seems less personal to the Feeler. You are not less sensitive nor intense than a Feeler but often you do not show it. You would rather work for justice and truth than to get someone to like you even though that is important to you.

If you are a Feeler, you live more in the feeling world and will make decisions from that world. You are interested in how others are going to feel about your decision and how your decision will affect your relationship. Working through your feelings is like peeling an onion. There are layers of feelings. Often you are not sure what your feelings are until you begin talking and sorting. Usually a feeling will have other feelings attached to it. For instance, anger is a secondary feeling that is connected to primarily feelings such as guilt, fear, or hurt. This whole process of sorting and peeling the layers takes longer than coming up with a thought. So you as a Feeler are going to need more time in expressing yourself and will probably need more than one hearing. Often the Thinker does not understand this process and impatiently complains, 'You can never let go of things. I told you what to do, but you keep bringing it up. You are so hysterical.'

If you are a Thinker in a relationship with a Feeler, it is helpful to remember that when you try to fix a feeling with a thought the Feeler may interpret it as 'Shut up and get over it.' When you give advice it is like telling the Feeler that he/she can't handle the problem and that it is not okay to process the issue.

This listening formula can help: explore, understand, action. When your partner shares a problem, your first listening task is to help him/her explore the issue so that both of you can understand his/her feelings about the problem. Then the last part of the listening process is action - if your partner thinks it is necessary. The danger for some is taking the action step first.

Karen, my wife and I have found a nice way to deal with this problem. If Karen wants me to be a reflective listener, she will say, 'Bill, I need you to help me sort out my feelings about a problem I am having.' That tells me how I am to listen. I will reflect what I hear her saying. Then there will be times when she says, 'I need your advice about a problem. What would you do?' Then I listen to problem solve. It is important to tell our partner how we want him/her to listen to us.

It is important to remember that we operate differently when making decisions and struggling with issues. Remembering how the other operates is a gift to your relationship. One last thought: it is helpful to remember that the Thinker can respond as emotionally as the Feeler; and the Feeler can respond just as logically.

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700