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How to Make Problems Manageable

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

A problem can make you feel overwhelmed and hopeless, and is hard to break the problem apart into manageable pieces. Last week, we went over SMART goals, but that is only helpful when you know how to break down the problem. Sometimes, the problem is not what it seems, and takes some thought to figure out what is really going on. For example, the perceived problem might be, "I'm stuck in an unhappy marriage." After breaking down this problem, you might discover that you have porous boundaries and need to work on sticking up for yourself, doing self-care and saying no when you can't or don't want to do something. If you were to try and set goals around being unhappy in your marriage, your goal would not be getting at the root issue. You might be able to work on your marriage, but you will still have the same uncomfortable and unsatisfying feeling because that is not the real problem.

Let's learn how to break your problems down. You can do this by following the Problem Solving Therapy model.

Step One: Identify the problem

It is important to identify a problem that is affecting you daily. Even if you feel like you have no control over the issue, there is always something that you have control over to make your situation better. I am not happy in my relationship.

Step Two: What is my end goal?

Ask yourself, "If I woke up tomorrow and everything was better, how would I know that the problem was fixed?" Think of things that you would notice different in yourself- a feeling, a behavior, a thought. Then think about how others would be interacting with you in this ideal tomorrow. How would people treat you, approach you, what would they think about you? I would wake up feeling relieved, thinking that I loved my partner and wanted to be with them. I would want to hug and kiss them. My partner would look at me and smile and we would make breakfast together while we had a light hearted conversation.

Step Three: What is stopping me from getting to my goal?

Think of what you might be doing in this situation that is making it worse. What are some negative thoughts that you are holding on to? Are you holding any grudges? What behaviors are you doing in this situation that you would not be doing in other situations? What boundaries are you holding? Are they too rigid/ porous? Have you given up on working on the solution because you aren't seeing any movement from the other person? I have been mad at my partner for not meeting my expectations and I have stopped putting effort into the relationship.

Step Four: What do I need to work on?

Now that you have found the real issue, "I have high expectations and have stopped putting in effort," you know where to start to work. If you don't go through this process, you might not be working on the real issue ; youmight just be putting another bandaid over the issue. When you ask yourself, "where in the equation am I doing something wrong?," you can change it because you have control over yourself. If you just stop at “I'm stuck in a loveless marriage”, it feels like you have no control over the situation. Once you find the issue, your goal is the opposite of the issue. In this example, a goal might look like, "I need to re-evaluate my expectations and start putting effort in again."

Step Five: Steps to working on this issue

This is the last step! It is time to start thinking about how you can start to work on achieving your goal. Making steps will help you see progress towards your goal. If you e are not able to see the process of change, it is harder to make change. Start off with something small that you know you can achieve and take bigger and bigger steps towards your goal until you are there.

  1. I will wash the dishes 2 times a week instead of yelling at my partner to do them again.

  2. I will write down in my journal, why I love and respect my partner.

  3. I will tell my partner that I love and respect them and tell them what I wrote if they ask.

  4. I will write down in my journal what my expectation are and figure out what are needs and wants (need: to have my boundaries respected - want: for my partner to tell me I'm attractive)

  5. I will lower my expectations for the things that are wants (for my partner to be more romantic)

... keep going until this is no longer an issue. Staying objective when making these steps is very hard, but will give you the best results. Try and stay away from, "I shouldn't have to do this," or "they should know this by now." This type of thinking is only keeping the status quo rather than creating the change that you want to see.


Hi, I’m Kristina Anzell, I am a Clinical Social Worker dedicated to providing compassionate and tailored mental health support for moms at all stages of motherhood. My mission is to empower you to thrive in your role as a mother while nurturing your own well-being. If you enjoyed this blog post, check out my blog here! If you want more information or are seeking treatment, feel free to reach out!

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