Creative Problem-Solving

By Greg Smalley
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When was the last time you and your spouse truly viewed yourselves as a team?

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.

— Ecclesiastes 4:9

We’ve already said that shared responsibility and good communication are essential elements of any successful and thriving marriage, but the question remains:  exactly how does a couple go about developing these traits? 

Part of the answer is that, while there are some things you can do to hone and exercise your teamwork skills in a controlled setting, you can’t really know where you stand until you’ve been tested in the crucible of life.  In other words, the proof is in the pudding. 

To a significant degree, the adventure of marriage lies in the challenge of facing difficulties and solving real-life problems together.  We’re thinking here particularly of the difficulties posed by external forces and pressures.  Like any vessel on a long voyage, the ship of marriage will almost certainly have to weather some storms. 

Successful couples realize that this is inevitable.  They know that the two houses described in Jesus’ parable—the house built on the sand and the house built on the rock (Matthew 7:24-27)—both endured the buffeting of the wind and the rain.  The only difference between the two structures lay in the quality of their foundations. 


Because they understand this, these couples don’t flinch at the prospect of trouble.  They don’t consider it strange when trials come upon them (1 Peter 4:12).  They don’t blame one another when misfortunes arise, when a spouse loses his or her job, when the kids have academic issues, or when parenting becomes an ordeal.  Instead, they anchor their marriage to the solid rock and hunker down to meet the problem head-on.  They meet the challenge together.  This is just another aspect of the teamwork that characterizes a genuinely thriving marriage. 


The Bible reminds us that “the body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12).  It’s that way with your marriage, too.  Each of you brings your own personality, experiences, and viewpoints to the table, but at the end of the day, you solve your problems as a single unit. That’s the beauty of marital teamwork!



Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Problem-solve Together.

For your date-night activity, look for ways to have some fun solving practical problems together.  Because you want to enjoy the experience and avoid stress and strain, steer clear of any real-life struggles you may be facing at the moment.  Try to make a game of it.  Obviously, this won’t be the same as facing a bona fide financial crisis or dealing with a death in the family, but it can help you fine-tune your skills as a problem-solving team.  Come up with some invigorating, team-based activities that you and your spouse can work on together.  Although date night should typically be reserved for couple time, this might be an occasion to get some other friends involved. Here are just a few possibilities: 

  • Go to a karaoke club and sing a duet together.  Spend some time beforehand planning out the details of your performance.  Wow the crowd as you belt out your favorite song!
  • Prior to your date, choose a good “whodunit” mystery novel to read together – something by Agatha Christie, maybe, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Make sure that neither one of you actually finishes the book before your date – that’s crucial!  After dinner, find a quaint sidewalk café where you can discuss the details of the novel’s plot and character development.  Then put your heads together and come up with a theory as to how the mystery is going to be resolved.  This could be a lot of fun.
  • Get some friends together and play Clue, or buy a big jigsaw puzzle and work as a team to put it together.
  • Host a game night with some other married couples. Rather than resorting to the typical guys-versus-gals model, play games in which each married couple works together as a team.  Brainstorm with your partner, strategize, and pool your resources. Win or lose, you’ll experience the joy and satisfaction of working together.

Step 3: Relax and unwind. Ready for a few questions?

After your activity, find a quiet place to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation.  Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

  • What was your favorite part of the evening?
  • What is the one thing you learned tonight that you didn’t know about me before?
  • How has this date equipped you with a clearer understanding of the workings of your partner’s mind?  What have you learned about the problem-solving strengths and weaknesses of each spouse?  How can you use this knowledge to maximize your ability to work through problems and challenges together as a couple?    
  • What are some other ways you can work more effectively as a team as you contemplate the day-to-day challenges of the coming week?

Step 5: Home Sweet Home

As you end the evening, spend time planning your next date. Think about additional ways you can complement and supplement each other’s strengths and weaknesses in the daily grind of life.  Then, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

Download the PDF Version Here

© 2014 Focus on the Family.

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About the Author

Greg Smalley

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the Vice President of Marriage at Focus on the Family. In this role, he develops and oversees initiatives that prepare individuals for marriage, strengthen and nurture existing marriages and help couples in marital crises. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the …

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