Problems Vs. Issues: What’s the Difference?

3 Nov

When I have couples come to me for their initial session, we nearly always spend a lot of time on the current problems in the relationship. Both parties are typically relieved to find someone who will listen to the day-to-day problems they face in the marriage.

So, it’s always interesting to watch their reaction when I tell them their problems won’t be the primary focus of therapy.


Yep, it’s true. What really DOES matter, I tell them, are the “issues” behind the “problems.” And, hence, we begin our work.problem

So, what’s the difference between problems and issues anyway? And, why don’t I focus on the problems in session? I’ll tell you…

Problems are the surface, day-to-day, immediate, sometimes repetitive, frustrating things we all encounter in relationships. For example, a husband coming home late without calling is a problem.

Issues, on the other hand, are the deeper, more involved, sometimes hurtful things that lie underneath the problem. In this case, the issue is the face that his wife, waiting at home, feels unimportant, unloved, feels like she doesn’t matter. Now, THAT’S what we work on in therapy.

I’ve been known to give my clients problem vs. issue homework, too. One column is a list of problems in the relationship. Then, in the column beside, find a corresponding issue that relates to the problem.

As you feel resentment and conflict coming to the surface, this is a good exercise to try – it will make you understand that, once your resolve the issues, the problems tend to go away. But, it doesn’t work the other way around.



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2 Responses to “Problems Vs. Issues: What’s the Difference?”

  1. Kay Bennett November 3, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    Thanks for being there. Keep up the good work.

    • The Olive Branch Blog November 4, 2016 at 11:57 pm #

      Thank-you very much, Kay. We appreciate your feedback.

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