Gridlock in Your Relationship?

What is Gridlock?

Have you ever had an argument with your partner and thought, “We are fighting about this again?!” At times do you feel stuck on a never-ending merry-go-round? If so, then it is likely your relationship is suffering from Gridlock – the reoccurring fights that plague relationships.  Noted relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman and his collaborators identified seven principles that are important in a happy marriage, including overcoming gridlock.

He described gridlock as “perpetual disagreements,” where, over time, each partner digs into their position(s) more and more. He points out 4 characteristics of gridlock

  1. Partners have the same argument over and over with no resolution
  2. Neither can employ humor, empathy or affection when addressing the issue
  3. Issue becomes more and more polarizing over time
  4. Compromise seems Doing so would mean giving up something important and central to your values or beliefs.

Gottman attributes gridlock as a sign that each partner has dreams for their life that are not acknowledged or respected by the other partner. Sometimes the other partner is not even aware of their partner’s dreams. They include sense of freedom, feeling of peace, adventure, having a sense of power, etc.  Dreams can be tangible (i.e., owning a certain kind of home, attain a specific academic degree) or intangible (i.e., sense of freedom).

The “Dreams within Conflict” is a method to address gridlock that involves each partner openly discussing why their position is important to them, including the history and meaning behind it.

How to overcome Gridlock?

Step 1: Explore the dream(s). Gottman encourages couples to write out an explanation of their position as well as the dream underlying it, including where the dream comes from and what it means to you. He cautions partners not to criticize or blame their partners as part of the explanation. When the issue is discussed Gottman recommends each partner acts as the listener for 15 minutes while the other partner is the speaker for 15 minutes.

The speaker’s job:

  1. Talk honestly and clearly. Do not minimize or downplay your feelings about your dream
  2. Describe what your position means to you and the dream that’s fueling it
  3. Use I-statements to talk about your feelings and needs. Do not criticize or argue with your partner

The listener’s job:

  1. Suspend judgement.
  2. Your role is to listen to your partner’s dream and encourage them to explore it
  3. Do not problem solve or try to come up with rebuttals

Some sample questions the listener (or “Dream Catcher”) can ask

  • What is your ideal dream here?
  • Tell me the story of your dream
  • If I could wave a magic wand and you’d have exactly what you needed, what would that look like?

There are 3 Levels of honoring your partner’s dream

  1. Express understanding and interest in learning more about it
  2. Actively enable the dream
  3. Become part of the dream

Step 2: Soothe. If either partner experiences flooding, allow for time to engage in calming activity and then reconvene.

Step 3: Reach a Temporary Compromise. Identify areas that are non-negotiable as well as areas where you can be flexible. Try to make the first category as small as possible and the second category as large as possible. Decide on a temporary compromise that you try out for a set amount of time (ex. 2 months). Again, the goal is not that the problem is solved but that both partners can live more peacefully with it.

Step 4: Say thank you. It will likely take more than one conversation to overcome gridlock. It is important that partners are patient with each other and the process. This is made easier by engaging in the first 3 principles. Gottman recommends offering your partner 3 specific thank-you’s to help end the conversations on a positive note.

How will you know if you are making progress?

  1. The issue feels less loaded or tense to both partners
  2. It can be discussed with humor
  3. The issue doesn’t push out the joy and love in the relationship

Is gridlock something you are familiar with in your relationship? What have been your challenges in getting though it in the past? A combination of Dr. Gottman’s book & couples therapy will go a long way in helping you overcome your perpetual problems and break up the gridlock in your relationship. If you need help with gridlock, schedule your consultation today.

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