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Make Life Dreams Come True: Dreams Within Conflict

Make each other’s dreams come true.

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The last two levels of The Sound Relationship House are inextricably linked. Make Life Dreams Come True and Create Shared Meaning often overlap. Working together to make each other’s life dreams come true often involves creating shared meaning, and creating shared meaning can be achieved through identifying and pursuing your and your partner’s dreams.

Dr. John Gottman discovered that many of the seemingly pointless and frustrating issues are anything but insignificant. In truth, they are rooted in your deepest and most meaningful dreams, hopes, and desires for your own life, as well as the life that you share together.

If the two of you feel that one another’s positions on these recurring problems are irrational, unreasonable, unnecessarily inflexible, or completely incomprehensible, you are likely to feel betrayed, disrespected, hurt, isolated, or generally detached from each other.  According to Dr. John Gottman, getting trapped in gridlock often forces your experience of a conflict discussion through the following five stages:

1. Your dreams stand in opposition

2. Entrenchment of your opposing positions

3. Increased fears of accepting influence from your partner

4. Vilification (Four Horsemen)

5. Emotional disengagement from each other

All couples have areas in which they face perpetual conflict. Understanding what lies beneath it helps you to end what has likely felt like an endlessly mystifying and increasingly painful and negative series of conversations. It will also help you to understand your partner. In “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” Dr. John Gottman goes into far more depth on this topic, sharing a number of examples that you can use in your own relationship conflicts to identify both your own and your partner’s dreams and avoid the confusion and misery that gridlocked conversations bring into your life. Here is one such example:

Potential conflict

Sam: My partner is constantly trying to persuade me to try new things: crafts, redecorating the apartment, strange recipes. Drives me nuts. It’s crazy. I can’t live this way.

Charlie: My partner’s lifestyle is stifling me. They just want to watch movies all day. I can barely get them off the couch. They don’t know how to live! I need more excitement in my life! 

Possible dreams within the conflict

Sam: My parents were always busy. We moved around a lot. I never knew what I was coming home to. I never had stability. Now that we’ve settled down, I feel so lucky. I finally feel secure.

Charlie: My parents worked all the time, and my siblings and I had to invent games to keep ourselves from drowning in boredom. We were lonely and isolated. Now I’m an adult and I can try new things, and I never have to go back there again.

Once you have identified the dreams that underlie the areas of conflict for each of you, your previously gridlocked conversation about the subject of disagreement can change radically. We hope that this example illustrates the idea of becoming a “Dream Detective,” a skill that is incredibly powerful for resolving gridlock with your partner.


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Ellie Lisitsa is a former staff writer at The Gottman Institute. She holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

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