The Gottman Relationship Blog

Perpetual gridlocked problems between you and your partner often conceal underlying feelings and dreams that aren’t getting communicated. Your initial focus when discussing these conflicts shouldn’t be in solving the problem right away, but rather first to move from gridlock to dialogue by understanding your partner’s position in depth.

Discuss a perpetual gridlocked problem that exists in your relationship while following our guidelines to find the dreams behind it.

One person will be the Speaker and the other the Listener for 15 minutes, then you will change roles.

Speaker’s Job

Your task as the speaker is to honestly talk about your feelings and beliefs about your position on this problem. Explore what this position means to you and what dream might be behind your position. Tell the story of the source of this dream or belief, including where it comes from and what it symbolizes to you. You must be clear and honest. What do you really want here? Why is it important to you? Try to make your partner understand what you feel, rather than persuade your partner to feel the same way.

Sample Dreams for the Speaker:

  • A sense of freedom
  • Building something important
  • Ending a chapter of my life
  • Unity with my past
  • Knowing my family
  • Becoming all I can be
  • Having a sense of power
  • Dealing with my aging
  • Getting over past hurts
  • Exploring who I am
  • Travel
  • Getting my priorities in order

Listener’s Job

Your job as the listener is to make your partner feel safe enough to tell you what’s behind their position on the problem. Listen in the way that a friend would listen, and ask questions that draw out your partner and their point of view. Suspend judgment and let your partner know that you just want to hear their story and their dream behind it.

Sample Questions for the Listener:

  • What do you believe about this problem?
  • What do you feel about it?
  • Does this relate to your history or childhood in some way?
  • Tell me why this is so important to you.
  • What do you need?
  • What would be your ideal dream here?
  • What are you afraid would happen if this dream was not honored?
  • Is there a deeper purpose or goal in this for you?

It is important to listen and remember your partner’s dreams and life goals, because if you don’t reach a mutual understanding, you could very easily crush your partner’s dreams in the process of pursuing your own.

Your relationship should be about supporting one another’s dreams and aspirations. When it comes to conflict, and the motivations behind them, most importantly you want to be your partner’s friend and the biggest supporter of their life goals – even if it means making a few personal sacrifies along the way.

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.