Overcoming Gridlocked Conflict

Almost all gridlocked conflicts stem from unfulfilled dreams.


Almost all gridlocked conflicts stem from unfulfilled dreams.

Almost all gridlocked conflicts stem from unfulfilled dreams.

According to Dr. John Gottman, “Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest, most personal hopes and dreams is the key to saving and enriching your marriage.”

Almost all gridlocked conflicts stem from unfulfilled dreams. In other words, the perpetual conflicts in your relationship may symbolize a profound difference between you and your partner’s personality and lifestyle preferences. No one wants to feel that their most intimate relationships keep them from achieving their dreams.

Without exerting control over freewheeling thoughts, your dreams offer you new and exciting insights into your life. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to access those dreams when they are buried under workloads at the office, missed hours of sleep, and stress in the real world.

It is even more frustrating to analyze the ways in which your dreams conflict with those of your mate when you don’t know what those dreams are. Dr. Gottman’s research found a simple (and enjoyable) way to help you navigate this problem.

In “The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work” Dr. John Gottman says, “Keep working on your unresolvable conflicts. Couples who are demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations.” He explains that the first step in overcoming gridlock is open communication with your partner about your hopes, aspirations, and life goals.

Use this to your advantage by embarking upon the following four exercises with your partner. With them, the two of you can become each other’s closest confidantes and supporters, both in your own dreams and in those you share!

Become a “Dream Detective”

Allow yourself to contemplate dreams you may have buried or ignored within the gridlocked issue. This will help you to understand the ways you feel these wishes are not being addressed in your relationship.

Explain your position to your partner without criticism or blame

If it helps, write out such an explanation beforehand, focusing on what the two of you need or want out of the area of disagreement. Come to an understanding of the dreams that you and your mate have within the conflict, and dig deeper than the superficial issue to discover your feelings and hopes below the problem at hand. Suspend judgment. Relax. Give each other time, and do not attempt to solve the problem immediately. Ask questions.

Soothe each other

Gridlock is, by definition, stressful. If you feel like you are becoming flooded with emotion or incapable of productive conversation, take a break either alone or with your partner. There’s no rush. According to Dr. John Gottman, “if your heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute, you won’t be able to hear what your spouse is trying to tell you no matter how hard you try.”

Accept that some problems are unsolvable

Unfortunately, it is practically impossible to entirely resolve such a gridlocked conflict immediately. Dr. Gottman quips, “your purpose is not to solve the conflict – it will probably never go away completely… instead the goal is to ‘declaw’ the issue, to try to remove the hurt so the problem stops being a source of great pain.” Here are a few steps that you can take to arrive at a temporary peace settlement in these treacherous lands:

  • Define the minimal core areas that you cannot yield on.
  • Define your areas of flexibility.
  • Devise a temporary compromise that honors both of your dreams.

We hope that by going through these exercises with your partner, the two of you will be able to make progress communicating about a perpetual issue in your relationship.

Ellie Lisitsa is a former staff writer at The Gottman Institute and editor for The Gottman Relationship Blog.