According to Dr. Gottman, “Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest, most personal hopes and dreams is the key to saving and enriching your marriage.” We have found in our research that 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. None of us want to feel that our most intimate relationships are keeping us from achieving our dreams.

Many of us find that, without exerting control over our freewheeling thoughts, our own dreams offer us new and exciting insights into our own lives. Unfortunately, it may be exasperatingly difficult to access our dreams when they are buried under enormous 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 our dreams conflict with those of our mate when we don’t even know what those dreams are! Using Dr. Gottman’s research, we’ve found a simple (and enjoyable) way to help you navigate this problem.

As Dr. Gottman recommends in The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, “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 continues by explaining that the first step in overcoming gridlock is open communication with your partner about your hopes, aspirations, and life goals. 

In today’s post, we invite you to use his research 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!

1) Become a “Dream Detective,” and allow yourself to contemplate dreams you may have buried or ignored within the gridlocked issue. This will help you to understand the ways in which you feel that these wishes are not being addressed in your relationship.

2) 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!

3) 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. Gottman’s research, “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.”

4) Accept that some problems are unsolvable. Unfortunately, it is practically impossible to entirely resolve such a gridlocked conflict immediately. As per Dr. Gottman’s humorous observation, “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. Look forward to next week as we continue the Managing Conflict series with a discussion of Dr. Gottman’s Six Skills for Conflict Management!

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Ellie Lisitsa

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.

  • MarySchaefer

    Hello. In your post you state, "According to Dr. Gottman’s research, if your heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute, you wont be able to hear what your spouse is trying to tell you no matter how hard you try. — I’m trying to run down the reference to the research on this.

    I am a corporate trainer and educator working with managers and employees to discuss expectations before things get emotional (not the word I use with them…). I remember hearing at some point that a simple rise in a human heart rate of 10 points can reduce a person’s ability to listen by 30%. I can’t find a source to confirm this though. Evidence like this could go a long way in influencing my clients. The statement you make in this article is the closest I can find to what I "think" I heard. Can you give me any more information on the stat you reference? Thank you.