All couples face many forms of unresolved conflict in their marriages.
There are always a certain subset of issues and problems that periodically recur and resurface. This is perfectly normal. Life is 50/50.
But when you find yourself standing in fierce opposition to your partner, you’ve entering the GRIDLOCK ZONE.
Rest assured that those recurring issues and problems do not need to cause an insurmountable impasse in your relationship.
When gridlock is frustrating you and hurting your relationship, it helps to explore the other person’s side of the conflict with greater curiosity and neutrality.
Take the time necessary to discover what expectations, wishes, desires and dreams may lie beneath their position.
Become a dream detective to create even just the slightest shift in perspective when you’re struggling with an impasse. Perhaps that shift will create an opening for the light of change to shine through.
Meet the five common stages of gridlock.
According to my favorite relationship guru, John Gottman, there are five phases conflicts generally pass through on their way to GRIDLOCK.
- Your point of view or perspective stands in opposition to your partners
- You each become more entrenched in your opposing positions
- Resistance intensifies to accepting influence from your partner
- Blame, criticism, contempt and stonewalling behaviors dominate (See these previous posts here and here for help understanding how to diffuse these relationship slayers.)
- You emotionally disengage from each other
Ending gridlock does not require you to solve the problem.
The goal in ending gridlock is to move from resistance, attack or disengagement to respectful dialogue.
All the change, all the shifts possible occur by discussing the issue with curiosity in a judgement free zone.
Although the gridlocked conflict, in one form or another, may always be a nagging issue in your marriage, it’s possible that it can become one you both can live with and talk about without hurting each other.
To figure out how to navigate your way out of gridlock, let’s take a closer look at one it’s most common causes.
Does your beloved know and respect your your dreams, goals, wishes or desires?
Gridlock is often a symptom that you both may have dreams that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other.
Think of your dreams as the hopes, aspirations, and wishes that are a part of your identity. They give purpose, structure and meaning to your life.
Some are very practical. Others are more profound.
Some of your dreams may be already shared, but others may still lie buried.
The issue is not so much what any specific dreams might be, but rather are you hiding them or is your spouse avoiding or disrespecting them?
When dreams are hidden, avoided or disrespected, you might have open conflict over them. But sometimes those dreams remain concealed and instead are expressed symbolically.
For instance, you may think you’re arguing about whether or not to adopt a puppy, when in actuality the issue driving the argument may be a deeper, unrealized dream. It may touch upon a core emotion connected to feelings of love, respect, or appreciation.
Satisfying marriages make space for both spouses deepest dreams, wishes and desires.
Happy couples understand that helping each other realize their dreams is one of the most satisfying goals of marriage.
They want to know what the other person wants in their life. They work it out as a team.
Each partner takes into account the other’s wishes and dreams when decisions need to be made.
Showing mutual respect for and acknowledgement of each other’s aspirations is a key part of what makes your marriage meaningful.
Uncovering hidden dreams begins the journey out of gridlock.
For many couples, the dreams that are at the core of the conflict aren’t obvious.
When you’ve reached the point of gridlock on any issue in your marriage, big or small, get curious.
The first step is to uncover which dream or dreams are feeding the conflict.
One good indicator that you’re wrestling with a hidden dream is that you think your spouse is the source of the problem.
In your frustration, resentment or anger, you don’t see your part in creating the conflict.
Discovering hidden dreams is challenging.
Acknowledging and advocating for your dreams with your partner is challenging too.
The very nature of gridlock means that your dreams stand in opposition. You’ve both become deeply entrenched in your positions.
Therefore, it’s natural to fear that by accepting the other’s influence or by compromising or yielding you’re setting a precedent that may have negative repercussions.
Hidden dreams are unlikely to surface unless you feel your marriage is a safe place to talk about them.
Strengthening your basic friendship helps create a safer atmosphere.
Paradoxically, you may find that when you first begin to recognize and acknowledge your dreams, the your problems seem to get worse rather than better.
Once you’re ready to overcome gridlock, here’s a way to proceed.
Get curious—become a dream detective.
Often, deeply personal dreams go unspoken or underground after marriage because we assume that to make the relationship work we need to suppress them.
You may see these dreams and desires as “childish” or “impractical”.
But such labels don’t change the fact that the dream is something you long for. If the marriage doesn’t honor it, conflict will almost inevitably continue.
Here’s the take-away: when you adjust to marriage by burying a dream, it just resurfaces in disguised form—as a gridlocked conflict.
Choose a gridlocked marital issue to explore and find the hidden dream.
You and your partner should choose one particular gridlocked conflict you’re willing to explore together. Each of you should do the following:
- Write an explanation of your position.
- Don’t criticize or blame your spouse.
- Instead, focus on your needs, wants, and feelings about the situation.
- Next, write the story of the hidden dream/s that underlie your position.
- Explain as best you can where these dreams come from and why they are so meaningful to you.
Once you both have deeper insight into which dreams are fueling the gridlock, it’s time to talk about them.
Discussing dreams that are in opposition can be stressful.
So if either of you becomes overwhelmed, take a break to regain your equilibrium before continuing to work through the gridlock.
Each person gets 15 minutes as the speaker and 15 minutes as the listener.
Your goal is simply to understand why each of you feels so strongly about this issue.
Don’t try to solve the problem! That approach would most likely backfire.
How to share your dreams with your partner.
Talk honestly about your position and what it means to you.
Describe the dream that’s fueling it.
Explain where the dream comes from and what it symbolizes.
Be clear and honest about what you want and why it’s important. Talk as if you were explaining your dream to a best friend or neutral third party.
How to listen to your partner’s dreams with curiosity and an open mind.
This is not the time to criticize or argue with your partner.
How you feel about your spouse in relationship to this dream is a secondary issue that should not be addressed right now.
- Suspend judgement, easier said than done, but the practice is beneficial to every aspect of your marriage.
- Listen the way a friend would listen.
- Don’t take your spouse’s dream personally even if it clashes with one of yours.
- Don’t spend your time thinking of responses or ways to solve the problem.
Your role now is just to hear the dream and to encourage your spouse to explore it.
If at all possible, tell your partner that you support the dream. Offering support doesn’t necessarily mean that you believe the dream can or should be realized or that you want to be a part of it.
Honor your partner’s dreams as best you can.
There are three different levels of honoring your partner’s dreams—any of which can strengthen your marriage.
- Express understanding of the dream and be interested in learning more about it even if you don’t share it.
- Offer financial support for the dream
- Become a part of the dream, to actually make it part of your dream as well
The bottom line in getting past gridlock does not require you to become a part of each other’s dreams. But to the extent that you can honor these dreams, the deeper your connection will grow.
After all, do you want the kind of marriage in which you triumph at the expense of crushing your partner?
Begin the ongoing work of making peace with this gridlocked conflict.
Accept the differences between your positions.
Establish some kind of initial agreement that will help you continue to discuss the problem peacefully.
The purpose of sharing and listening is to soften the painful energy of the conflict.
It’s not to solve the conflict because, in all likelihood, it will probably never go away completely.
Reducing the source of pain, frustration and anger is your goal.
When compromise appears possible, try this exercise to find common ground..
- On a piece of paper, draw two circles—a smaller one inside a larger one.
- In the inner circle list the aspects of the conflict you can’t give in on.
- In the outer circle list all the aspects you can compromise about.
- Try to make the inner circle as small as possible and the outer circle as large as possible.
- Share your lists with each other.
- Come up with a temporary compromise.
- Try it for about 2 months and then review where you stand.
Don’t expect this to compromise to solve the problem, only to help you both live with it more peacefully as you continue to make headway.
Expect that it will take more than one conversation to ease the gridlock.
No matter how diligently you attempt to accept each other’s viewpoint without judgement, it’s not easy.
Expect it to take more than one discussion to overcome gridlock on issues that have been troubling your relationship for some time.
To end your discussion on a more positive note, be sure to express your appreciation and thanks.
The goal here is to try to foster a spirit of cooperation and teamwork.
Take a few minutes to count your blessings and express gratitude to each other for all that’s going well in your relationship.
This may be particularly difficult to do after talking about gridlocked issues, but that’s all the more reason to try.
Curiosity and patience win the day.
By their very nature, these problems are tenacious.
It will take commitment and grace on both your parts to loosen their grip on your marriage.
You’ll know you’re making progress when the issue feels less loaded and threatening to you both.
When you can discuss it with your sense of humor intact, and it no longer dominates and crowds out the love and joy in your relationship, you’re making real progress.
Ready to initiate a dream conversation to break through gridlock in your marriage?
Gridlock conversations don’t just happen spontaneously. They begin with an awareness and intention to stay connected and deepen your intimacy by facing difficult truths.
When you’re ready to tease out the strands of your gridlocked conflict, contact me to make the process as effective as it can be.
If you’re ready to feel better sooner rather than later, let’s start with your free Strategy Session.
Think this post might help a loved one, a friend or colleague?