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Gridlock in Relationships

Overcoming Gridlock

What happens when you and your partner have irreconcilable differences?  Does it mean the relationship is doomed?  Does it mean you can agree to disagree?  Gridlock in relationships happen when both partners are unable to understand their partner’s perspective, and instead, lock into their position while viewing their partner as more and more selfish.  This creates disconnection in the relationship.

Learn More About Gridlock in Relationships

Signs of Gridlock

You’ve had the same argument again and again with no resolution.

Neither of you can address the issue with humor, empathy, or affection,

The issue is becoming increasingly polarizing as time goes on.

Compromise seems impossible because it would mean selling out or giving up something important and core to your beliefs, values, or sense of self.

The more you work to use the previous principles discussed throughout this blog series, the less likely you are to engage in gridlock.  However, if you are currently in gridlock with your partner, the goal isn’t to give in or lose.  It’s to not hurt your partner while working through your issues.

Gridlock is a sign that a dream you have for your life is going unacknowledged, being disrespected, or your partner is unaware its an issue.  Common dreams often cited by couples include a sense of freedom, feeling at peace, exploring who I am, honor, having a sense of power, dealing with growing older, being productive, and traveling to name a few.

When dreams are accepted, acknowledged, and shared within a marriage, couples are able to sort through these issues and remain happy together.  When a partner isn’t aware of a dream or doesn’t respect their spouse’s dream, gridlock ensues.  Therefore, in order to understand gridlock, you and your partner need to identify which dream is fueling the conflict.  Uncovering a hidden dream can be challenging for couples, especially those who have already emotionally disengaged.  In order to talk about your dreams, you need to feel safe in your marriage to share those feelings.  This requires you to work on principles such as enhancing your love maps, nurturing your fondness and admiration, turning toward each other, and allowing your partner to influence you.  These principles can strengthen the emotional safety in your marriage.  Once you feel like you and your partner are in a place to work on gridlock issues, consider the following:

Moving through Gridlock

  • Explore the dream: Write out the dream without blaming your spouse.  Explore where the dream comes from and why it is meaningful to you.  Then take turns talking to your partner.

  • Soothe: Notice your own ability to regulate your emotions.  If you are becoming stressed or flooded, take a break.  Engage in self-soothing activities independently or with your partner.

  • Reach a temporary compromise: Work towards making peace with the issue and cultivating acceptance.  The goal is not to solve the conflict, but to remove the hurt from the issue.  To do this you need to separate the non-negotiable parts from the flexible parts.

  • Say “Thank You”: Gridlock conversations take time.  This means having several conversations around the same issue.  Remember you and your partner are on the same team, so try to cultivate gratitude for your partner.

Overcoming gridlock requires patience and practice.  Both partners will also need to show commitment and faith in one another.  When you are able to discuss these gridlock issues with humor, and it no longer overwhelms the relationship, the love and joy you and your partner share can flourish.  Stay tuned for the final blog post and the last Gottman principle: Create Shared Meaning.

Alison Bellows Cearlock was a Graduate Student Intern with the Mindly Group studying Mental Health Counseling.

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