You want to have children, he doesn’t. She wants you to attend church with her, you’re an atheist. He’s a homebody, you want to party every night. If you feel hopelessly gridlocked over a problem in your relationship that just doesn’t get resolved, take comfort in knowing that there is a way to get through the problem.
The goal in ending a gridlocked issue is not to solve the problem, but rather to move from gridlock to dialogue. To navigate your way out of gridlock, you have to first understand its cause, and that relates to the deep, inner, often hidden dreams we each enter a relationship with. Happy couples understand that helping each other realize their dreams is one of the goals of marriage. In happy relationships, partners incorporate each other’s goals into their concept of what their relationship is about.
For many couples, the dream that is at the core of the conflict is not so obvious. Only by uncovering this dream can the couple get out of gridlock. The first step is to identify which dream (or dreams) are fueling the conflict.
Here is a list of some common deep inner dreams: a sense of freedom; the experience of peace; unity with nature; exploring who I am; adventure; spiritual journey; justice; honor; unity with my past; healing; knowing my family; becoming all I can be; dealing with growing older; exploring a creative side of myself; becoming more powerful; getting over past hurts; becoming more competent; forgiveness; exploring an old part of myself I have lost; getting over a personal hang-up; having a sense of order; being productive; a place and a time to just “be”; being able to truly relax; reflecting on my life; getting my priorities in order; finishing something important; exploring the physical side of myself; being able to compete and win; travel; quietness; atonement; building something important; ending a chapter of my life—saying good-bye to something.
All of these dreams are beautiful. None of them are bad for a relationship. But they can cause problems if they are hidden from your consciousness—or not respected by your partner.
Now choose a particular gridlocked conflict to work on. What are the hidden dreams that underlie your position? Where do these dreams come from and why are they so meaningful to you.
Once you both understand which dreams are fueling the gridlock, it’s time to talk. Each person gets 15 minutes as the speaker and 15 minutes as the listener. If you are the listener, suspend judgment. Listen the way a friend would listen, and look to establish an initial compromise that will help you agree for a brief period of time. The goal is to “declaw” the issue, to try to remove the hurt so the problem stops being a source of great pain.
The bottom line in getting past gridlock is to acknowledge, honor and respect your partner’s deepest, most personal hopes and dreams.
Source: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver (Three Rivers Press)