“To navigate your way out of gridlock, you have to first understand that no matter how seemingly insignificant the issue, gridlock is a sign that you each have dreams for your life that the other isn’t aware of, hasn’t acknowledged or doesn’t respect.” (p.238)
Obviously, an issue that keeps cropping up in a relationship is going to be a tougher nut to crack. Interestingly enough, at least for me, was his assertion that gridlock is about DREAMS. The problem is that sometimes the dreams, yours or your partners, are not articulated or perhaps not even conscious. “When either spouse isn’t aware of or doesn’t fully appreciate the importance of supporting his or her partner’s dreams, gridlock is almost inevitable.” (p.240)
“For many couples, the dream that is at the core of the conflict is not so obvious. Only by uncovering this dream can the couples get out of gridlock.” (p. 241)
Dreams could be, for example, feeling at peace, having a sense of freedom, or exploring a creative side of oneself, but they might not show up that obviously.
What is Gridlock?
So how do you know if you are in gridlock? Here are four clues:
- 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 – giving up something important and core to your beliefs, values, or sense of self. (p.237)
Key to Overcoming Gridlock
The key then to overcoming gridlock is to actually identify which dream or dreams are fueling the conflict. He shares 6 examples of possible gridlock scenarios and later suggests solutions using his four-step method. His six examples include: one partner is clean and tidy, the other messy; one partner is too emotional, the other unemotional; one partner is more reclusive, the other more outgoing; one wants more sex, the other less; one wants to spend money, one wants to save, and one wants more extended family time, the other less.
John Gottman’s Four-Step Solution:
Step 1 – Explore the dream or dreams. At this point, it is not about solving the problem, it is to better understanding why each of you feels so strongly about the issue. Using an actual example, he concludes “the key to ending gridlock was … to discuss openly why their position was so important to them – and in particular to open up about the history behind their position and what it meant to them.” (p. 243)
Step 2 – Soothe – yourself and each other. Take a break if the conversation is heading in the wrong direction.
Step 3 – Reach a temporary compromise using the two-circle method. The first circle defines the minimal core areas you can’t yield on; the second circle includes areas where you can be more flexible. You want to try and make this category as large as possible and the first one as small as possible. And again, the compromise you come up with doesn’t have to be for the next 10 years, but try it for a month or two and see if it works better.
Step 4 – Say thank you. Share three specific appreciations with your partner.
He concludes this chapter with: “Follow these four steps, and you’ll be able to move out of gridlock on your perpetual problems. Be patient with the process and each other. By their very nature, these problems are tenacious.” (p.259).
Next week, the last of the seven principles, “Create Shared Meaning”. In the meantime, check out my latest podcast!