Gridlock Stopping You in Your Tracks?

By Caralee Frederic, LCSW | Certified Gottman Therapist | Couples Workshop Presenter

Turn Gridlock Into Meaningful Dialogue

Let’s de-clutter our lives of relationship gridlock — the perpetual arguments and contentiousness that stops us from moving forward in our most important relationships.

In an earlier blog, I discussed solvable problems vs. gridlocked problems. A solvable problem is conflict that, when taught the right communication skills, couples can resolve as they arise. A gridlocked problem, however, is a perpetual, ongoing issue without any resolution in sight.

For example: a wife leaves her clothes on the bathroom floor. The husband is able to express his unhappiness without harsh accusations and verbal attacks. She responds by picking up her dirty clothes. The problem is situational and ends.

A gridlocked problem occurs when the problem (dirty clothes on the floor) turns into an argument over deeper values over consideration and responsibilities in the home. Each considers the other a villain and they fling words such as “nag” and “lazy.” According to Dr. John Gottman, founder of The Gottman Institute, a gridlocked problem, much like a traffic jam, does not allow the individuals to move on. It leaves both parties emotionally disengaged, hurt and frustrated, and without any desire to compromise.

These problems may stem from differences in neatness and organization, optimal sexual frequency, the handling of finances and household chores. These problems will certainly arise, given that a marriage is made up of two people with differing personalities, strategies and beliefs.

De-clog That Traffic Jam But, there is hope. Gottman Institute used clinical research to discover the steps to overcoming gridlocked problems. I use their research in my work with clients, giving them the tools to turn gridlocked conflicts into meaningful, results-driven dialogue. Mastering of these relationship skills takes time and effort, and is most achievable when guided by a trained counselor in a therapy or workshop setting.

Nevertheless, there are things you can do today to move away from perpetual problems and the dreaded catch-22: the inability to compromise that leads to the vilifying of each other and further gridlock. First, accept that some problems are unsolvable. Unfortunately, immediately resolving a gridlocked conflict is practically impossible. Dr. Gottman said: “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.”

Next, conjure up the motivation and seek the professional help needed to explore the hidden issues that are causing the gridlock. One key is to uncover and share with each other the significant personal dreams you have in your life. Gottman researchers found that “unrequited dreams are at the core of every gridlocked conflict.”

I leave you with one question to ponder: Do you know and share your partner’s life dream?

If not, gridlock and its associated relationship issues could be the reason. As we de-clutter our love lives and remove gridlocked conflict, we are able to move forward to a brighter, better future together.

Was this Blog helpful? If so, I highly recommend my couples weekend workshop: The Art and Science of Love, created by the Gottman Institute. Information and exercises are presented in an organized, cohesive manner. It’s a wonderful investment in your love life, and will truly strengthen your relationship!