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If you’re familiar with some of the Gottman Institute concepts (and if you’ve been around Core Values Counseling for any length of time), you’ve probably heard us mention gridlock.


According to the Gottmans, “almost all gridlocked conflicts stem from unfulfilled dreams.” It’s important to note that gridlock is different from a perpetual problem. In fact, 69% of all problems in romantic relationships are perpetual, so don’t lose heart if you feel like you have a lot of them with your partner!


You’ll know you’re experiencing true gridlock when you are losing heart. You might feel disconnected and defeated and hurt. You might think your partner doesn’t have your back anymore because you don’t feel understood, heard, or cared about. 


That is when we know a perpetual problem has turned into gridlock. 


Gridlock is often the reason why a couple comes to Core Values Counseling for help. They might be thinking about ending their relationship because they can’t move through the gridlock and can’t come to any understanding about it.


And the conflicts at the heart of gridlock are as varied and complex as the couples we serve: finances, religion, how to raise your kids, time together vs. time apart working, gentle parenting vs. more structured parenting, and sexual desire discrepancy (and how to navigate that) are just a few of the issues we see on a regular basis in our practice.


When gridlock happens, couples will feel like they’re stuck in the mud, spinning their wheels. The point of conflict in question is no longer just an annoying rub. It’s a much more painful rub that has become unbearable and needs to be addressed. 


You and your partner can’t fix it by trying to come up with a solution because there are too many layers to the gridlocked problem. There’s a story underneath the story of the problem. The underlying story usually stems from what the Gottmans call dreams within conflict


The dream that drives a particular conflict often gets lost. Sometimes, you don’t even know what your own dream within the conflict is until you take time to explore the inner workings of your gridlock. It’s important to listen to yourself as well as your partner, honoring and listening to one another’s feelings, needs, and desires — and the dreams driving them.


To help you through this process of uncovering the dream within conflict, the Gottmans suggest walking through this checklist. It will help you determine whether or not you have reached total gridlock and help you understand the underlying meaning of the pain in a particular conflict.


Sometimes the problem and the pain at the heart of gridlock relates to our childhood background in some way. 


For me and my husband, Eric, that gridlock — and the dream within conflict in our relationship — has everything to do with our finances. (We talk about this in more detail here.)

Eric comes from an incredibly financially responsible family lineage. And we can trace that all the way back to his grandfather. 


The day the banks collapsed at the start of the Great Depression, Eric’s grandpa got a paycheck. Knowing things looked bad, he went to New York, cashed the check, and took the money home with him. That bit of cash is what his family lived on and what kept their company afloat through the next several years of very hard times.


That sort of financial foresight and preparation is in Eric’s DNA, and it is his nature to plan and provide for our security. Always.


My family, on the other hand, lived in debt a lot. Growing up, I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I didn’t know any different. But I’ve spent my entire adult life working to reframe my understanding of money and finances because I see the sort of peace and stability we can have when I take a page out of Eric’s family’s book.


But we have this gridlock. It comes up occasionally. Over time, because we’ve gotten good at understanding the underlying issue and both of our perspectives on it, we’ve found ways to come up with temporary compromises. But they really are temporary. This issue will come up again and again. And we know that.


That’s an important thing to understand about gridlocked conflict: it needs to be something you revisit. Life changes, and so does your problem (to a certain degree). Understanding each others’ point of view helps you open up your heart to your partner. You can understand that each of you has core needs that cannot be dismissed or go unmet. 


What is the core need in that gridlocked conversation that you can fulfill for your partner?


Glean as much as you can. Find what you can be flexible about. Celebrate all the things you can agree about. 


Most of the time, you can work through these issues by going deeper. What’s the deeper meaning for your partner? Why is this issue so important?’


Of course, it takes some maturity to suspend your own judgment and your own thoughts on the conflict and simply listen to your partner. It takes self-control and a real belief that your partner has very good reasons for feeling the way they do about this issue. 


Approach conversations about gridlocked problems with an open heart and an open mind. That’s the one sure way to make progress. We believe in you! And if you’d like help from our experienced, dedicated team of therapists, please don’t wait. Get in touch today.