As a Southern California resident, often times when I hear the word “gridlock” I think of the infamous freeway traffic that my neighbors and I endure on a daily basis. One popular dictionary defines gridlock as: “a traffic jam affecting a whole network of intersecting streets.”
Unfortunately, our streets and highways aren’t the only places where gridlock wreaks havoc. All too often couples find themselves in another type of gridlock: Relational Gridlock.
In my previous blog entry, I spoke about how there are two types of conflict within marriages: Problems that can be solved, and problems that are perpetual and will most likely never be resolved. Studies have found that a mere 31% of marital conflict ever reaches a resolution. That means that 69% of marital conflict never sees complete resolution. It is in these conflicts that couples often struggle to find a way to manage their disagreements, which results in gridlock.
This is why Avoiding Gridlock is our sixth ingredient in our recipe for a great marriage.
Gridlock in adult romantic relationships isn’t dissimilar to gridlock on the streets. When gridlock finds its way into couple relationships, as they try to navigate a disagreement, achieving conflict resolution is more wishful thinking than a realistic outcome. In marriages, gridlock is less like bumper-to-bumper traffic than it is a head-on collision.
You may be asking “how can we know if we have reached gridlock in our disagreement?” Relationship experts John Gottman and Nan Silver find that you are likely to have reached gridlock if:
- You and your partner have had the same argument multiple times and have yet to find a resolution.
- Neither you or your partner can address the issue with humor, empathy, or affection.
- The issue becomes increasingly more polarizing as time goes on.
- The thought of compromising seems impossible. To compromise would mean to give up an indispensable part of you, like your core beliefs or your sense of who you are.
The good news is that as you become more proficient in your practice of the other six ingredients in this blog series, the less likely you will be to become gridlocked in your disagreements. For instance, when couples strengthening the couple’s fondness and admiration (our second ingredient) and tune in to each other (our third ingredient) they are deploying countermeasures to some of the many pitfalls that can lead to gridlock. Furthermore, when couples are able to dodge gridlock they are able to mitigate the potential impact of perpetual problems. The key is for couples to be able to discuss these problems without inflicting hurt into the relationship.
According to Gottman and Silver, gridlock is a sign that one (or both) partner(s) have a dream in their life that the other isn’t aware of, or hasn’t acknowledged, or doesn’t respect. These dreams can be either practical or profound, such as becoming more productive or finding healing from a childhood trauma. What is important to know these dreams aren’t inherently damaging for a marriage. Wherein the problem lies is in how the dream is expressed, received, and acknowledged by the dreamer’s partner.
Happy couples are aware of each other’s dreams. They consider helping their partners to realize their dreams as a positive goal for their marriages. Helping each other becomes part of what they consider what their marriage to be all about.
In order to relieve the gridlock that surrounds a perpetual conflict, the first step that gridlocked couples need to take is to uncover the dream at the root of the conflict. It is not uncommon for even the dreamer to not fully understand the dream that lies at the root of the problem. To address this, one of the exercises that I introduce to couples is designed specifically to identify the dream (or dreams) that fuels their conflict. This exercise includes the couple adopting the attitude of a detective, as they take turns to speak, listen, and ask specific questions surrounding the conflict. Only after gathering this information can the partners begin to understand and honor each other’s dreams.
Once couples are able to appreciate each other’s dreams they are then able to make progress toward finding peace and reconciliation around the perpetual problem. This doesn’t mean that the dream will ever be actualized. Unrealized dreams are part of life. Nevertheless, appreciating and understanding each other’s dreams allows for couples to draw closer, increase intimacy, and avoiding gridlock in their marriages.
If you looking for help with “Avoiding Gridlock” contact me at 714-675-4402 or Michael@IrenicCounseling.com