Warning: LONG ARTICLE- I broke it up into 4-5 parts.
I will explain this concept, within the context of the Sound Relational House based solely on the work of John and Julie Gottman, PhD. It will be a few blogs long and is well worth it. Gottman also has multiple YouTube videos that explain this and other concepts or go straight to their Gottman Institute website. Great research and well explained…
In your relationship you have problems that keep coming back up. Some are painful and harmful to the relationship (gridlock) and some are just recurring problems (perpetual) based on the fact that we are different and living with someone who is different can be hard.
The “gridlock” problems are the ones where you feel betrayed and you feel like you can’t get anywhere in the problem. You cannot even talk about it without problems.
Because nothing works, you avoid talking and you end up feeling like non-romantic roommates or friends and you feel rejected by your partner.
You can clearly see your side and you think that if they could see your side they would think the same way.
Or you get into a power-play or a power struggle and you both dig in.
But, as soon as you start talking about it, things go sideways and the dialogue is jammed or gridlocked.
You eventually find that you don’t want to accept influence or admit any correctness on the other person side and you start using the four Horsemen. (That is gridlock and it can be different. You can find your way out of gridlock with this prompt.)
As a result, there’s no headway.
Each person digs in. They stake their position instead of working with the concept of mutual interests. (To avoid gridlock, consider this perspective, “We are not enemies, it is us against the problem. We have a mutual interest in solving this problem.”)
They start losing their friendship. They don’t express admiration and appreciation and they tend to make the other person the villain. (Repair: When you notice that you are having a disagreement that should be a conversation, ask yourself if you appreciate your partner. Ask yourself if you are vilifying them in the story in your head? Are you comparing them to someone else or being overly critical?)
Have you ever noticed that in your own stories you’re the hero and the other person is the villain?
As you dig into your position, you reinforce it. You don’t compromise. You get more extreme and polarized and then you just stop talking to each other. (What topics are taboo in your relationship with your romantic partner? When you talk about a taboo topic, are you able to have a conversation or is it an immediate disagreement or conflict with questionable boundaries or something else?)
You might notice a similar thing with politics.
This is where you don’t want to even have the conversation because your dreams are crushed and you feel alienated. (Ask yourself if you are fully understanding their perspective. If you get their point of view, without judging them, then ask if there is a dream that they have that might be partially in the way. Ask yourself if you are acting honorably toward their dream.)
If you can relate to those, that simply means you are in a situation that is gridlocked. The goal is to move towards having decent dialogue (honorable communication, not blame and judgment and fixing and controlling and persuading) and conversation about it, not solve it at this point.
So what’s the dream that’s in there?
What has a deeply symbolic meaning?
When listening to your partner, ask yourself, what are their hopes, dreams, fears, wishes, aspirations? Approach this process as a way to learn more about your partner, to get to know them better. Approach it with intellectual curiosity.
Gottman notes that the gridlock is the result of dreams in opposition and the fears that we have about accepting influence on the problem at hand.
The problem is not the problem necessarily, what does the problem mean to me personally?
For example, a money discussion is not about money. It’s about power or security or competence or independence and freedom, Gottman suggests.
Can you see why someone might not yield unless they feel understood and honored?
If it’s not safe enough to hear and be seen and understood then they will not talk about it.
This is another area where talker and listener comes in very handy.
You are listening to understand.
Not to use the information against the person, convert them you didn’t use it as ammo.
Talk about what the problem means to your deepest self why does it carry this much meaning for you?
Why is it so core to your sense of self? Ask in a way that is intellectually curious, not judgmental.
There is always healing before resolution. You have to reconcile the inner conflict before you can resolve the outer conflict.
Can I speak safely with this person?
Do my feelings matter to this person?
Does my preference matter to them?
Can I rely on them?
Am I able to have a discussion and feel honored and respected even when there are differences?
If you answer “no” then you are likely in gridlock.
The goal is to listen to understand, not judge, not solve, not find judgment, not change the person’s mind.
Do not argue for your own point of view, just listen and let them feel understood because you are listening only to understand.