Overcoming Gridlock in Your Marriage



Just like traffic jams stopping progress on the highway, our relationship can hit gridlock when we can not come to an agreement on an issue.  


Thank goodness, Dr. Gottman has found ways to overcome gridlock in our marriage, which he explains in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.  




I have organized a Six Step list from Dr. Gottman's book that will get you back in the fast lane of love.

FIRST STEP - Recognize if the issue you and your spouse are having is at gridlock level. (Gottman 237)


1.  You have the same argument again and again with no resolution.

2.  Neither of you can address the issue with humor, empathy, or affection.

3.  The issue has become increasingly polarized as time goes on.

4.  Compromise seems impossible because it would mean selling out - giving up on important core beliefs, values, or sense of self.  (Gottman 237) 

"You don't have to solve the problem to get past gridlock.  Neither of you has to "give in" or "lose".  The goal is to be able to acknowledge and discuss the issue without hurting each other." (Gottman 237)

Dr. Gottman thinks that 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. ... dreams are hopes, aspirations, and wishes that are part of your identity and give purpose and meaning to your life. " (238)

SECOND STEP - Recognize your dreams (Gottman 238)

 Dreams are usually formed from our childhood.  They may be core beliefs we try to re-create from loving childhood memories.  They may also come in the form of painful memories we try to avoid.  They are motivating forces in our life.  Couples who get along happily in marriage are the ones who know, understand, and respect each other's dreams.  They support each other in reaching their dreams, or compromise on something that has important meaning to the other.   

"In satisfying relationships, partners incorporate each other's goals into their concept of what their marriage is about." (Gottman 240)



1.  A sense of freedom
2.  Feeling at peace
3.  Adventure
4.  Justice
5.  A sense of power
6.  Traveling
7.  A sense of order
8.  Healing
9.  Being productive
10. Asking God for forgiveness

   Sometimes we do not feel like we deserve our dreams so we bury them deep.  This doesn't work out in the long run.  Our relationships will hit gridlock if we are not true and honor our dreams.  At some point you will notice a deeper meaning to an ongoing argument you have. (Gottman 244)

"One good indicator that you're wrestling with a hidden dream is that you consider your spouse to be the source of the marital difficulty. If you find yourself saying, for example, that the problem is simply that he is a slob or she is irresponsible or overly demanding, that is a sign of a hidden dream.  It may indicate that you don't see your part in creating the conflict because it has been hidden from view." (Gottman 244)

Uncovering a dream that has been hidden can be uncomfortable.  You need to feel safe to open up and talk about your deepest feelings, beliefs, and dreams.  You need to have patience with yourself and your spouse as you begin to recognize your dreams.  "The very nature of gridlock means that your dreams appear to be in opposition, so you've both become deeply entrenched in your positions and fear accepting each other's influence and yielding." (Gottman 250) 

DREAMS by Valentina-Remenar

THIRD STEP - Exploring your dreams. (Gottman 250)

1. Choose a gridlock conflict to work on.  

2. Do not criticize or blame.

3. Write down your story behind the dream.  Where it comes from, why it is important to you, what it means.

4. Spend 15 minutes talking honestly about your dream to your spouse.  They spend that 15 minutes listening without judgment.

5. Switch places, you become the listener and they become the speaker. Again no criticism, blame or judgements. Use "I statements".

Listeners can ask supportive questions like:
"What are all the things you feel about this issue?"
"What does your position mean to you?"
"What is your ideal dream here?"
"If you could wave a magic wand and you'd have exactly what you needed, what would that look like?"

"Acknowledging and respecting each other's deepest, most personal hopes and dreams is key to saving and enriching your marriage." (Gottman 253)

Dr. Gottman says you don't have to become part of your spouses dreams to honor them, but you do want to have a level of understanding and interest.  Practice makes perfect.

FOURTH STEP - Soothe (Gottman 253)

This can be hard business, talking about the deeper feelings behind a gridlock.  Pay attention to your feelings and your spouses reactions, if either one of you are being flooded with negative emotions it is time to stop.  Take a 20 minute break.  Spend time on something that will calm you down.  When calm, you can come back together to reach an understanding.

FIFTH STEP - Reach a temporary compromise (the two-circle method) (Gottman 253)

"Understand that your purpose is not to solve the conflict - it will probably never go away completely.  Instead, the goal is to defang the issue, to try to remove the hurt so that the problem stops being a source of great pain." (Gottman 253)

Finding Common Ground (Gottman 185)

1. On a paper draw a large circle with a smaller circle in the middle.  

2.  In the inner circle write all the parts of the problem you will not give in on.  Try to keep this list small.

3.  In the outer circle write all the parts of the problem you can compromise over.  Try to keep the list large.

 4.  After you have filled out your circles come together and look for bases of agreement.  Use all the gentle treatment and communication skills I have discussed in earlier blogs while discussing this.  

 5.  Come up with temporary compromise.

6.  Try for two months.

7.  Review.

SIXTH STEP - Say "Thank you"(Gottman 259)

This process will take time, patience, and understanding.  "The goal here is to re-create a spirit of thanksgiving, in which you count your blessings and look inward to express gratitude for all you have" (Gottman 259).  This will take dedication, hope, and faith as you come out of gridlock, but the effort will be worth it as you create a more loving, kind, and happy marriage. 

Good luck and God bless you in your efforts! ~ Holly Jo

Work Cited

Gottman John. Silver, Nan. The seven principles for making marriage work. Harmony Books. New York. 2015. Print.


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