Use these four questions to transform your communication and begin sharing your hopes and dreams.

Is there an argument you keep on having or an issue that never goes away no matter how many times you try to solve it? John Gottman’s extensive 30-year study on couples found that 69% of relationship issues are perpetual and not solvable. That’s right! Most issues between couples arise from personality differences or differences in lifestyle that don’t have a permanent solution. But hang on, don’t despair, that doesn’t mean you can’t manage your conflict. The first step is to recognize when the issue is perpetual and prevent getting stuck or what Gottman calls “gridlock.”

5 Signs You Are Experiencing Gridlock:

  • Neither you nor your partner is willing to budge on the issue
  • The conflict makes you feel rejected by your partner
  • Your conversations lack humor or affection
  • Over time the conversations cause you to vilify your partner
  • Eventually you disengage from each other emotionally

(The Seven Principles that Make Marriage Work, p. 141)

An example of a gridlocked issue would be if one partner wants the house meticulously organized while the other feels home is a place to unwind and doesn’t mind the clutter. This fundamental difference could lead couples to feel angry, disrespected, and hurt. The real danger sets in when partners start to see the problem as the other person rather than the issue of the house itself.

By taking an emotionally intelligent approach, couples can dialogue about their deeper feelings, sharing what home means to them. They can explore their fundamental differences and discover what each can contribute toward managing the problem. This approach doesn’t make either partner the bad guy but rather allows for more openness, humor, and flexibility in conversation. The goal is to understand what’s behind your partner’s actions and feelings, cultivating a loving regard for their perspective, as you respectfully share your own. Questions like these can help foster understanding: 

  • Help me understand what’s important to you about this?
  • What is your ideal dream here?
  • Does this relate to your childhood or history in some way?
  • What do you need?

Only when couples talk about their deeper longings and values do they expand the conversation beyond who did what and who’s to blame? If couples want to avoid criticism, defensiveness, contempt and, stonewalling (Gottman calls these the 4 Horsemen) then the key is to uncover and share the personal dreams they have for their lives. Behind every stalled argument is a hidden desire that has yet to be spoken of. It takes courage to open up and be vulnerable but risking these conversations will move your relationship onto more stable ground and give you greater peace of mind. Whether you explore these conversations together with your partner or enlist the help of a professional therapist, making the effort to address differences before they escalate will result in a stronger foundation of loving respect that will enrich your relationship.