Dr. Gottman begins this chapter by writing that many couples actually handle “gridlock” well. You want children, he doesn’t; you want to go to church, he doesn’t; you are extroverted and want a party every night and he is introverted and wants to be home with a good book. These problems seem insurmountable but yet some couples handle them exceedingly well and it does not tear them apart. How do they do that?
Dr. Gottman asserts that the goal in dealing with gridlock is not always to get to solving the problem (believe it or not!) but to open a dialogue. There are many problems in marriage that are just not solvable, but yet, we can still love each other and live in harmony.
Sometimes the gridlock is caused by underlying feelings and dreams of things from childhood. Perhaps the things you want most in life is being caused by wanting to emulate or distance yourself from your own childhood experiences. Dr. Gottman offers a helpful list on page 218 of people’s most common wishes,dream and desires that sometimes fuels gridlock in a marriage.
If we can communicate with each other and respect each other’s deepest dreams and wishes, then happy couples are often willing to overcome gridlock to help their partner be happy. If the partner does not respect or find significance in their spouse’s dream or deep-rooted need, then this can cause severe marital problems.
Sometimes when couples have opposing dreams regarding an issue, the only hope is to openly talk about why you feel that way and to listen as to why your spouse may feel another way. When the real issues are out in the open, then you can have a dialogue and find a middle ground that feels okay to both of you. Compromises are hard to accept, and yet, marriage is a field of compromise if the other person’s happiness matters as much or more to you than your own.
Dr. Gottman notes on page 224: “Keep working on your unresolvable conflicts. Couples who are demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations.”
He provides a list of steps for those ready to move beyond gridlock in a series of exercises starting on page 225. In Step One, Dr. Gottman lists common scenarios, and leaves us to fill in the dream that could possibly be found within the conflict. One example he provides is a couple where the husband believes the wife is too neat and tidy and controlling. The dream within this may be that the husband grew up in a very strict home and that the husband actually wants to be able to challenge authority; he wants his children to be able to challenge authority. And perhaps the wife, who wants a neat tidy home, has as her dream a need for security because her home life was chaotic growing up. She wants her children to feel safe; she wants to feel safe.
In Step Two, Dr. Gottman guides the reader through picking a gridlocked issue in his or her own marriage and delving into the possible dreams beneath the conflict. He asks that each person receive fifteen minutes to talk and explain his or her position without attempting to solve the problem. Listening is the first key to understanding.
Step Three involves soothing each other, and goes back to the exercises found in the chapter, “Soothe Yourself and Each Other”, Chapter 8. Step Four involves making a temporary compromise and living with that compromise for two months. Dr. Gottman provides the steps to work through this in the exercise “Finding Common Ground”, found in Chapter 5. He then instructs couples to live with that temporary solution for two months and then review. He cautions readers not to expect the problem to be solved, but only that you and your spouse can live with the problem more peacefully than before. Step Five is then to say thank you, in order to end on a positive note, and he provides an exercise for this on page 240-241.
Another interesting chapter to read and think about!