Archive of ‘Communication’ category

Gridlock vs. Perpetual Problems in Couples

Did you know that 69% of problems are perpetual problems? What does that mean? According to a study by Gottman and Gottman, 69% of couples’ problems have no resolution and 31% of their problems are resolvable. Looking at your own relationship, do you find yourself arguing over the same issue over and over? With zero headway being made?  Just more hurt feelings and anger which can lead to a painful impasse. Gridlock. 

The goal is to move from gridlock to dialogue.

Problems that Lead to Gridlock

In counseling, the goal is to manage conflict rather than solving the problem because the majority of the time there is no solution. Even in the healthiest relationships, most conflicts are not resolved. The problems remain perpetual and couples learn how to live with them or become gridlocked. Another obstacle is simply a mismatch of conflict styles. One partner may be an avoider and the other a pursuer. We all know what this looks like.

Wife: “So you’re just going to let our son go to baseball practice after he failed English?” 

Husband” “Yes”

Wife: “So he gets a privilege? A reward? And You’re the hero again?”

Husband: “ He needs an outlet.” as the husband walks away to the bedroom.

Wife: “ If baseball was so important to him he would pass his classes….” as she follows her husband and continues, “We go through this every grading period since he was 10 years old…….

Husband: “I am not having this conversation again” and closes the door 

We can see where this is going. There is clearly a mismatch in conflict styles. There is clearly a long standing disagreement regarding grades and extracurricular activities. Couples can become entrenched in their respective positions. Refusing to engage in give and take. When in gridlock,  it is important to explore each other’s values in a position. 

“Why won’t he/she budge on ___?” 

And they may be surprised by the answer. There are reasons why certain values are important to us. And they often differ from our partner’s values. And that is ok. But have we explored why our partner finds certain values important? Can we put on their lens for a minute? Can we try and understand why they will not budge? And then can we compromise? Compromise does not always feel good. It can feel as though we are not winning or not being heard.

How to Unlock Gridlock

One of the hardest things to do is to come to some sort of acceptance of the problem. This can change the level of frustration. Without making some sort of peace with the problem, it can lead to emotional disengagement. The problem will remain gridlocked and couples will continue to hurt and vilify one another. 

The goal is not to solve the perpetual problem but to lay the groundwork for dialogue. Honor each other’s values. Turn the focus to exploration and understanding one another. Use your friendship to uncover emotions and underlying meanings regarding the perpetual problem. Compromise. We do not have to agree on the solution because there is not one. In most conflicts there is a conversation that should have been had. Using these strategies can avoid painful exchanges and icy silence. Wouldn’t it be nice for the couple in this scenario to be prepared for the next grading period? 

Written By: Jenny Cantu, LPC

Cultivating Connection with Bids for Connection

In relationships, both verbal and nonverbal communication play a role in how well you connect with and feel seen by your partner. What you say, how you say it, and how your body language supports your words all matter. When couples are in conflict, things like tone, responses, and eye contact can help them move through their conflict or add fuel to the fire and make them feel more disconnected.

Bids for Connection

One way to support healthy dialogue and build connection is to be attuned to your partner’s “bids for connection.” This term was coined by Dr. John and Julie Gottman, leading researchers in the field of love and relationships. A bid is “an invitation to connect” (Gottman & Gottman, p. 3); it is an attempt for positive connection from you or your partner. This can be verbal or nonverbal and come in the form of feelings, observations, opinions, invitations, physical gestures, or questions.

Responding to Bids

How bids are made is just as important as how they are received. When a partner initiates a moment of connection, the other partner can respond in one of three ways (Gottman & Gottman, p. 5). Let’s use an example to illustrate the differences. If your partner says, “I was thinking we should try that new restaurant in our neighborhood this weekend.” You could respond by;

Turning Toward – “Oh yes, I know which one you are talking about; sounds good.”

This involves being present and responding to your partner. It does not mean you have to agree, but you show interest and help your partner feel seen.

Turning Away – “. . . <silence>.”

No response is given; when you turn away, you completely ignore or miss the bid. This is like ghosting the bid.

Turning Against – “Why would we do that? That’s a terrible idea.”

When we turn against, we reject a bid, shutting down the conversation and likely causing anger.

When you turn toward the bid, you accumulate moments of connectivity. Whenever you turn away or against it, a withdrawal is made from your love bank. Turning toward helps nurture your relationship and offset those times when you are in conflict. Many couples feel challenged by the lack of time to focus on their relationship. They have competing priorities and endless to-do lists, and the thought of spending time on the relationship feels daunting. Meaningful connection can come in small moments, and opportunities present themselves several times throughout the day. Consider a kiss goodbye, quick text or phone call during lunch, greeting your partner with a hug, using eye contact, sharing a laugh, etc.

Reflecting on Connection

According to Gottman’s research, how well couples recognize and respond to bids can determine the health and longevity of relationships. Couples who report happy and satisfying relationships turn toward each other 86% of the time (The Gottman Institute). The key to cultivating connection is bringing awareness to these moments of connection. As you go into this week, think about the interactions with your partner and reflect or write down what you notice.

When was the last time you tried to make a bid for a connection? What did you do? How was it received?

When was the last time your partner tried to make a bid? How did you respond?


Gottman, J., & Schwartz Gottman, J. (2022). The Love Prescription. Random House USA. 

Written By: Janet Mize, LMFT

What if making a mistake was okay?:  Addressing perfectionism as a family

student with ADHD

I was inspired by a previous blog post by colleague, Catherine Mok, LCSW, on good enough parenting linked here. Children and the family system can benefit as a whole when the perspective of parents is shifted toward being good enough and away from achieving perfect or ideal parenting. The modeling that is provided through this shift in perspective sends a message to children that trying your best, normalizing mistakes as opportunities to learn, and focusing on being good enough can alleviate the pressure to be perfect. Let us think about this further in the context of supporting children that struggle with trying to achieve perfection.


When considering the term “perfectionism,” I do want to recognize that mastery and working to master different tasks is developmentally appropriate for children to build confidence and develop their sense of self. There is also positive reinforcement from society and adults in children’s lives for wanting to do well, exerting focused effort, and attention to detail. We will use this moment to reflect on how striving to be “perfect” can show up and get in the way for children and how to support them. 

Concern arises when children show signs of striving for perfection, setting unattainable goals, and internalizing unrealistic standards and expectations for themselves. Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S and founder of the Synergetic Play Therapy Institute explains that unmet expectations register as a threat or challenge to the brain and engage our stress response. For children striving for perfection and holding unrealistic expectations for themselves, this stress response may be constantly engaged. This can show up in many ways where children may verbalize their distress through use of “should” language, critical self-evaluation or self-talk, and verbalizing their unrealistically high expectations. This can also show up, and sometimes more commonly, in behaviors such as limited frustration tolerance for mistakes, becoming dysregulated quickly, or anxiety and avoidance of difficult tasks for fear of making a mistake. It is important to recognize that these thought patterns and behaviors are connected to children’s self-esteem, relationships, and emotional well-being. 


Now we can pause to take a deep breath and shift the focus to supporting children and the family system with helpful ways of addressing perfectionistic tendencies.

Validate, always

When approaching a child struggling with self-criticism, unrealistic expectations, and dysregulation in making a mistake, reflecting their feelings and validating their experience can be a safe place to start. Examples may include, “You are worried about making a mistake because you care about doing your best” or “You tried so hard to get it just right and are disappointed/upset that it didn’t go the way you wanted.” The goal here is to connect with the child so that they feel seen and heard which increases their felt sense of safety.

Mistakes as a conversation

Encourage conversations about mistakes with children with a perspective of curiosity and framing mistakes as an opportunity to learn. Families can also model healthy acceptance of mistakes by parents and caregivers sharing their own mistakes out loud. This can normalize and validate a child’s experience of mistakes. This can also be a powerful antidote to shame by hearing that mistakes are accepted, inevitable, and safe topics of conversation (Brené Brown). Practicing vulnerability with children can improve connection throughout the family system and bolster a child’s confidence and belief in their own capability to navigate challenges and mistakes in the future.


Powerful reframes in response to self-criticism and striving to be perfect can include: 

  • Encouraging a growth mindset as a learner that includes feedback and practice with improvement over time (UC Davis Health, 2022)
  • Mistakes are opportunities to learn (Dr. Nelsen, 2006)
    • What did I do well and where can I grow?
  • Excitement and support for a child to try again
  • Focus placed on trying and effort rather than the outcome or results


Finally, practicing self-compassion introduces warmth and understanding from within to alleviate the pressure children place on themselves. What does a child’s self-talk sound like when striving for perfection? It may reflect all-or-nothing thinking and unrealistic expectations such as, “I should/should have…” or “I can’t…” How can caregivers model self-compassion? When caregivers reflect on their own mistakes, they can show self-compassion through positive self-talk that children then observe. When negative self-talk arises for children, encourage more positive and encouraging messages they could tell themselves instead. Examples could include:

 “I tried my best” 

“I care so much about doing well”

“This is hard for me and that is okay”  

“I made a mistake and I am proud that I tried” 

“I am brave for trying something new and challenging”

“I am important, and I belong no matter how many mistakes I make”

modeling self-compassion for perfectionism

References & Resources

  • Positive Discipline by Dr. Jane Nelsen
  • Synergetic Play Therapy Institute, founder Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S
  • The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
  • Practically Perfect – Addressing Perfectionism in Kids by UC Davis Health
  • Letting Go of Perfect: Empower Children to Overcome Perfectionism by Jill Adelson and Hope Wilson

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