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?”
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?