Jordan Zipkin, LMFT
4 Skills That Can Help You and Your Partner Move Past a Constant Issue
Consider for a moment the types of conflict between you and your partner. If you realize that most of them tend to center around the same common topics, this can feel incredibly frustrating and even hopeless. Perhaps it seems that no matter how you approach the topic(s), it always includes chaos, cold shoulders, and hurt and lacks mutual feelings of humor and affection.
These conflicts are what Dr. John and Julie Gottman, the creators of the tremendous Gottman Couples therapy method, label “gridlocked conflict.” Their work with tens of thousands of couples over multiple decades revealed that not only are these types of conflict very common in all relationships, there are also a handful of powerful ways to reduce the frequency and intensity of them.
It’s Not About Solutions – at Least Not Yet
The reason gridlocked conflicts exist is because they represent deeply underlying and often complex parts of you and your partner’s personality and lifestyle preferences. Since there is so much involved in these topics that cause repeated conflict, it is unrealistic to expect an immediate solution.
Instead, concentrate on uncovering the underlying hopes, feelings, and beliefs beneath the surface of the recurrent problem. As you both do this, also do your best to stay calm, open, receptive, non-judgmental, and flexible. Always be mindful to avoid criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and shutting down. Consistently ask each other questions about your respective stance on the issue(s) and empathize with each other.
The goal, at least early on, is to have much healthier interactions when engaging with one another about these gridlocked conflicts. Only after you have consistently accomplished this, can you even then come close to unlocking solutions.
Schedule Time Consistently to Have Crucial Conversations
To become masters at navigating these gridlocked conflicts, it is imperative that you and your partner engage in open communication about the various hopes, life goals, and feelings that underlie these recurrent conflicts. Through these repeated healthy efforts, you and your partner are fostering an improved understanding of what makes these various issues particularly important in a respectful, gentle, kind, and empathic way.
It is also particularly important that you and your partner make a very conscious effort to insert humor and affection into these conversations, as the research demonstrates the massive role they play in reducing the intensity of these conflicts.
In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman stated, “Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest, most personal hopes and dreams is the key to saving and enriching your marriage.”
Be Ready to Calm Yourself Down
Since there is always so much that goes into these gridlocked issues, it can be easier for our emotions to hit that “9-10/10,” where 10 signifies the most intense version of our emotions. In that highly emotional state, we become “flooded” and the thinking part of our brain shuts down. Emotion takes over and our natural response in this place is either to leave the situation, become unusually quiet, or lash out with anger. All of these actions represent our own personal way(s) to respond to the intensely emotional state. On an unconscious level, we are simply trying to calm ourselves back down.
The best way to avoid this state is to be mindful of your rising emotions. When you recognize you are on your way to a “flooded 9-10/10” place, inform your partner that you need at least 20 minutes, but no longer than 24 hours, to completely separate from this conversation, calm yourself back down, and to then revisit the conversation again in a much more productive state.
You also want to specifically designate a time within that 20-minute to 24-hour timespan so it is clear to you and your partner how important this conversation is and the need to have it again in a much more effective manner. Do your best to ensure that during this timeframe, you and/or your partner engage solely in an activity or activities that bring you peace. That way, when you do revisit the conversation at the agreed upon time, you are both in a much more level-headed state and therefore, more likely to have a pleasant conversation and perhaps even a solution.
Embrace the Reality that You Will Not Solve All Problems
Even after applying all of the tools outlined above, you will find that there will simply always be areas of fundamental difference between you and your loved one. When it comes to these areas, it is helpful to first recognize and embrace that this is likely the reality. Additionally, be honest with yourself and your loved one on where you can and will be flexible. Lastly, form at least a temporary compromise that respects these different stances held by you and your partner.
We hope that by going through these exercises with your partner, the two of you will be able to make progress communicating about a perpetual issue in your relationship.
To understand more about these and other noteworthy skills to help you and your partner evolve into the most calm, supportive, and affectionate couple, give me a call to see how I can help. I'm offering limited session in person and telehealth sessions on a HIPAA-compliant platform. Give me a call and we will discuss how I can help. Jordan Zipkin, LMFT, at 954.391.5305.