Relationship Minute: Gridlock

Gridlocked conflict does not simply occur spontaneously. There are five phases a conflict conversation generally passes through on the way. According to John Gottman, those stages are:

1. Your dreams stand in opposition

2. Entrenchment of your opposing positions

3. Increased fears of accepting influence from your partner

4. Vilification (Four Horsemen)

5. Emotional disengagement from each other

All couples will face some forms of perpetual conflict. But those recurring issues do not need to become gridlocked. What you need to create movement or even a little wiggle room, is the willingness to explore the other person’s side of the conflict and what dreams are beneath their position.

For example, let’s say the conflict is about letting the dog sleep in the bed. One partner wants the dog in the bed and the other does not.

“I want the dog to sleep in the bed.” 

  • What it might be about: comfort, security, nurturing, protection, a feeling of family, care. 
  • What it’s not actually about: where the dog sleeps. 

“I don’t want the dog to sleep in the bed.” 

  • What it might be about: cleanliness, order, boundaries, respect, comfort, intimacy. 
  • What it’s not actually about: dog hair in the sheets. 

So what’s underneath each position in a gridlocked conflict? Is there room for understanding? Room for movement?

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