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?

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Nice or neutral?

You’ve probably heard the old adage, “Nice or neutral, never nasty,” as advice for how to treat other people. But the reality is that even “neutral” can be invalidating and erode trust.

When responding to a bid, for example, you can turn towards, turn away, or turn against. We advise couples to turn towards as often as possible, rather than away or against. Neutrality, in response to a loved one expressing pain, is a form of turning away and can be even more devastating to the relationship than turning against.

Turning against is at the very least being clear and offering an opportunity for continued engagement and repair. Turning away is silence.

Neutrality in the face of conflict sends the message that your comfort or being right/”polite” is more important than an acknowledgment of the feelings being expressed. And that is a betrayal.

Why not say, “I am on your side”? What do you stand to lose if you stand with your partner? Brené Brown’s Engaged Feedback checklist suggests, “I know I’m ready to give feedback when…I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you.” Can you relinquish a “neutral” stance in order to really engage?

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Inner worlds

Attunement in adult relationships is the desire and ability to understand and respect your partner’s inner world.

Attunement builds (and can rebuild) trust. Consider ATTUNE as an acronym:

Awareness
Turning toward
Tolerance
Understanding
Non-defensive listening
Empathy

How can you practice attunement to build a greater understanding and respect for your partner’s inner world? Every individual is a complex and unique galaxy unto themselves. You could know someone a lifetime and only be attuned to one small piece of their inner world.

What do you assume you know about your partner that you might be wrong about? What deserves more exploration? What does your partner assume about you that might need clarification?

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Difficult conversations

If you are needing to have a difficult conversation with a loved one or process conflict in your relationship, preparation is the best way to make sure it goes as well as possible.

Here are questions to ask yourself before you get into difficult conversations: 

  • Am I ready to have this conversation? According to Dr. Julie Gottman, “processing” means talking about the specific conflict or incident without getting mired in the emotionality of it again. 
  • Am I calm enough to have this conversation? Are you able to differentiate between your own emotions and the events that occurred? 
  • Am I willing to seek to understand the experiences of this event outside of my own? 
  • Am I willing to speak from my experience without trying to persuade? 
  • Am I willing to ATTUNE to the feelings of others and what the event meant to them? 
  • Can I be fully present for this conversation (am I in a space with limited distractions)? 

94% of the time, the way a discussion starts determines the way it will end. Taking a pause to prepare yourselves before the conversation begins will allow you to go into it with mindful intention. Come ready.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.