Principle 6: Overcoming Gridlock

Gridlocks happen when people’s life dreams [hopes, aspirations, and wishes for their life are not being addressed/respected by each other.

Such deep dreams could include:

  • Sense of freedom
  • Experience of peace
  • Unity with nature
  • Exploration of who i am
  • Justice
  • Honor
  • Unity with the past
  • Healing
  • Spiritual journal

When dreams are respected: couples are happier as they realize that marriage is supposed to help them with those dreams – and not manipulate the other out of achieving the goal. The couple who knows that the marriage is meant to help with each partner’s dreams and thus is able to forgo dreams with the knowledge that it aspirations will be acknowledged and considered later.


Hidden dreams are only likely to emerge after the marriage is felt as safe – i.e. first three Gottman principles. When you get to expose your dream and it seems as if your dream is in opposition to the other’s dreams, tensions seem to escalate at first.

But there is a process here:

Step One: Become a dream detective: even if someone gives up a dream for the marriage. Such people may minimize it as “childish” or “impractical”, but the dream will resurface in disguised form, as a gridlock conflict (exercise #1, page 225: ‘hidden dreams’: 6 examples of gridlocks where person is supposed to find the underlying dream.
Step Two:Work on a gridlocked issue. This means spelling them out and where the dreams come from. Do not argue or criticize the other`s dreams – just try to understand why you and he feels this way. Speaker`s job is to describe your position and what it means to you (I statements and soft startups help here!). The listener`s job is to hear the other person`s dream and encourage its exploration, suspending rebuttals and judgment. You want to honor your partner`s dreams, not triumph them and crush your partner. Three levels of partaking in the other`s dream:

  • Listening
  • Financial support
  • Taking part

Step 3:Soothe Each Other – dreams in opposition could be stressful – take a break for soothing, as flooding will achieve nothing.
Step 4:End The Gridlock – you will never be able to fully resolve it but reduce some of it tensions – i.e. `finding common ground` exercise (p. 182) – i.e. finding things that you can compromise on while others which you cannot compromise on. Try to make the second category smaller than the first one. Delineate the core issues (and explain to the partner the meaning which the `core`, non-negotiable ones have for you), delineate the areas of flexibility, and then arrive at temporary compromises. The conflict will still be ongoing (i.e. differences of positions), but not as gridlocked.
Step 5: Say Thank You.May be difficult to do after a gridlock discussion, but is important to highlight and thank the positives in the relationship as well!

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