Week 10: Gridlock

Think about one issue that you and your spouse have differences and disagreements that reoccur often. Every relationship has these issues due to each individual’s strengths and weaknesses not identically matching their spouse. This means that there will be times when your spouse’s weaknesses or desires really get under your skin.  Perpetual issues such as these bring us to what Dr. Gottman calls gridlock. (1999)

Some couples will reach gridlock when discussing whether to have a baby, whether to spend or save money, or the best way to spend a vacation. Each couple is very different. A gridlock issue in one marriage may not even be an issue in another marriage. In my marriage, we would have trouble with deciding how tidy to keep the house. I like things to be organized and flat surfaces to be clear. My husband prefers to put things down where he is standing, and often wants things belong on a flat surface.  He is not likely to suddenly change and start keeping all surfaces clear. Likewise, I am not likely to change and desire to leave things lying around. This is an issue in my marriage where we have reached gridlock. Both Dr. Gottman and Dr. Goddard have stated that it doesn’t matter who you are married to, you will always have gridlock issues present.  Choosing a mate, is really just a matter of picking which issues you want to deal with for the rest of your life.

Gridlock does not mean that your marriage must end or that you must be miserable the rest of your life; instead Dr. Gottman gives us some great advice on how to deal with it.  Often these issues are big because they are an outward show of the dreams we keep deeply hidden. Sometimes, we don’t even realize what those dreams are, so how is our spouse supposed to know? The solution is to become familiar with each other’s dream.

A desire to go on vacation may be a dream that signifies freedom to one spouse, but the other’s dream is to feel safe and secure with a large amount of money in savings. Maybe one spouse has a dream to go skydiving due to a love of the adrenaline rush, but the other spouse is terribly afraid of heights. These different dreams will not match up, but they can be dealt with. This will require you to use a few of the principles we have learned up to this point.


  • Build love maps (Week 6) – learn more about what your spouse’s dreams are. What does the desire to save money, or have a clean house really mean to them? If you still don’t understand why it matters so much to them, investigate. Ask, why does this matter so much to you? What in your past has affected your feelings on this? Etc.
  • Turn toward each other (Week 7) – listen to and accept your spouse’s dreams and desires. This does not mean you commit to making it happen, but that you love your spouse and are willing to talk about it. This is simply about listening. No arguing allowed, and practice with soft startups (Week 9) couldn’t hurt either.
  • Let your partner influence you (Week 8) – if there is a part of their dream that you can make a reality, do it. Don’t hold back just to be stubborn. Build up a savings then go on a vacation, make it possible for your spouse to go skydiving without you.  You could even attend the skydive class with your spouse, even if you don’t plan to make the jump.


Over the years, my husband and I have learned to lighten up and compromise. We will often use humor to deal with our differences. If something cannot be found then we joke that I must have put it away in a really good hiding place or my husband must have found a black hole (the spot he happened to set it down sucked it in and it disappeared, maybe to spit it out somewhere else, or maybe just gone forever).  Also, my husband has agreed to help tidy up every now and then, and I don’t freak out over clutter as much anymore. If it is really bothering me, I clean it up myself, or politely ask for help.  The point is, there is hope.

For more help recognizing gridlock go here

For more help overcoming gridlock, go here


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