How to Overcome Gridlock

Conflict in marriage can come in two forms: those we can solve, and those that have us stuck. In this post, we will talk about gridlock, the kind of conflict that we can’t seem to resolve. 

For example, many of us may have contradicting views of what school to put the children in. Daniel and I are also currently in a gridlock on what to do with our elderly parents, which is a common area of concern for couples with aging parents: shall we bring them in to live with us, or find them a good nursing home? 

And, we are also still not clear as to our own plans of retirement: I want to retire into a small house, because it’s easier to manage. Daniel, on the other hand, wants a big house, saying it gives us room to host people; after all, when we’re retired, we have all the time in the world, and we would love to use that time doing what we enjoy, practicing hospitality and enjoying people’s company. 

As you can see, there can be many areas in marriage where you and your partner just don’t—or can’t—agree. How do we deal with these? 

 Do you know that most gridlock happens as a result of unfulfilled dreams? This is why the first step in working through this type of conflict is to help each other by understanding your dreams.      
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Steps to Dealing with Gridlock  

Here are some helpful tools to help you manage areas where you are stuck as a couple: 

1. Explore each of your dreams. 

Do you know that most gridlock happens as a result of unfulfilled dreams? This is why the first step in working through this type of conflict is to help each other by understanding your dreams. It may start with each of you to contemplate the dreams you may have suppressed. By doing this, you will each be able to understand what way these desires may not be met in your relationship. 

2. Share your side with each other without blame or criticism. 

An important goal of dealing with gridlock is to get started on a dialogue about the issue. In this step, you share what you have found about your individual dreams, and this will help your you and your partner understand each other better. 

For example, in our current gridlock of what to do with our aging parents, we might begin the conversation by explaining what our parents mean to us. Usually, areas like this are a problem of values. It could be that one of us grew up in a family that believes old folks must stay in a house with family members, while the other believes they’ll be more comfortable if they stay in a nursing home where they can be taken care of, and come to us on weekends. 

If we say, “I don’t want your parents in our home,” it will likely trigger a defensive, “It means you don’t love my family.” Instead, it’s important to focus on what we believe and think without passing criticism or blame. 

3. Comfort each other.   

Clearly, being stuck in tension is stressful. It can commonly cause us to feel overwhelmed. That’s why it’s important to take a break. You may want to take some time off by yourself, or you can spend time with your spouse—without needing to talk about the issue during that time. Understand that there is no deadline to solving a problem that’s in gridlock, so you can take all the time that you need—as long as you are moving forward. 

One way of doing this is to agree to disagree, and to find time to enjoy each other even with the unresolved issue. It may not be easy at first, but once you understand that the issue is separate from you two as persons, you may be able to see it as a whole different entity.

4. Accept the fact that some issues will just not be resolved.

Sometimes, you may find yourself struggling to solve a problem—but it turns out to be an issue that just refuses to go away. The important thing is to understand that our goal is not to get rid of all conflict. Instead, we focus on “disarming” the issue, removing its power to hurt us and cause great pain. Here are some ways you can do this:


  • Define your non-negotiable areas
  • Define which areas you can be flexible on
  • Decide on a temporary middle-ground that takes into account both of your desires

Learning to Talk Through Gridlock

With these steps, we hope that you can move your issue into a place where you can talk about it. Constructive conversation is a way of strengthening your connection, even when there remains things that you cannot see eye-to-eye on.

If you would like some hand-holding in resolving some issues, feel free to reach out to us for some one-on-one couple coaching time. We would love to walk with you!

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