So…Now what do we do?

Gridlock is when one partner in a relationship wants one thing, and the other partner wants something completely different. When you talk to each person and ask them for their reasons, in general their reasons are sound on both sides. The dreams and the fantasies on both sides have value and validity. So when no one is wrong and everyone has a reason for what they want, what do they do?

The first thing to do is stop trying to convince the other person why they are right. It turns in to a pattern of attack-and-defend. “Yes, but….my here is my attack on your idea. And if you would just stop to listen, you would see why my idea is right, and why this is so important to me, and if you really loved me, you would see how important this is to me and just give me what I want.” I have had so many sessions with couples where I explain this concept, and as I say the above statement both people are nodding their heads. “If you loved me you’d see how important this is to me and just give in!” You both are in the same place. Let go of convincing the other person they are wrong, even when you have a “Yes, but…..” that is perfectly valid. Start trying to figure out why the other person’s view-point is so important to them. Start looking through their eyes. Once you have an understanding of their dreams and their fantasy, even if you don’t agree with it, you have a starting place.

The next bit is the hard part. It is the “So, what do we do now”.

Start thinking about what you deal breakers are. This is part of recognizing that you are not getting the whole kit and kaboodle. Compromise means everyone walks away from the table unhappy.

You also have to think what you are going to do if the other person’s deal breakers are in direct opposition to yours. You probably have multiple fantasies going, and what is the more important fantasy. For example: You have a fantasy of living forever with your partner. You see them holding your hand when you’re old and grey. And you also have the dream that you persistently fight about with that partner. Having another baby, spending now vs spending later, colored vs white Christmas lights, mountains vs beach, homework or playtime first. Admittedly, some of these are more difficult than others, and at the same time you may or may not be surprised about how ugly the fights get when talking about them.

What happens when no one is wrong. In the above examples, there is no right and no wrong. You may have strong feelings about some of them, and at the same time none of them are wrong. We want to believe that if our partner loves us they won’t make us sacrifice our core wants / needs. We may have to choose the partner or the belief. And even then there is no right answer. There have been core needs / wants I have left a partner over. There are core needs / wants that are less important than my partner. You have to answer the question: Is this the hill you want to die on? Is it important enough to walk away from your partner over?

Now, once you’ve decided what the deal-breakers are, and you know what your partners deal breakers are and you know why they are important: it is time to get creative. So, what do we do now?  When it comes to having a child or not, you may have to decide what’s more important, a child or your partner. When it comes to anything beyond a win / lose situation like a child, get creative. Do you take separate vacations? Do you have 2 Christmas trees? Do you have 2 sets of lights on the same tree, with different timers? Do you each get an allowance that you get to spend whenever you want, while still saving money for the future? Work to not defend your point, and work to move toward solutions, not toward attacks. I have sat at a table for 2 hours with both of us looking lost, just pondering the words “What do we do now?”.

The biggest key through all of this is to keep your calm. Avoid the big 4: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling. When you find you are feeling attacked, say out loud, calmly: I’m feeling defensive.   And then take a break. 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and then come back. This process won’t work if both of you are feeling attacked, if darts are being thrown (“Let’s be logical about this” Implies that the other person isn’t being logical, and is a dart) or fireballs (That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!) nothing will get done.

Remember, Is this the hill you want to die on? Is this the thing that is worth ruining your marriage or friendship over? If it isn’t, then it may be time to step back and take a breath. Most disagreements aren’t friendship or marriage ending disagreements. Work to find a middle ground through creativity and kindness and it will save a lot of tears and frustration.

This entry was posted in Conflict resolution, divorce, Emotional Health, Relationships on by .

About Marissa Engel

I have been in private practice in Austin, TX since 2007. My focus as a therapist is to help clients uncover within themselves the courage and strength to face life with confidence. In my work with clients I am most interested in helping people develop a compassionate relationship with their own experiences that can lead them on a journey of acceptance, self discovery, relief from suffering, and healing of relational disconnects. In my practice I have worked with individuals, couples, families, and groups, seeing adults, adolescents, and children. My scope of treatment has included depression, anxiety, panic attacks, anger and stress management difficulties, suicidal ideation, grief and loss, addictions, eating disorders, and couple/family difficulties.

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