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What happens when conflicts become gridlocked?

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Do you feel like some of your conflicts are gridlocked?

When couples are together for a long time they typically learn to become more mellow about one another's faults. They also become more accepting of one another and communicate that acceptance.

Amazingly, when you accept your partner's faults, and your partner perceives that you're more accepting, her or she is also more likely to accept your shortcomings in return. You have to give in order to get something back.

But things don't always happen that smoothly, right?

The country's leading relationship researcher, John Gottman PhD, found is that a central part of accepting influence is uncovering the meaning of your partner's position in any given conflict.

But you can't just say, "I get it!". You have to take it one step further and communicate that you see the validity in their position, and can see it out of their eyes. This is easier said than done.

Researchers discovered in 1992 that couples will delay on average six years between first detecting that there's a problem with their relationship and actually seeking out help. This amounts to six years of gridlock for some couples, including six years of not being validated, and six years of having to hold on to your position trying to convince your partner of your point of view. How tiring.

From this point things can often cascade downward during those six years. Fears of accepting influence can go up, people can start feeling vilified, and emotional disengagement can begin. It's also from this point that criticism, defensiveness, and sometimes even contempt can start to show up.

Research has also shown that most couples merely need education in order to improve their relationship, not necessarily counseling. Given that couples will typically wait six years in order to address a problem, why not build the skills early on in an educational context? Many couples benefit from self-help material, such as John Gottman's The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, or a weekend educational workshop like the one we offer at the Gay Couples Institute. This can often be a very cost-effective way to improve your relationship skills.

Remember, most couples will wait an average of six years before they address serious issues within a relationship, but if you address these issues early on you are much more likely to be successful as you go about trying to build a happy healthy loving relationship. Do the work early, and it pays off in the long run. What do you think?

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