Gridlock isn’t just for the freeway. It also happens in the home. Here are some tips for developing relationship skills to overcome gridlock in your relationship.
A well-known marriage researcher, Julie Gottman, says that after an argument couples are like two war torn ships sitting side by side in the harbor. They are battle worn but still afloat. This can feel especially true when the argument is around what marriage researchers dub an “unresolvable or perpetual problem”. For more discussion on the types of problems see my previous blog post.
Before beginning a dialogue after an argument, ask yourself:
- Am I ready to process this problem? In this instance, ready to process means that you can think about and talk about the problem without getting in a conflict. Can I manage my own triggers? This can take some internal work. Rewind the argument with your partner in your mind. Replay the conflict as if you are watching it on TV. Try to cultivate a dual awareness. Notice what you are feeling inside as you replay the conflict.
- Are you able to see your partner’s perspective at all? Are you able to step to your partner’s side of the problem?
Once you are ready to talk about the problem again, use these tips:
- Take a step back. Speak from your own experience. Describe- don’t evaluate or judge. Watch especially for evaluating or judging your partner’s behavior or motivations.
- Stop if you are flooded. It is a fact that you cannot process what your partner is saying if your pulse is over 100 bpm due to being flooded by feelings. At that point, your brain is simply too busy going through its fight or flight processes. Your prefrontal cortex no longer has much fuel flowing to it because all the fuel is flowing to your limbic system. Your brain treats emotional threat the same as physical threat and mobilizes accordingly.
- Focus on feelings, not facts. Seek to understand your partner’s feelings around the problem. Often in the therapy room- when people feel someone really gets them, they tend to stop shouting. Finally, someone is hearing them.
- Remember a dialogue is two people talking to each other, not at each other.
Try this exercise. It can be done with or without your partner, but by doing it together you might learn more about each other:
- Think through some of your relationship’s perpetual or gridlocked problems. Write a new narrative of the problem. This one rooted in what underlies the conflict. Answer the questions: What hidden need or want am I trying to get met here? What is this connected to for me? Something from my childhood? Something rooted in a previous relationship trauma? Is this rooted in fear? Is this rooted in shame for me?
- Next, step to your partner’s side: Craft a narrative for them, also one that dives beneath the behavior, and gets to the underlying feelings. See if you can articulate their deeper meanings.
- Compare notes when you’ve both done the exercise and see if it doesn’t create a new dialogue around an old issue.
Are you and your partner struggling with an unresolvable problem? Reach out to us- Mending Hearts & Minds, PLLC- 865-238-5696 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org