Do you feel as if you just keep hitting the same old brick wall with your partner? Do you get that sinking feeling in your belly, that ‘here we go again’ feeling? You know that you have fallen in the same old hole and have no idea how to climb out and stay out for good.
Rest assured that we all know the feeling. Dr John Gottman, relationship researcher, has found that 69% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems. We all have them. They are known as gridlocked issues because the shape of them becomes completely rigid and there seems to be nowhere to go.
So what are these things that we so consistently argue about? There are many of course but the top five are as follows:
Money represents security and freedom around lifestyle choice. But generosity, or the lack of it, can also be a big part of what we fight about around money. Perhaps generosity is a key value to you. Or you just don’t apply your generosity to money, but rather to something else.
Then of course there are those who earn to save for a rainy day and those who earn to live for today – and they often find each other and then spend the rest of their lives arguing the toss.
This can mean the household chores, or it can just mean life admin. All those boring bits that just have to be done.
We often take the ‘how to’ routines with us from our childhood home and then argue about which way is right. Or we have developed our own style and the ‘how to’ provides us with plenty to argue about when we want to.
What makes things worse is when the load is not shared or equal and one partner feels resentful. Eventually there are frustrated clashes about lack of appreciation and a sense of fairness. Sometimes, one gives up the fight and just does it all, but then the resentment brews ever more strongly until it explodes in outright anger and harsh words.
The in-laws are the cliché of marital fights but it can also be step children, ex-partners in blended families, best friends or anyone either emotionally involved or closely associated with each other’s worlds. We often fight when others infringe on our time together, sometimes not equally appreciated by both partners. There may be personality clashes – after all we didn’t fall in love with ‘them’, just him or her. Worse still, there can be interference and influence and then you’re up against unseen elements as well as the ones right in front of you.
This is an argument about how we spend our time. It’s an argument about priorities. We can be together in the same house, or even the same room and yet not connected and feeling alone. It seems ok to start with – after all we can have different interests – but eventually the divide becomes too big to bridge. And as for our personal technology….. Resentment and hurt set in. We feel judged and abandoned and then everything feels wrong.
Sex and Physical Affection
This is a big one and a very common one. Differing sexual desire. Different appreciation of physical touch and intimacy. The most common problem here is lack of communication and an inability to be honest. Many of us don’t even know what we really want.
So What To Do About These Gridlocked Issues?
Firstly, you need to identify them. Name them and notice what triggers them and how YOU keep the argument going. We all have our go to patterns. What are yours? Agree on what you repeatedly argue about and there – you have an agreement. This is the beginning of the movement that eventually allows the gridlock to open.
Secondly, and before you talk about the disagreements, notice what you agree on within each issue. There is nothing more encouraging than to find what you agree on first to give you a measure of energy for the next bit. Chances are that there is at least one thing, if not more. This is how you begin to move onto the same team. Separate out the agreements from the disagreements.
Thirdly, once you begin to get a sense of being on the same team with some things, you can agree to disagree. Now you’ve identified things and named them, they will have begun to feel less toxic. They may feel more contained rather than feeling as if the whole relationship is defined by these same repetitive arguments. You will notice them before they have overwhelmed you and you can keep them at arms’ length while you decide on your best approach together.
Next, decide how you want to be as you discuss the issue. Decide on your tone, body language, use of words, level of calm. What message do you want to convey apart from the content? Choose how you want to come across for the best outcome.
And finally, when you feel a little safer, begin to look underneath the issue and ask yourselves what are you really fighting to get? What are you really longing for? This takes courage but it’s the most important piece of the whole thing.
Rest assured, that once you’re able to be more deeply honest, these gridlocked issues will have opened up and will no longer feel so rigid. And once you have movement, then you have choice. And when you have choice, then anything can happen.