The Telltale Signs Your Problem is Harming Your Relationship
Here are the nine destructive signs an unsolvable problem is harming your relationship according to Dr. Gottman: 4
1. You feel rejected by your partner.
2. You keep attempting to talk about the issue but make no headway.
3. You become entrenched in your positions and are unwilling to budge or be flexible.
4. When you discuss the subject, you end up feeling more frustrated and hurt.
5. Your conversations about the problem lack humor, amusement, or affection.
6. You do not accept your partner’s influence, meaning you do not allow their needs or perspective to influence your position on the issue.
7. You vilify each other during these conversations and in your thoughts, even when alone.
8. This vilification makes you all the more rooted in your positions, and you and your partner become polarized, more extreme in your views, and all the less willing to compromise.
9. You are disengaged from each other emotionally.
When these telltale signs are present in your relationship, it’s easy to see how you’re locked in your position. It’s almost like you and your partner are creating a traffic jam in your relationship, each trying to pull off the highway but blocking each other, hence Dr. Gottman calling this stuck feeling “Gridlock.”
Your Roadmap Out of Gridlocked Conflict
It’s important to know whether you are struggling with a solvable or unsolvable problem. Below is a list of steps to determine if your relationship challenge is solvable or unsolvable, as well as ways to manage it if it is unsolvable.
Step 1: Identify the Core Issue
The first job is to become crystal clear on what the issue actually is.
Too often when couples have conflicts, they fight about multiple topics at once and, as a result, none get resolved or become easier to manage. Or they think they are fighting about the same topic, but because they haven’t clearly understood their partner’s perspective, they fight about two different topics in nasty ways.
1. Almost every evening, Ryan criticizes Danny’s TV watching. If you were a fly on the wall, you might think the issue is the TV, but Ryan’s fixation on the TV is actually a surface-level expression of something deeper. Ryan’s hidden wish underneath his criticism is a longing for more time connecting with Danny. The actual issue is how their time is spent together. (Solvable)
2. Jake and Tom have difficulty balancing Tom’s need for me-time and Jake’s need for we-time due to differences in personal preferences concerning autonomy and togetherness. The actual issue is them not honoring each other’s unique differences. (Unsolvable)
3. Kris and Kurt struggle with finances. Kris tends to spend more freely than Kurt and they frequently fight about how much Kris spends and how little they save. The issue is actually that neither partner understands why spending or saving is so meaningful to the other. As a result, they have failed to create a financial strategy that is good for both partners. (Unsolvable)
4. Janice desires to feel emotionally close and intimate with more than one person and wants to form ethically non-monogamous relationships while Steve strictly wants a monogamous relationship. The actual issue is a difference in relationship type preferences. (Unsolvable)
5. Krista wants to have a baby but Stacy doesn’t feel ready and is unsure if she wants to be a parent. The actual issue is the difference between each partner’s desire to start a family. (Unsolvable)
Step 2: Explore How You Discuss These Issues and Manage Differences
As psychologist Dan Wile says, every relationship is two problems: the actual problem and how partners address the problem.
Both emotionally connected and happy couples struggle with challenges similar to those of emotionally disengaged and unhappy couples.
Often the difference in satisfaction in a relationship is not related to the actual issue, but rather how partners discuss the issue (or don’t) and how they work together to make things better for both partners.
When you and your significant other attack what makes each partner unique in the relationship, then you know you’re struggling with an unsolvable problem in a destructive way.
In fact, Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Robert Levenson were able to predict divorce with an 88% accuracy if they noticed a couple had more destructive moments in conflict than constructive 5. In comparison, couples who had a stable relationship years later had five positive and constructive moments for every negative and their negatives were less harsh.