How to Deal with Unsolvable Marital Problems


She wants to save for the future; he wants to spend to enjoy himself. She wants her home tidy and orderly; he wants to be carefree about his things. She wants to pursue further study; he wants to partner with her in the business. These are just some opposing life goals and dreams among couples, that when not honored, could cause gridlock in the relationship.

What causes gridlock?

According to John Gottman, a renowned marriage specialist in US, gridlock is when couples get stuck in a problem that is stemming from a couple’s conflicting life dreams. It happens when your spouse does not honor your dreams or when your partner does not know about its existence.

By dreams, Gottman means the hopes, aspirations, and wishes that are part of your identity and give purpose to your life. Apparently, it is quite common among couples to have opposing and conflicting life dreams as in the examples given above.

3 levels of honoring your spouse’s dream

There are 3 levels in which you could honor your partner’s dreams. The first level includes empathic listening, acknowledging, and understanding what the dream is and where it is coming from. It is where you interestingly give your open ears to your spouse when he finds himself talking about it. It is also in this level where you offer encouragement for him to share more.

The second level involves supporting your spouse to achieve it. You may find yourself funding his dreams and finding other means to help him. In cases of preferential differences, you find a way to adjust yourself  in as best as you can.

The third and highest level would be joining him in his dreams. Although this sounds wonderful, this is not always possible in all marriages. For example, if a wife is dedicated to a cause while the husband is dedicated to business-building, then they couldn’t completely sacrifice either of their dreams. You cannot triumph in your own dreams at the expense of your partner’s dreams. On the other hand, I know a senior couple who share the same dream in maintaining an advocacy.

How to Deal with gridlocks?

In Dr. Gottman’s books, The 7 Principles in Making Marriage Work and The Marriage Clinic, he outlined the four steps in which you and your spouse could deal with this gridlock.

But as a wife who is reading this, you could try it out with yourself first to understand how it works before inviting your husband for an open discussion. The steps suggested by Dr. Gottman are as follows:

1. Find a problem that has caused gridlock in your marriage.

2. Tell your dreams

3. Talk and listen to your partner’s dream

4. Write in two categories the things that you can be flexible with and the things that are non-negotiable to you.

To illustrate, here is my own example in our marriage:

Step 1: Identification of Gridlock

I want to be a professional counseling psychologist while he wants us to be business partners.

Step 2: Telling my Dreams

My Dream: I dream to become a marriage and family counselor someday. I really want to help couples strengthen their marriages or restore it when it’s blown by a tragic event.

Where it came from: When I was sixteen, I used to think that our family was built in a strong, solid ground until I discovered that my father has been cheating on my mom. In front of me, my father was trying to make my mother sign an annulment paper, and that scared me a lot. During that time, a parish priest has served as my mom’s light and guidance. Thankfully, the planned annulment didn’t pursue and the marriage has undergone restoration. I felt that I wanted to be like that parish priest, holding a torch above a tormented woman’s dark tunnel.

Step 3: Talk and listen to your partner

His Dreams: He wants us to work on our business together.

Where it came from: Growing up, he witness his parents working in their family business together until now. He knows a lot of couples who work together, build their business together, weave their dreams together. It means a lot to him if I help him with the business.

Step 4: Our negotiables and non-negotiables.

My non- negotiable: I couldn’t let go of my dreams. I wanted to either finish an MA degree or a certificate in Marriage and Family Counseling.

My negotiables: I could delay it and could skip one semester to assist him in the start-up of our new business expansion.


His non-negotiable: He doesn’t want to work on our business alone.

Negotiables: He will continuously fund my graduate study

As a way of meeting in the middle and of honoring each others’ dreams, we agreed that once our child is old enough, I will be in our office regularly. On the side, I will still practise my counseling through our ministry and he will continuously support it.

Dealing with gridlock doesn’t mean solving a problem, as there is no way of solving it. Again, you cannot stick to your own dreams at the expense of your partner’s dreams. Whether the dream of one spouse may sound irrational to the other, know that our dreams are rooted in some emotional past or from our deepest aspiration.

Mutual empathy and respect are pre-requisites to achieve  a succesful discussion around a gridlock. Overall, the aim of this discussion is to aid spouses to understand each other, learn ways in working around their opposing life dream, and to live peacefully with it.

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