How To Break Free Of Marital Gridlock

Communication, Relationship Design

It’s an inevitability that you and your spouse will disagree.
But what do you do when the disagreements reach monumental importance?
When each of you are so polarized with the position you’ve taken that there’s little chance either will give in to the other?
What’s happening in the relationship is a systemic process called emotional gridlock. This occurs when each partner defines a position on an issue that blocks the preferred position of the other.
When spouses are in gridlock, conflictual issues repeatedly surface. You and your spouse will argue about the same thing – and the argument transpires the same. In fact, it’s so routine, you and your spouse could switch positions and still conduct the same argument.
When gridlock occurs in your relationship, let me offer this bit of counsel … it’s a natural part of every committed relationship!

Also … gridlock does not happen from lack of communication, and more communication will not resolve it!
Gridlock will not be resolved through compromise, negotiation, and simply agreeing to disagree.
Gridlock repeatedly occurs around issues like sex, intimacy, money, kids, and in-laws (just to name a few). Each of these issues involve real-world decisions rather than discussions of feelings and opinions.
For example, you and your spouse can’t simply agree to disagree about how and when sex will occur. Regardless how many discussions about your feelings and thoughts on the subject, there will still be a high desire and a low desire partner.
Growing up and gridlock are intricately intertwined in marriage.
For the less grown up relationships, gridlock is more intense and frequent (this is also a classic part of relationships involving Nice Guys/Girls). Part of growing up in marriage requires less dependence on other-validation. It’s all too common for people to enter in to marriage with a belief that their mate will be there to help them feel better about themselves, pick them up when they’re down (emotional propping up), or meet their needs in some other way.
Whenever I depend on my mate for understanding, empathy, acceptance, and/or accommodation, I increase the likelihood of gridlock. It’s the very nature of desire differences that create the playing field of gridlock.
Allow me to explain.
I’m the high desire partner when it comes to sex in my marriage. I am neither right or wrong with my desire, and neither is my wife. We are simply at different points on the continuum. Even though my wife may understand my level of desire, be empathetic towards me and accept the differences in desire, it doesn’t resolve the issue. If my validation (self-worth) is based on my wife’s responses to my desires – I end up under her control. This is the same thing as waking up every morning and asking her how I am feeling today.
Another example is found in desire for intimacy. Again, there will be a high desire and a low desire partner. Gridlock occurs on intimacy issues because the partner who wants intimacy least controls it.
Eventually, the high desire partner won’t disclose anything the low desire partner won’t validate, especially when both are emotionally reactive. Added to this, the low desire partner won’t validate the high desire’s disclosures because the low desire partner doesn’t want to listen or disclose in kind.
So, when you find yourself in emotional gridlock with your spouse, you’re actually in the perfect spot to grow.
You can grow by discovering how to let go of an attachment to the outcome and give in your marriage – expecting nothing in return. A marker of an emotionally mature human is their ability to give with no strings attached. This is giving out of fullness rather than emptiness. Giving out of choice rather than reactivity.
To further accomplish growing up in your marriage and through gridlock, you must be willing to share yourself with your partner without their affirmation, validation, and even trust. Yes, this is a frightening thought and a risk, but it is also one of strength and self-validation.
You likely demand stability in your marriage. You want at least one important relationship to be comfortable, known, and consistent – yet, you’ll also complain when marriage gets boring and routine. When you take on the process of growing yourself up, you shouldn’t count on or expect validation, empathy or support from your mate. You’re more likely to be met with defensiveness and pressure to revert back to the way things have always been (i.e. gridlock).
Breaking free of gridlock requires taking responsibility for yourself and your own well-being. It also means discovering the ability to self-validate rather than depend on someone else’s validation for your own worth.
It’s becoming whole. Knowing who you are, who you aren’t, and sharing yourself with someone else without fear. But the beautiful thing is, as you step out there and discover your own self worth from within, your partner often will do the same. Thereby creating more of the marriage you both wanted all along.

(photo source)
David Schnarch, Constructing the Sexual Crucible
Donald Williamson, The Intimacy Paradox