Resolving Gridlock

Resolving Gridlock

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Feb 03, 2023 • 5 min read
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Romantic love is one of the most complex emotions. It begins with small moments of shared positivity, understanding, and mutual care. Over time, these moments can lead to trust, harmony, and commitment. Romantic relationships are also the most nourishing as they can satisfy all our psychological, social, and practical needs.

In the arithmetic of love, one plus one equals everything.

— M.C. Escher
Two cute yellow characters, Rupert and Berta, are playing with a ball with hearts in their eyes.
Rupert and Berta experience small moments of shared positivity.

Contrary to what fairy tales portray, however, romantic relationships rarely end with a happily-ever-after. They require effort and commitment. After a honeymoon phase, every relationship will experience conflicts and eventually reach a state of gridlock. Gridlock sets in after several years in a relationship, and it can return over time. It usually happens when one or both partners refuse to take responsibility for the issues, leading to a stalemate where neither partner feels they can move forward. They may assume their partner is not the right one and end the relationship. In cases where they sweep issues under the rug, they may remain together but apart.

Marriage operates at much greater intensity and pressure than we expect—so great, in fact, that couples mistakenly assume it is time for divorce when it is really time to get to work.

— David Schnarch

While gridlock is inevitable and may shake the relationship to its core, we should not give up too soon. Conflicts are a sign of a healthy relationship. They immunize it. Gridlock is natural and can be a catalyst for growth in the relationship and the individual. If we wish to live happily ever after, we should look at resolving gridlock.

Resolving gridlock helps romantic relationships endure and thrive.

Resolving gridlock requires holding onto the relationship and ourselves at the same time. During gridlock, we may not receive validation from our partner as often as in the honeymoon phase, so we must find it ourselves by creating self-validated intimacy. The process of creating self-validated intimacy is called differentiation and was discussed previously. Differentiation is the foundation of healthy relationships and the solution to overcoming gridlock. By differentiating ourselves, we become both dependent and independent—we become interdependent.

My wife and I have the secret to making the marriage last. Twice a week, we go to a nice restaurant, have some food, a little wine, and companionship. She goes on Tuesday, and I go on Friday.

— R. Hynes of Mornington


Here are the benefits of resolving gridlock in a romantic relationship:

  • Solving solvable problems
  • Becoming interdependent
  • Strengthening the bond
  • Saving the relationship
Rupert and Berta are sitting at the table with a broken plate.
Rupert and Berta are resolving their conflicts.

Action steps

Overcoming gridlock is not about solving the problem but having a healthy and productive conversation about the situation:

  1. Try to understand the root of the issue. Gridlock can relate to problems in areas such as sex, money, children, and extended family. Scientists believe that unrealized dreams create gridlock. Try to put yourself in your partner's shoes and consider the gap between their expectations and reality in your relationship.
  2. Communicate calmly with compassion. Consider the areas of conflict you are willing to change and those that are non-negotiable. Show your willingness to work on the relationship. If you are not ready to adjust to some of your partner's expectations, express your reasons instead of pointing out what is right and wrong.
  3. End the discussion on a positive note. Show appreciation for your partner regardless of the conflict. Research indicates that healthy romantic relationships enjoy a five-to-one positivity ratio (five positive emotions for every negative emotion). For each conflict, engage in at least five positive interactions with your partner. We cannot deal with the negative without emphasizing the positive.
Respectful and positive conversations are almost a perfect predictor of marital success.

— John Gottman

Practical tips

Along with the action steps, the following practical tips will help your relationship endure and thrive:

  • Create a love map of your partner. Familiarize yourself with their favorite colors, food, movies, songs, clothes, places, dreams, fears, activities, and where they like to be touched. Learn what they like and show them you know.
  • Watch and discuss movies about relationships together. According to research, this is as effective in lowering divorce rates as more intensive and expensive marriage counseling programs.
  • Bring novelty into your relationship. Try a new hobby or regularly schedule an activity neither of you has experienced yet. You will leave your comfort zone and grow together.
  • Turn toward each other instead of away. If your partner has a bad day, do not turn away to save yours. Help them save theirs by actively listening and providing the support they need.
  • Let your partner influence you. According to research, couples are more likely to stay together if they work as a team.
  • Create shared meaning. Find a cause important to you and your partner and learn more about it to see how you can contribute and make an impact together—for example, by volunteering.
  • Give your partner love boosters. You can make your relationship extraordinary by focusing on the ordinary. Show that you are interested—for example, by listening, giving compliments and hugs, or buying flowers. Love is in the details.
  • Men are from Mars, and women are from Venus. The book with this title suggests that the opposite sex has needs you may never understand. The solution lies in accepting your partner as if they were from a different planet and being supportive regardless.
Two cute yellow characters, Rupert and Berta, with physical signs of being aliens, look at each other happily over a flower pot.
Rupert and Berta accept that they come from different planets.

There is no right one

If you wonder how your life would be with someone else and ponder whether your partner is the "right one," worry no more. Research demonstrates that we are more attracted to strangers than to our long-term partners. The exotic becomes erotic. However, the exotic will also become familiar over time, and the cycle will start over. There is no right one, only the right ones—potential partners willing to commit to the relationship and build harmony.

Time and effort

Love can grow over time. The longer the couple stays together, the better their relationship can become. Unfortunately, most relationships do not realize their potential because they rely merely on time. Learning from the best, researchers found that these relationships peak sexually in their 50s and 60s after the couple has been together for decades. In addition to time, these couples also invest effort into their relationship. This lesson provides action steps and practical tips on where to start.

Now or never

For the next two weeks, give your partner one more love booster per day than you usually do. Read this lesson with your partner and discuss what practical tips you can implement together. Follow the action steps if you have any unresolved conflicts in your relationship.