Step 2 Work on a Gridlocked Marital Issue

Step 2: Work on a Gridlocked Marital Issue

Now that you have had some practice uncovering dreams, try it with your own marriage. Choose a particular gridlocked conflict to work on. Then write an explanation of your position. Don’t criticize or blame your spouse. Use the statements made by the couples above as your guide–notice that they don’t bad-mouth each other.Instead, they focus on what each partner needs, wants, and is feeling about the situation. Next, write the story of the hidden dreams that underlie your position. Explain where these dreams come from and why they are so meaningful to you.

Once you both understand which dreams are fueling the gridlock, it’s time to talk about them. Each person gets fifteen minutes as the speaker and fifteen minutes as the listener. Do not try to solve this problem. Attempting to do that now is likely to backfire. Your goal is simply to understand why each of you feels so strongly about this issue.

Speaker’s job:

Talk honestly about your position and what it means to you. Describe the dream that’s fueling it. Explain where the dream comes from and what it symbolizes. Be clear and honest about what you want and why it is so important. Talk as if you were explaining your dream to a good friend or neutral third party. Don’t try to censor or downplay your feelings about your dream in order to avoid hurting or arguing with your spouse. If you find this difficult, review the advice in Chapter 8 about softening the startup.Some of the same approaches hold: namely, to make “I” statements and to talk only about your feelings and your needs. This is not the time to criticize or argue with your partner. How you feel about your spouse in relationship to this dream is a satellite issue that should not be addressed right now.

Listener’s job:

Suspend judgment. Listen the way a friend would listen. Don’t take your spouse’s dream personally even though it clashes with one of yours. Don’t spend your time thinking up rebuttals or ways to solve the problem. Your role now is just to hear the dream and to encourage your spouse to explore it. Here are some supportive questions to ask. You don’t have to use these verbatim–put the thought and spirit behind them into your own words.

· “Tell me the story of that. I’d like to understand what it means to you.”
· “What do you believe about this issue?”
· “What do you feel about it?”
· “What do you want? What do you need?”
· “What do these things mean to you?”


Georgia: I’ve always dreamed of going on a mountain-climbing expedition to Mount Everest.

Nathan: First of all, we can’t possibly afford something like that.

Besides, I can’t think of anything more stressful than mountain climbing. I get vertigo standing on a table.

Georgia: Forget it.


Georgia: I’ve always dreamed of going on a mountain-climbing expedition to Mount Everest.

Nathan: Tell me more about what it means to you to climb a mountain. What would it do for you?

Georgia: I think I would feel exhilarated, like I was at the top of the world. As a child I was always told that I was weak and couldn’t do anything. My parents were always saying “careful, careful,” I think climbing a mountain would be the most liberating thing I could do. I’d feel such a sense of accomplishment.

If you can, tell your partner that you support his or her dream. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you believe the dream can or should be realized. There are three different levels of honoring your partner’s dreams–all of which are beneficial to your marriage. The first is to express understanding of the dream and be interested in learning more about it even though you don’t share it. For example, Nathan could support Georgia’s decision to take a course in mountain climbing and listen with enthusiasm when she talks about it. The second level would be to offer financial support for her dream. This would mean helping Georgia finance a mountain- climbing trip. The third level would be to become a part of the dream, to come to enjoy mountain climbing himself.

Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest, most personal hopes and dreams is the key to saving and enriching your marriage.

You may find that you’re able to “go all the way” with some of your partner’s dreams while with others you can’t get past the first level of understanding and interest. That’s okay. The bottom line in getting past gridlock is not necessarily to become a part of each other’s dreams (although your marriage will be more enriched to the extent that you can) but to honor these dreams. After all, you don’t want the kind of marriage in which you triumph at the expense of crushing your partner.