What do you think are the most common topics that cause conflict in a relationship? Sex, money, power, housework, family? What about conflict in your relationship? What is the most common source of arguments between you and your partner?
In his research the American Psychologist John Gottman found that 69% of disagreements between couples relate to what he calls perpetual issues. He describes them as “problems that have to do with fundamental differences between partners – differences in personality or needs that are fundamental to their core definitions of self. On One:Retreat we spend time looking at the similarities and differences between partner’s personalities and values. It is the deep-rooted differences in some of these aspects of ourselves, which is the source of much of our conflict.
Such ‘perpetual issues’ can be distinguished from solvable problems – which tend to be more situational issues to which a solution can be found and maintained. For example you might argue about inequality in household tasks and this might be solved by a rota. You might disagree about finance and spending but this might be resolved through an agreed budget.
It is the perpetual issues that take up much of the oxygen in a relationship; they are ones that tend to create the greatest challenge; and since they relate to core aspects of our identities, they are most likely to cause hurt and pain. They also have the potential to lead to a gridlock or impasse in your relationship where you can’t move forward. The relationship coach Ellie Lisitsa provides a helpful checklist. She suggests that you may have reached a gridlocked perpetual problem when the discussion of a particular topic or issue repeatedly:
The way out of gridlock is through dialogue – which is easier said than done! Ultimately it is only in moving through a process of leaning into, understanding and accepting our differences that we are able to come out of gridlock. Although this process inevitably involves compromise from both sides, the breakthrough often comes when we focus not on changing our partner but on changing our understanding of them; being able to shift to a position of acceptance of our different personalities and values, and recognising what we need from one another. This is part of the process of attunement.
Gottman found a number of characteristics of couples that are able to attune to another:
In addition when dealing with perpetual issues it is important that individuals can:
All relationships have their perpetual problems. To choose a partner is to choose a particular set of unresolvable problems that you have to contend with. It can be tempting to think that the grass may be greener elsewhere, but to chose a different partner is to choose a different set of unresolvable problems! We often forget that it was some of the distinctive differences that first drew us to our partner.
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