Solving Relationship Dilemmas

When clients reach out to my practice, they generally face a dilemma. Dilemmas come in all shapes, sizes, and intensity of frustration and need. They can be delightful such as planning a life of love together or wondering how to overcome obstacles and differences.

They can become more distressing when considering a breakup, estrangement, a change in location, or facing a health crisis.

We know from the research of the Drs. John and Julie Gottman that 69% of our conflicts are perpetual, meaning that they will occur again over time. We can solve our solvable problems or dilemmas and create greater understanding by facing each dilemma with compassion, humor, hope, and skill.


There are many types of relationship dilemmas:


Marion and Joe wonder if they should move closer to their families with their growing kiddos or stay planted. They seek the skill to create the respect, communication, and clarity to determine their future direction.

Mary and Tim wonder if their 38 years together will stand the next phase of empty nesting. Will they want what they already have and face the crisis with new resources and desire?

Meg and Paul wonder if they should retire in a warmer winter climate and become snowbirds or move to a local 55+ community. Transitioning in the older adult years is challenging.

Barb and Allan have two different conflict styles and find themselves continuously challenged. Barb tends to be more conflict-averse and avoidant and Allan goes all in with emotional intensity and often volatility. Their good times are the best, and they  want to develop greater empathy and skill in working out differences,

Gina and Allison are in love and are seeking a life of commitment together. They have old patterns to overcome while girding their love with understanding, respect, and resolve to face their lives with courage and the culture at large.

Meg and her son Paul are estranged. This sad state has created a painful dilemma with devastating effect.

How to Solve Relationship Dilemmas:

With perpetual and solvable differences, we have a skill set that will help us meet the challenge.

1.Get grounded. When one comes from a place of calm and openness, they stand a much better chance than flying off the handle and responding out of their stubborn stance.

Bringing our need to be right self into the discussion is a recipe for disaster.  When one seeks to understand, chances are much greater for a positive outcome.

If flooded, take a break. Take a walk or way to soothe one’s inner tantrum.



2. Get curious: Drs. John and Julie Gottman designed a very ingenious process called the Dream Within the Conflict. This process of asking open-ended questions such as “What does this mean to you? What do you wish for?”


“Our gridlocked conflicts contain the potential for great intimacy between us. But we have to feel safe enough to pull our dreams out of the closet. When we wear them, our partner may glimpse how beautiful we are-fragil but shimmering. Then, with understanding, our partners may join us in being dream catchers, rather than dream shredders.” John Gottman, PhD

3. Get courageous. Vulnerability is needed to share one’s feelings and needs clearly and constructively. A soft startup like- I feel………….because………….and what I need is. Is much more effective than clobbering our partner with criticism, contempt, withdrawal, or defensiveness.

4. Get creative. When we are willing to open our minds and hearts to seek a creative solution, we stand a much better chance of staying connected. Seek compromise by identifying core needs, areas of flexibility, and inflexibility.


Fight Right: How Successful Couples Turn Conflict Into Connection John Gottman, PhD., Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD

US: Getting Past You & Me to Build A More Loving Relationship, Terrance Real


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