Problems, we all have them, they will never go away, but when you are in a relationship your problems are no longer just yours they are your spouses as well. When you are in a relationship, problems come in two types, ones that are solvable and ones that are perpetual. So now you are asking yourself what is a perpetual problem? A perpetual problem is one that is going to be in your life in some form for the rest of your relationship. So now you know what a perpetual problem is, you might be asking well what does it look like? How can I tell the difference between a solvable problem and a perpetual one? A perpetual one is a problem that even though you know it will always be a problem; you have learned to cope with it, you make it into a joke, you have come to an understanding that it will always be there.
Dr. Gottman states, “Once you are able to identify and define your various disagreements, you’ll be able to customize your coping strategies, depending on which of these two types of conflict you’re having.” (Gottman 1999, p.136)
When you have a problem that is solvable, you able to forgive and forget, with a perpetual problem you need to be careful how you approach these problems. If you approach correctly, perpetual problems can be dealt with and lived with. When dealt with incorrectly, they lead to the four horsemen, which we know from a pervious post that is something that no couple wants to deal with. Before the four horsemen show up, couples normally end up in gridlock over their problem. So what does gridlock look like? Dr. Gottman gives us a list of characteristics of gridlock problems:
- The conflict makes you feel rejected by your partner
- You keep talking about it but make no headway
- Eventually you disengage from each other emotionally
- When you discuss the subject, you end up feeling more frustrated and hurt. (p.141)
When I look back on past relationships, and relationships of friends and family, I am able to see how perpetual problems end up becoming larger problems, which lead to bigger problems in a relationship. One perpetual problem that I have seen pop up a few times in my family is the dishes. It has always been a rule in my home that if you cook, you don’t need to clean up. This problem always pops up because both my brothers do not see the need to do the dishes right away; they would rather do them in the morning. It has become a running joke in our family, that if you need a clean dish you will have to wash one yourself or wait until morning for one. All of us know that the dishes will be done before they go to sleep, but this is a problem both of my sister-in-laws have decided to deal with for the rest of their marriages.
I hope that one day when I am married, I will be able to handle my perpetual problems with grace and comedy. I hope that I will not only be able to handle all of my solvable problems, but that when perpetual problems arise, I will be able to make sure that I do not get gridlocked and that I do not allow the four horsemen to become a part of my relationship.
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Crown.