Dealing With Perpetual and Gridlock Issues

Do you ever find yourself and your partner having the same disagreement repeatedly?

If you said yes, you are not alone.

Julie and John Gottman (2014) coined these disagreements as perpetual issues.
Approximately 69% of issues between couples are perpetual issues that come up repeatedly. Luckily, the other 31% of issues are challenges couples can overcome.

Each of us is different. As such, we will have different points of view from one another. This is where issues, including perpetual issues, come into play.

What are Perpetual Issues?

Perpetual issues are rooted in the fundamental differences between partners. These differences may be in our personalities, beliefs, and core needs – each defining us as individuals and people in the relationship.

In your relationship, there may be times when perpetual issues get better, at least for a while. It is also possible to make some progress in overcoming these perpetual issues. However, likely, it is just a matter of time until it rears its ugly head again.

When the issue goes unresolved, and because it is part of who we are as individuals, it will likely come up repeatedly for the duration of the relationship.

What to Do About Perpetual Issues

You may be wondering, should I have picked someone who is a better match–would that have avoided having perpetual issues?

First off, there is no perfect match. The chances of meeting someone you see eye-to-eye with on all issues are slim to none. It is likely that you are not looking for perfection. Imagine how boring life would be with a partner who thought the same as you do.

According to Dan Wile’s book, After the Honeymoon (1988), problems are a normal part of all relationships. When you choose a partner, you choose a set of problems you believe you can live with. Wile (1988, p.12) provides the following example:

Paul marries Alice, and Alice gets loud at parties, and Paul, who is shy, hates that.

But if Paul had married Susan, he and Susan would have gotten into a fight before they even got to the party. That’s because Paul is always late, and Susan hates to be kept waiting. She would feel taken for granted, which she is very sensitive about. Paul would see her complaining about this as her attempts to dominate him, which he is very sensitive about.

If Paul had married Gail, they wouldn’t have even gone to the party because they would still be upset about the argument they had the day before about Paul not helping with the housework. To Gail, when Paul doesn’t help, she feels abandoned, which she is sensitive about, and to Paul, Gail’s complaining is an attempt to dominate, which he is sensitive about.

The same is true for Alice. If she married Steve, she would have the opposite problem, because Steve gets drunk at parties, and she would get so angry at his drinking that they would get into a fight about it.

If Alice had married Lou, she and Lou would have enjoyed the party but when they got home. The trouble would begin when Lou wanted sex, because he always wants sex when he wants to feel closer, but sex is something Alice wants when she is already feeling close.

As you can imagine, no matter who you end up with, you are likely to have some conflict. The key is to decide: is this a problem I am willing to work through, compromise on and discuss for the next ten, twenty or thirty years?

Is it Possible to Overcome Perpetual Issues?

Gottman (2014) and Wile (1988) note it is possible to overcome perpetual problems. The key is to reframe your thinking from finding a solution to learning to talk respectfully with one another about your different perceptions, realities, and beliefs.

Couples who thrive and grow together generally grow to accept their partner’s differences. They can also communicate their acceptance of their partner and desire to improve the perpetual issue.

We recommend showing acceptance of your partner through validating their feelings and respecting and honouring both your needs. It can also help to show affection towards one another.

Gridlock Issues

What happens if we are not able to talk about the perpetual issue?

When couples cannot discuss the perpetual issue and don’t feel seen, valued, or heard in their point of view, and no progress happens, it can become a gridlocked issue. Gridlock issues can lead to emotional disengagement and resentment of one another.

Our perpetual issue has become a gridlocked issue. Now what?

Sometimes you or your partner cannot move past a gridlock issue. The gridlock issue likely has a deeper meaning than the presenting issue.

The issue may conflict with your or your partner’s core belief system or personality. It may be a dream or a highly-held value you haven’t yet achieved.

The key to overcoming gridlock issues is creating a safe space where you and your partner can share their feelings, dreams, and needs.

How to Overcome Perpetual and Gridlock Issues

When you are struggling to overcome perpetual and gridlock issues, couples counselling can help. At Can’t We Just Get Along Counselling, our psychologists use The Gottman Method to help you and your partner gain skills and tools to overcome perpetual and gridlock issues.

If you want to learn more, book a couples counselling appointment through our online booking platform or by calling us at 403-917-0770.


Gottman, J. M., & Gottman, J. S. (2014). The Gottman Institute, Inc.

Wile, D. A. (2012). After the Honeymoon: How conflict can improve your relationship.