Sarah Regan

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer

By Sarah Regan

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor’s in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.

Couple laying in bed looking at each other

Image by Studio Firma / Stocksy

January 7, 2023

Relationships are one of the most meaningful aspects of our lives, and we all have an innate desire to give and receive love. So why is it that so many relationships don’t work out?

John Gottman, Ph.D., and Julie Gottman, Ph.D., founders of the Gottman Institute, have conducted research on couples for over two decades, and according to them, there’s one big hurdle we should all be aware of for our relationships to thrive. Here’s what they had to say about it on a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, plus what they recommend if you run up against this hurdle yourself.


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The common hurdle that keeps relationships from thriving.

As the Gottmans tell mbg, many relationships go awry because couples forget to appreciate and honor each other’s differences.

In courtship, John Gottman says, “We’re looking for somebody who’s really interesting and really different than we are, and then [relationships] go wrong when—after they get together and are in a committed relationship—they try to turn that person into them, and they become critical for the differences.”


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Instead of accepting, laughing about, or even being enriched by the differences between each other, one or both partners may try to push the other to be more like them, “and that’s where they make a really big mistake,” he adds.

This dynamic can result in something called “gridlock conflict,” which Julie Gottman describes as two people with different personalities and lifestyle preferences coming together, and “when they try to talk about it, they argue about something on the surface of that conflict rather than going much deeper.”

If this sounds familiar, the good news is, this dynamic doesn’t have to become set in stone—here’s what they recommend.

What to do about it.

As the adage goes, “You can’t expect yourself from others,” and this “gridlock conflict” is a perfect example of that. We don’t pair up with people to find a carbon copy of ourselves, and in fact, loving and embracing each other’s differences is a fundamental part of wholehearted, long-term love.

Being able to accept and appreciate the ways in which your partner is different from you is essential to making each other feel heard, witnessed, and loved. And taking the time to dig deeper when differences do arise can actually be a wonderful opportunity to deepen your intimacy and understand each other more.

For instance, are you really arguing over where to go on vacation, or is it a deeper reflection of your values, interests, and preferences? Are you really fighting about how to discipline your child, or are you both actually revealing something about your own childhood or how you want to raise your child together?

Taking the time to intentionally get to the root of these kinds of conflicts with compassion and understanding will not only help you reach a resolution, but honor each other in the process.

And for what it’s worth, Julie Gottman says, you do not need to have all the same values as your partner. “But rather you’re able to talk about those values with each other and understand each other’s values system enough that you can try to support each other, living out those values and reaching a compromise when the values intersect, and [in] conflict, trying to reach a compromise,” she concludes.

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The takeaway.

If we were all exactly alike, that would sure make relationships a lot more boring—and a lot less rewarding. You can look at the differences between you and your partner as a source of tension and conflict, or, you can look at them as what makes both of you unique, and a place where your relationship can grow even deeper and more enriching.


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