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  • Writer's pictureLauren Buckley

Dreams within Conflict.... an approach to effectively navigating conflicts with your loved ones!

Conflicts are an inevitable part of the journey in any relationship; not just romantic relationships. Renowned psychologists John and Julie Gottman shed light on a fascinating aspect of these conflicts; dreams within them. I am fully aware that in the midst of a heated conflict, especially with a partner, no one is thinking about dreams!  However, at the heart of the Gottmans’ philosophy lies the belief that understanding and embracing each other's dreams is crucial for building a strong foundation. In fact, according to the Gottman method of couples counseling, looking at conflicts through the lens of our dreams can actually help us navigate and manage conflicts more effectively. 

Dreams can be defined as personal aspirations or shared goals within a relationship. In the midst of most conflicts, we have to step back and become detectives by thinking about a few questions about the conflict. Is there a dream behind your position? What is the source of this dream or belief? Why is this conflict important to you; what do you really want in this conflict or what part of your dream are you afraid of losing? The goal of the dreams within conflict exercise in the Gottman method is to help your partner understand the underlying dreams, history, beliefs or values in your position on this particular issue. 

In the Gottman approach, conflicts are not viewed as inherently negative. Instead, they are seen as gateways to deeper connection and understanding. By exploring the dreams embedded within conflicts, couples can unearth the underlying desires, fears, and vulnerabilities that may be fueling their discord.

Although this all may make sense in theory, actually putting this into practice relies on the ability to skillfully and respectfully communicate with your partner. When we look at dreams within our conflicts, it is important for both the listener and the speaker to create a safe space for open and honest dialogue.  By actively listening to each other's dreams and concerns, couples can bridge the gaps that often widen during conflicts. The Gottmans’ concept of “turning towards” is a powerful tool to connect during conflicts. In the context of dreams within conflicts, this means actively engaging with your partner’s dreams, acknowledging their feelings, and working collaboratively towards a resolution. Turning towards each other, even in the midst of disagreement, fosters a sense of unity and shared purpose.

To help facilitate this conversation, the Gottmans have come up with a simple outline of what the speaker’s job and the listener’s job is in the midst of a dreams within conflict discussion. 

The “dream catcher” or listener’s job is to try to elicit the other person’s dreams within the conflict by asking questions such as:

  1. What do you believe about this issue?

  2. Is there a story behind this for you?

  3. Does this relate to your background in some way?

  4. Tell me why this is so important to you?

  5. What do you feel about it?

  6. Why do you wish for?

  7. What would be your ideal dream here?

  8. What do you need?

  9. Is there a deeper purpose or goal in this for you?

  10. Does this relate to some belief or value for you?

  11. Is there a fear or disaster scenario in not having this dream honored?”               

(Gottman Institute, Inc. 2000-2009)

The speaker’s job is to clearly articulate how this conflict is bringing up feelings about a core dream, belief or value. Some dreams, beliefs or values to explore that may feel discredited within the argument can be:

  1. Sense of freedom

  2. The experience of peace

  3. Unity with nature

  4. Exploring who I am

  5. Adventure

  6. A spiritual journey

  7. Justice

  8. Honor

  9. Unity with my past

  10. Healing

  11. Knowing my family

  12. Becoming all I can be

  13. Having a sense of power

  14. Dealing with my aging

  15. Exploring a creative side of myself

  16. Becoming more powerful

  17. Getting over past hurts

  18. Becoming more competent

  19. Asking God for forgiveness

  20. Exploring an old part of myself I have lost

  21. Getting over a personal hang up

  22. Having a sense of order

  23. Being able to be productive

  24. A place and time to just “be”

  25. Being able to truly relax

  26. Reflecting on my life

  27. Getting my priorities in order

  28. Finishing something important

  29. Exploring the physical side of myself

  30. Being able to compete and win

  31. Travel

  32. Quietness

  33. Atonement

  34. Building something important

  35. Ending a chapter of my life

  36. Saying goodbye to something

  37. Love

(Gottman Institute, Inc. 2000-2009)

Partners who have the ability to collaboratively examine which dream is being threatened and focus on that, rather than personal attacks, are more likely to remain connected and help resolve conflict rather than escalate it. When we view conflicts through the lens of the possible dreams that are lost within them, conflicts become opportunities to get to know your partner’s inner world in a deeper way and grow more intimately connected as a couple.

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