What are perpetual problems?

Perpetual problems are the problems we argue about over and over again. They are part of the
⅔ of problems that never get solved in our relationships according to John Gottman’s research.
It can be so frustrating to feel like you are having the same fight all the time. It’s hard to feel like
our partner doesn’t hear us or understand the way we see things. It can make things hard to talk
about and bring distance in the relationship making it hard to connect. A lot of times perpetual
problems can be about major life decisions. They can be important to both people and hard to
navigate if you are on opposite sides.

Fights about money

One of the major issues couples have perpetual problems with is finances. Money can be a
tough subject in any relationship especially when there are disagreements about how to budget
and save. The fight you are having about how much to spend on vacation or holiday gifts is
probably not really about those specific things but a bigger issue behind those things. Perpetual
problems are typically about something much deeper; a dream, or a value that you differ on.
With money, it’s more than just being a spender or a saver. Typically there is something you
may not even realize yourselves about how you use your money.

Some examples are:

  • How we grew up. Perhaps we didn’t have a lot of money and wanted to budget to make sure that doesn’t happen or even spend it so we can enjoy what we work so hard for.
  • Different values or financial goals. One partner can be future-minded and thinking of things like retirement. Or they may be focused on enjoying the present moment and making memories on nice vacations and experiences with loved ones.
  • Fear. It can be common to fear unforeseen changes that could affect financial stability like losing a job, car trouble, or having an unexpected medical event.

So how can you live with your differences around finances?

A good way to address any perpetual problem is having a conversation where the goal is to listen
while finding the deeper meaning behind your partner’s side. Instead of only hearing what’s on
the surface try to find the story or dream behind their position. Set aside some time to discuss
things where each person gets the time to talk about how they feel. Try using these guidelines
during that conversation:

Be interested
Tune into your partner’s world as the listener and ask questions
Talk honestly and openly about your feelings as the speaker
Postpone your own agenda as the listener

Don’t argue your point of view while listening
Suspend judgement
No blaming, criticism, or contempt
Don’t minimize your partner’s feelings

Finding the underlying dream

Use these questions from the Gottman Method Dreams Within Conflict exercise:

  • What are your core beliefs, ethics or values behind this issue?
  • Is there a story behind this or does this relate to your background or history in some way?
  • Why is this so important to you?
  • What feelings do you have about this issue?
  • What would be your ideal dream?
  • Is there a deeper purpose or goal in this for you?
  • What do you wish for?
  • What do you need?
  • Is there a fear or disaster scenario in not having this dream honored?

After this conversation, it may be much easier to compromise about money. Once we
understand where our partner is coming from and how important it feels to them, it can make
deciding how to manage finances a task with less conflict. The point is we want the type of
relationship where we support our partner’s dreams and not one where we always win and get
our way. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of work to find that dream and some focus to actually
understand it.


We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.


Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?