Communication Tips to Stop a Stalemate

Communication Tips to Stop a Stalemate

Steve and Angie haven’t spoken more than a few words to one another for the past two days. This isn’t like either of them! They are both usually talkative and easy going and, when a disagreement arises, they are able to work through it quickly.

But not this time!

Angie was offered a promotion at work, but it means they’d have to move several hundred miles away. Steve is just getting a new business started and his aging parents live in the same city.

For these reasons, Steve is clear that Angie needs to pass up the promotion– unless the company finds a position for her here. Angie is just as clear that it would be a good idea for them to move. She believes that if she turns down the promotion, she won’t be offered another one soon or ever. She thinks that, because Steve’s new business is just getting started, it’s a fine time for him to re-locate. She’s suggested that they consider moving his parents with them or to ask one of Steve’s siblings to step up and care for them.

Because Steve and Angie each believe they know what is best, they have reached a stalemate. Both see the other one as stubborn and wrong about this. They’ve not been talking about this subject– or anything else– because of the growing hostility about this important decision.

Angie is worried that she’s going to have to choose between her career and her marriage!

What is a stalemate?

A communication stalemate can develop over whether or not to take a job promotion and move or anything else. The disagreement may begin about something that seems minor, but then builds into a full-blown impasse.

The stalemate might be about how much you each will contribute to the family finances, how often you two will have sex, who will stay home to care for your young children or even who will do the cooking and dishes and who will care for your lawn.

What makes a stalemate different from an ordinary disagreement is this…

In a stalemate, you and your partner have both dug in your heels. Neither of you is willing to budge on your position and you usually see the other person’s opinion on this subject as invalid or even dangerous.

What to consider if there’s a stalemate…

When you realize that you and your partner have fallen into a communication stalemate, it’s wise to pause.

You can even say to your partner something like, “We both seem adamant about what we each want. I’m going to take some time and then I’d like to come back and talk with you again (be specific about the time and day) about this.”

This is a far more healing and re-connecting thing to say than to merely storm out of the room or continue to fume about your partner in silence.

Shift yourself away from thoughts that your partner is being “stubborn,” “bull-headed,” “narrow-minded,” etc. This sort of name-calling– even if it’s only in your thoughts– won’t help you two to move out of a stalemate.

During the time you take to think, get clear about what is most important to you. What are your non-negotiables in this situation? In other words, what is the line on this that you truly will not cross?

Also, open up to some alternatives that you might not have considered before. Is there another way that this could happen and you’d both be happy about it? What areas of this situation are you willing to be more flexible about?

One way to stop a stalemate…

As you come back to talk again about this subject with your partner, we encourage you to remember to make your relationship connection a priority. Yes, what you want in this situation is important, but so too is your relationship. In fact, you might decide that the health of your relationship is actually more important than your “side” in this disagreement.

When you two can be alone and uninterrupted for 10 or 15 minutes, sit down together and each of you answer the questions below on separate sheets of paper. Allow yourself to write down what comes into your mind and know that your responses may pertain to the stalemate situation or to your relationship as a whole in a more general way.

1) “I want to ______ with you.”
“I want to re-connect with you,”is an example response.

2) “I’m willing to ______ for our relationship.”
“I’m willing to really listen to you for our relationship,” is another example.

Take your time with this and silently read over what you wrote so that you are genuinely feeling your responses. Now, take turns reading aloud to each other what you’ve written down.

As your partner reads what he or she wrote to fill in the blanks of the sentences above, be an engaged and loving listener. Hear what your partner is literally saying, not what you think he or she “really” means.

Simply take turns reading and listening to what each of you wrote down. Don’t analyze your responses or evaluate them as “good” or “bad.”

After this exercise and if you both agree, talk again about the subject you were previously in a stalemate about. See if you feel slightly more open and connected than you were before. This is when the possibility is greatest for finding a solution you both can feel good about.

Whenever necessary, repeat this exercise. Alter the questions if you think of some that would better fit your situation, but do keep them general. The idea is to invite in re-connection which can help open up healthy communication again.

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  1. My girlfriend and I just had a fight last night over and issue that has come up every couple of months in our 1.5 year relationship. She live about an hour away, we see each other 2-4 days out of the week, the rest of the week we text and phone call to keep in contact. My failure has been that she is more of a late night owl, and she likes to talk after 11pm to say goodnight, etc. I am not always as sharp at 11pm or later, and sometimes I fall asleep before we are supposed to have our call. So I fell asleep last night and texted her at 11:45 when I wokeup, she said that I was a jerk for not calling, but I tried to call her at 5:30 when she got home from work (she was busy on the other line with a friend), I tried at 6:30 (she said she was too tired to talk and was taking a nap), I tried at 9 and she was out at the store, then she said wait until 11pm because she was studying. When I texted her at 11:45 she said she was watching a movie and didn’t want to chat. Now she says that I didn’t call he because I am avoiding her and that is why I text instead of calling. I know have a problem with overtexting and not always picking up the phone. Do I try to call her today at lunch and in the evening instead of texting? If she says she wants to be alone and not talk to me, can I ask her sister for advice? Thank you

    • RelGold says

      Josef: From what you write, it sounds like there are possibly some different but related issues coming up and causes trouble in your relationship.
      1) You and your girlfriend are at your “best” at different times. She likes to stay up late and is possibly more alert later in the night and you perhaps are at your best earlier in the evening or day. Be honest with her about this! This is something that you two can work out together. Find a regular time when you two will call one another or skype or however you connect when you are apart. Make this a time of day/evening when you two will both be available and ready to really focus on one another. Because of each of your schedules the time may vary, but get something regular that works for you both agreed upon and on your calendars.

      2) It also sounds like you both have a lot of stories going about each other. This is common for just about everybody and it can cause problems. Make sure you both are really listening to one another– not to what you think the other one means, but to what the other one actually says. Practice literal listening and if you believe your girlfriend is not hearing what you’re saying, pause and say something like, “I don’t think you’re understanding me. I’d like to tell you this again because it’s what’s true for me.”

      Best Wishes,
      Susie and Otto

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