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.