Relationship Stalemate: When You’re at an Impasse

Oftentimes, couples come to our MD relationship counseling in a stalemate.  One person wants to relocate for a dream job, and the other spouse can’t imagine leaving their friends and family.  Or, one spouse wants to grow the family, but her partner is feeling overwhelmed with their toddler.  Sometimes, one partner is ready to end the relationship, while the other wants to seek MD couples therapy to reclaim what they have lost.

There are no easy solutions here.  Unlike deciding who empties the dishwasher, or even, whether to send the kids to public or private school, these decisions have the power to alter the trajectory of your relationship and your life.  In addition, if you move down one path without both partners being on board, it is likely to cause a lot of resentment.  Many couples report that these decisions feel like “all or nothing.”  It seems as though you can’t compromise – what’s the middle ground between staying together and breaking up?  You’re either in or out.  It is no surprise that couples facing these dilemmas get caught in a tug of war, with both people digging in their heels and fighting to drag their partner over to their side.

When you’re faced with “all or nothing” dilemmas, it can be really hard to truly understand your partner’s perspective.  Remind yourself that being open to your partner’s point of view does not mean that you will both head down that path.  Instead, if you reach across the table and attempt to understand their perspective, it is likely that your spouse will soften in his/her stance, and you might be able to find a solution that works for both of you.  Trust that if you are both trying to understand one another, you are likely to leave the conversation feeling understood.

It can also be helpful to identify your personal barriers to understanding your partner’s perspective.  For example, moving for your spouse may seem unfair.  You may feel as though your partner makes all the decisions in the relationship and your voice is rarely heard.  Refusing to move won’t change the fact that as a couple your decision-making is unbalanced.  Take this time to talk to your partner about your underlying concerns.  You might not reach a resolution right away, but expressing your concerns (and hearing your partner’s concerns) might help you get one step closer to common ground.

Finally, as you can imagine, these “all or nothing” dilemmas have the tendency to suck the energy out of an otherwise healthy relationship.  Even though it’s tempting, try not to let the stalemate represent your entire relationship – this is just a snapshot of your lives together.  You might also notice that all conversations and interactions seem to devolve into making a decision about the “all or nothing” issue.  It is just plain exhausting to re-hash the same conversation over and over, and it takes away from the day-to-day things that are going well.  Do your best to set aside some time weekly to check-in (e.g., how are you feeling today about moving?) perhaps during couples counseling or at home– and enjoy the rest of your time together, without worrying about finding a solution to your dilemma.

Have you ever been in a relationship stalemate?  How did you deal with it?  Any advice for couples struggling to find common ground?  Comment below!

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