She Said, He Said: Working through a stalemate means tearing down your walls
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My husband and I have been married for four years. For the first three years, we had normal ups and downs, but now we’ve gotten to the point where I think he needs to make some significant changes in how he shows up in the relationship and he says the same about me. The resentment has been growing on both sides and now neither one of us seems willing to budge enough to appease the other. How can we move forward without either of us having to feel like we’re just giving in?
Stuck In A Rut
Lori and Jeff: Stalemates, like yours, are perhaps the most difficult challenge to relationships. Affairs and other transgressions of trust are certainly very painful and disruptive, but those situations usually require one partner to take on more responsibility for repairing the relationship. Stalemates can be crippling to a couple because they require both partners to take equal responsibility and make the necessary changes within themselves.
Jeff: Stalemates often happen when one partner’s ideas, beliefs or opinions are opposed by the other. This opposition can cause both partners to become even more entrenched in their positions, refusing to consider the other’s in fear of it diluting the strength of their own. The ensuing conflict creates an emotional disconnect with neither partner wanting to lean in and be vulnerable by making the first move. Stonewalling, or refusing to engage, is one of relationship guru John Gottman’s Four Horses of the Apocalypse — the four predictors of relationship failure (the other three are Criticism, Defensiveness and Contempt). This refusal to take part in finding a solution or, at a minimum, some common ground leaves both partners feeling misunderstood and alone, blaming the other for the impasse.
You will need to ask yourself why you are so attached to your own story and so afraid of considering your husband’s. You also will have to find the courage to be curious about why he feels so compelled to stick with his story. Once you’ve created a little wiggle room, you’ll both have the opportunity to share your feelings without having to be right.
Lori: In the beginning of relationships, we’re committed to showing up as our best selves. Not only do we want to prove to our partner that we’re a valuable catch, but we’re also motivated internally to be more like the versions of ourselves that we deeply want to become. The challenge for many couples is the longer they stay together, the more their sense of self becomes influenced by what’s happening in the relationship. It’s as if partners forget that they are solely responsible for who they are and how they choose to show up. Instead they slowly relinquish their power by deciding that they can only react to what is happening, rather than being proactive in changing the course. The stalemate is a blame game that at the core says “I can’t be my best self until you …” And it’s nonsense.
Being in a relationship means having to grow up and take responsibility for your own actions and choices. The reality is that every committed, intimate relationship will challenge you and provide excuses to hide behind for why you show up the way you do. It’s time for both of you to shift focus on becoming who you want to be as a person, and in this marriage, rather than waiting for your partner to do the work for you.
Lori and Jeff: No good can come from a relationship power struggle. There will never be a winner, only more hurt, harm and distance. The truth is you’ve each built your own walls. Even if you can justify each brick you’ve laid as being in response to your partner, it’s still your wall. And if you want connection, you’re going to have to take it down and learn more mature ways of communicating, setting boundaries and navigating challenges.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.
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