When there’s a particularly thorny issue that you and your partner disagree about, it can become all-consuming. It hangs between you like a thick fog, shading all the things that are going well in your relationship. Ironically, at the same time these are the kinds of topics that you increasingly ignore: After all, you’ve already tried and failed to resolve it, so you shove it in the closet while quietly seething. Let’s call it a “toxic topic,” because that’s what it is—toxic for your relationship and even your own mental health.
So what do you do when you find yourselves stuck in war of wills? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Don’t carry the issue with you like so much baggage, hauling it out every time you have a drink with your buddies. They’re not the ones you need to convince that you’re right—and even if you do, take it for what it’s worth. It’s easy to convince a friend about nearly anything when they don’t have a dog in the fight.
Let’s say the dilemma is this: she wants to move to a bigger house, and you’re perfectly happy living where you are. Sure, you can probably convince others all day long that she’s wrong and you’re right, but then again, they’re inclined to agree with you no matter what as a show of solidarity. More importantly, it’s not their house or their wife. Besides, what does it accomplish? Telling your wife or partner that your friends think she’s nuts is likely only to make her dig in her heels.
2. Do continue trying to resolve the issue. Even when it seems like you’ve reached an impossible impasse, there’s always another way to approach it. Talk openly, and without malice, about why each of you feels the way you do. Make sure you understand why she’s unhappy in your current home, or what she hopes will be better about a different one. Likewise, make sure she understands your reservations.
Try making a date to discuss it—and in the meantime, do some mental preparations. This does not mean finding ways to bolster your argument. It means spending some time soul-searching about your true feelings. Maybe your parents always worried about money when you were growing up, and taking on a bigger mortgage brings up old insecurities. They might be valid, but it’s helpful to understand where it’s coming from. Then you can talk to a financial advisor or simply run some numbers; you might decide you really can afford a bigger house without sacrificing financial security.
3. Do always remember to consider multiple options. The more contentious an issue becomes, the more people tend to see them in black and white. There are always compromises, especially once you know what each other really hopes to accomplish.
Just don’t give up; don’t sweep it under the rug; don’t expend your energy rallying a crowd of well-meaning friends to your side. Instead, show faith in the relationship and respect for each other by continuing to talk it through. You might be surprised how empowered (and relieved) you’ll feel by breaking the gridlock and finding a mutually satisfying answer and a common goal to work toward together.
If you and your partner are stuck in disagreement over an issue that matters deeply to you both, please give us at a call at 949-393-8662 or schedule an appointment via our online calendar. We at the Relationship Center of Orange County are here to help you.