How to settle a stalemate in your relationship, according to a renowned therapist

  • When you and your partner constantly argue about a particular issue and can't seem to resolve it, it can feel defeating.
  • Understanding that these relationship standoffs and stalemates have more to do with how you fight than what you are fighting about can help, renowned therapist Esther Perel said.
  • According to Perel, both partners have to understand the emotions and memories a particular fight evoked in the other, rather than viewing it as a battle to win or lose.

When you and your partner can't seem to agree on a particular topic, whether it's who does the chores or how you discipline your children, it can become a lasting point of contention in your relationship.

According to renowned relationship therapist Esther Perel, these relationship stalemates can be difficult to solve because couples misunderstand the root of the problem.

In a recent YouTube livestream, Perel offered some tips on how to come from a place of understanding, rather than defensiveness, to help couples break the loop in a never-ending argument.Advertisement

Recognize that rlationship standoffs stem from feelings of vulnerability

Perel said it's important to be aware of the real root of the problem.

Oftentimes, disagreements bring partners' vulnerabilities to the surface, Perel said, and that can cause them to react in a defensive way that makes it nearly impossible to solve the issue at hand.

"In a stalemate, the past and present meet," Perel said.
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She gave the example of a couple who can't agree on who does which chores, and constantly asks the other partner, 'Why is it my job to do that?'

"When you talk about a chore, in a split second, the dishes, the laundry, the wash, whatever it is, becomes a symbol of my deprivation, of all the stuff I've done for you over the years, or of all the stuff you've never done for me over the years," Perel said. She also said these relationship standoffs could stem from feeling unappreciated in childhood or previous relationships.Advertisement

To break the loop, focus on why your partner feels defensive, rather than what is objectively right

In order to stop a recurring argument about chores, child-rearing, or budgeting, both partners have to put in the effort to understand the other's vulnerabilities and how they relate to the topic at hand, according to Perel.

She said one way to make a standoff less intense and more productive is to remember there's no "right" or "wrong" side.

Once you and your partner understand that the goal is to understand where the other person is coming from rather than prove you're right, "it changes the entire communication," Perel said.Advertisement

Try to explain to your partner why you're feeling defensive about the issue

If you notice yourself get angry or upset over a particular issue, Perel suggested thinking about why you feel so attacked in that particular scenario, and relaying that to your partner.

For example, if your partner ignores your requests for help with the laundry, you could explain that the situation made you feel alone and reminded you of the times in previous relationship when you felt unappreciated.

Framing an argument in terms of the emotions it evoked in you, rather than telling your partner, 'You did this to me and it hurt me,' will allow you to discuss the issue at hand without alienating your partner and getting stuck in a standoff, Perel said.Advertisement

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