Linda Lewis Griffith

Overcoming a marital impasse

It’s normal for couples to have disagreements. They frequently approach topics from differing viewpoints and must work together to find common ground.

But some issues are especially difficult. Neither party is willing to back down. Both members harbor such strong convictions that a compromise is nowhere in sight.

Such marital impasses are acutely stressful. The disagreements gain a life of their own. Once-loving partners feel as if they’re enemies. No matter how well they get along in other areas, partners question whether their union can stay intact.

While marriages can come to a standstill over any issue, they tend to get stuck on the predictably loaded ones, such as money, child-rearing and families of origin. These highly charged topics elicit deepseated emotions that touch the very core of our being. When another person challenges this inner belief sys tem, we hunker down to defend the psychological beachhead, regardless of the toll.

It’s the win-at-allcosts mentality that wreaks so much havoc in the relationship. Each person wants to claim victory, even if the marriage is destroyed.

Some couples are notoriously combative and make spar ring a way of life. They argue bitterly about such seemingly trivial issues as the brand of stroller to buy for their baby. And when questioned about the behavior, they express a strong need to have things their way.

Fortunately, most relationships are more harmonious, and couples rarely find themselves in a myway-or-the-highway faceoff. These folks recognize that their marriage is much more than any particular problem and are willing to employ techniques that keep collateral damage in check.

Of course, some disagreements are so fundamental that the relationship cannot survive. The current impasse is merely a symbol that it’s time to call it quits. If, for instance, a woman wants a family and her fiance says he doesn’t want children, they should seek other partners to fulfill their personal goals.

The rest of us can view impasses as one more S curve along the marital highway that requires close attention and deft handling to safely maneuver.


Keep the issue in perspective. This is one issue, not your whole marriage. Yes, you might have strong feelings, but it’s not worth getting a divorce.

Honor your partner’s viewpoint. Though you may be on opposite ends of the spectrum, recognizing that he or she may be correct keeps your efforts moving forward.

Avoid emotional meltdowns. Unchained emotions infuse drama and discord into your discussions. Stay cool and collected so you can collaborate at your best.

Never threaten. Avoid statements such as, “If this doesn’t work out, I’ll never forgive you.” Understand that none of us can predict the future and that each of us is doing our best.

Take a break. Back away when the issue gets too heated. You won’t solve anything if you’re irrational and peeved.

Seek common ground. You may disagree on a certain issue. But you undoubtedly agree on many more. Find out where you’re similar, and start negotiations from there.

Be willing to compromise. Compromise is always better than acrimony. You may not get exactly what you want. But you’ll end the stalemate — and that’s crucial.

Reconnect in other areas. Forget about the impasse for the time being, and do something together that you enjoy. Go kayaking or see a movie. You’ll reaffirm why you’re married and be more committed to making it work.

Be careful what you say. Your language is of utmost importance. Use a pleasant and conciliatory tone that says, “I want to work this out.”

Make a decision. Ultimately you’ll need to choose one of the options. Prolonged indecision drags everyone down. Select one, then watch what happens. You can always revisit the topic at a later date.

Get professional assistance. If you simply can’t reach a conclusion, find a therapist who can help keep the peace. Don’t wait until you’re looking for an attorney. Do it now before it’s too late.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit