Extended Conflict: 5 Tips for Overcoming a Stalemate

Inevitably, you and your spouse will run into issues you can’t agree on that will lead to friction in your relationship. Instead of letting conflict simmer, unresolved–where it will eventually burn up your relationship–allow it to shed light.

It’s frustrating and painful to get locked in a stalemate with your spouse…the one person you really don’t want to disagree with. Here are 5 tips for overcoming an unresolved conflict in your marriage.

  1. Don’t Avoid Conflict

In the short run, it’s very easy to avoid conflict. But long-term, it can be damaging–so you can’t ignore issues, especially if you’ve reached a stalemate with your spouse.

Ignoring conflict–instead of addressing your disagreement head-on–will create additional undercurrent issues in your marriage that might not have existed otherwise. Additionally, buried feelings have a high rate of resurrection…and unfortunately, when they arise again, they’re uglier than when we first felt them. You could unintentionally create a minefield for you and your spouse.

Get your conflict issues out in the open, and put them on the table. This exchange with your spouse doesn’t have to be loud, loaded or emotional; focus on having a relaxed and fully present conversation where you reveal that you have conflicting feelings over certain issues.

  1. Rate the Depth of Your Disagreement

When you and your spouse can’t see eye to eye on a certain issue, try using a rating system to rate how deeply you feel about whatever you’re disagreeing on. You can rate items from 1-10 (least to most important) to give yourself an objective view of how invested each of you are in certain outcomes.

Rating your issues will help keep you from checking out on each other when the going gets tough. Download our free Conflict Card for an easy way to rate the depth of your disagreement and the importance of the issues you’re dealing with together.

  1. Steer Clear of Criticism

When hashing out a particular problem or disagreement, steer clear of making critical comments toward your spouse. Criticism can take an argument in a very damaging direction.

We’ve all felt it: someone throws a critical comment in our direction, and we immediately become defensive. Emotions are heightened all the more between spouses, and it can be too easy to hurt the person we’re supposed to love the most.

Instead of being critical, turn your critical comments into complaints. That may sound counterproductive, but it will actually help you keep the emphasis off your spouse, and put it back on you and your feelings.

How you begin your statement makes all the difference. Focus on starting with an “I” statement. Instead of saying, “You never pick up your dirty laundry. You’re such a slob!” you could try, “When you don’t pick up the laundry, I feel frustrated. How can we resolve this?”

Another useful tool to keep criticism at bay is the XYZ Formula. To use it, just follow this simple construct and make it applicable to your situation: “In situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z.” It’s a great way to avoid criticizing your spouse and having to deal with hurt feelings in addition to the conflict or disagreement you’re already working to resolve.

  1. Practice Empathy

Empathy is the capacity to put yourself in your spouse’s shoes–and it’s SO crucial in marriage. Practicing empathy allows you to see the world from your spouse’s perspective, and imagine living life in their skin.

Feeling things from inside out will have a great impact on you, and in turn, your relationship with your spouse. We’re all hard-wired differently; there’s not one right or wrong way to do most things. We are who we are, and it can be difficult to accept this without being empathetic to one another.

Being empathetic is risky behavior because it will change you. Once you’ve learned to practice empathy, you won’t be the same person you were. You’ll be more accepting of others…and in the case of this stalemate with your spouse, empathy could give you a deeper insight into your spouse’s stance, and why they’ve taken it.

  1. Work Toward Closure

When you find yourselves on the other side of an extended, unresolved conflict (or sometimes, when you’re right in the middle of it), you may find that you have many unresolved emotions to deal with. Burying these emotions will begin a new cycle of conflict, so it’s important to handle these feelings head-on rather than suppressing them.

Make a list of things you consider unfinished or unresolved, and work to get closure with your spouse. Do the necessary work to get internal closure for yourself, as well. Journaling is a great way to process your feelings until they’re out.

Conflict Isn’t the End

It’s important to learn that conflict isn’t the end of your relationship. Once you move past the fear of conflict, you can begin to build confidence in your ability to face and overcome issues together.

Have you and your spouse ever stared down a stalemate? How did you overcome it? We’d love to hear from you.


  • William says:

    We just had a conflict two days ago, unless you could call this a fight, instead. A situation escalated from a disagreement to name calling to avoidance(I walked out) and stayed that way overnight. I should mention she cannot walk out, she is paraplegic.) I did come back to our bedroom at some point in the night, but we stayed at odds until the middle of the next day.
    Although we are talking to each other again, neither of us apologized. It’s like we somehow managed to let it go. I asked her some questions and we did talk about it, but again no apologies. We’re civil to each other again.
    So, where do we go from here?

    • Shadric Metzner says:

      Truthfully, I don’t think apologies are that meaningful in and of themselves. I think the key is in both parties taking ownership of their attitudes and behaviors. “I’m sorry” isn’t nearly as significant as, “I realize that I spoke to you harshly and called you a name. I also realize that in doing so, I hurt your feelings and did not treat you in a loving way. For THAT I apologize and ask for your forgiveness.” Just saying “sorry” doesn’t necessarily work towards healing and growth.

    • Martha says:

      Read the “Five Languages of Apology”” by Gary Chapman

  • MariaElena Lopez, LMHC says:

    When you have both gained perspective you could answer questions like:
    What set off the disagreement
    What led it to escalate
    Take turns at listening and speaking do not interrupt.
    Ground rules : we stay calm, no name calling or cursing . Anyone can call a break or postpone until , again, you are calm. Proceed and repeat until you each have some clarity about the answers to the two questions.
    Eventually this becomes more of a habit and second nature to you. Work hard at this it’s well worth it!!!!
    MariaElena Lopez, LMHC

    • Shadric Metzner says:

      Ground rules – YES! Ground rules in conflict resolution is such an important “system” that contributes toward healthy relationships. The powerful thing about systems is this:

      1 – Systems address issues before they arise and dictates the handling of said issues rather than trying to “figure it out” mid-battle.
      2 – Systems create a template for what you’re trying to produce – healthy conflict resolution and thus a healthy relationship.
      3 – Systems become natural (habitual) over time. Nature is always faster than nurture.

      Good reminder MarlaElena!

  • Pj says:

    After 30 years of marriage, we are having serious issues with his mom who refuses to let go. She has told lies to anyone that listens like she raised my daughter (not him or I), she buys all my clothes, her sons clothes, our meals, takes care of our house by sending rugs/towels, etc.) She over buys all my husbands clothes on birthday and on Christmas, he has 10-15 gifts just from her. She calls him daily to come by her house to help her do chores which always includes encouraging him to eat dinner she has prepared just for him.. I am fed up with her lies and manipulations as well as people laughing at me based on the lies she has told. I’ve stopped visiting her home and really pulled away from any contact from her. He is her youngest but ther are three girls in the family…all are adults. She has involved herself in each of the daughters marriage so much they all resulted in divorces. My husband denies she would do any of this or makes excuses for her. Now he sneaks over her house while telling me it is wrong for se to spend time talking to or visiting my singe brothers or uncles. His dad passed away some years ago. I am not sure what to do but feel I have no patience left.

    • LDC says:

      I’m reminded of a biblical passage that reads “Husbands and wives will leave their parents and cling to each other.” It sounds like he hasn’t ever cut the umbilical cord. I’m so sorry.

  • Marlen says:

    The easy eay out, divorce. And she will add her last child to be a devorcee. Poor woman, it is true that being single is not bad but for some being married is better. We all have issues we do not talk about for fear to be in the open. I can see you are frustrated to deal with this situation that repeats on and on. How you can stop it is not easy. It will take time and effort. It must be very difficult for him to choose between you and his mother for he most likely loves you both. She might as well be everything you said but behaving the way she is does not make it any better. Let her talk as much as she wants at the end there is only one God above and we live under his reign. Don’t let the enemy win that battle. You have shared so many years together and overcome so much to surrender loyalty and love at this point. Some people are really more difficult that other and it is ok to keep certain distance but not rupture. Love should reign. Let God do its share. Be kind and respectful to her and let your partner know he is not obligated to eat at home everynight that you just enjoy sharing dinner with him. That it is ok to eat at his mother’s as long as he plans it in advanced giving you time for your own plans. Be happy and grateful he receives so many presents for him. Some people get more than others. Try to make it as peaceful as possible. People will surely find out who is who. May you find our Lord’s grace to accomplish being the one wonderful child you are in God’s eyes. God id always blessing us.

    • Michelle Lankins says:

      Thank you for your comment addressing PJ, Marlen. You have hit the nail where it’s applicable in my case. I have been going through very difficult problems, some similar to what she is going through. But we, my husband and I, have many and the disruption from my parents is only part.
      I have created the majority of the situations from lack of listening, showing disrespect, outright lies and deception, resentment from his causes and effects, over thinking, blame, holding on to hurts, not forgiving… I have seen so many of the reasons as they continue to plague me. All I can do is continue to work towards a future with my husband. I have let go of whatever is seen as a problem within my control. We have been together for thirty years, married twice with a seven year, ugly divorce. Currently we are in the fourteenth year of a legal separation required by a worker’s verbal statements re: my husband’s MediCal issuance. We live within a mile of each other because I have chosen to live close so that the marriage can be better.
      I seek your advice and support and guidance through whatever resources available. I am on limited income and my husband has no income, as he works for his rent and utilities. He gets food stamps and state run MediCal. I receive Social Security benefits but he hasn’t qualified even though he’s disabled.

  • Zie says:

    All these have been so helpful, I just got married and I feel like I married the wrong person he has changed so much from the things we agreed on when we were still dating. Just going through his inbox I see flirtations withex gf. I’m so shocked that when we were preparing for our wedding he would never ask about how I was doing … but theex he seemed so concerned . I told him about this then he says it’s all in the past . I’m praying now on my 28th day of my 40day fast .Godhelp me. I feel maybe he ddn want me or maybe age compelled him to settle … I really do not know. I have recently moved to a certain country and I’m trying to move with him to another country but he is not keen . I love my hubby and it’s as if we falling apart before we even begin. My mother scolded at him because he has less qualifications than me , that maybe he is using me for his success I just don’t know anymore. I always cry myself to sleep daily I need help …. this forum has really helped me a lot. Now I am not even sure if I’m loved or what’s happening … he is not even pushing that he comes and joins me. He is not applying anyhow for job placements. How do I deal with this please help me

    • LDC says:

      It sounds like there were signs early on. It’s immensely helpful to get clear about what you want in life, how you want to be treated. You could possibly see a therapist to deal with any past traumas… invest in yourself. I hope you find peace.

  • Al says:

    my husband and I are constantly fighting. Over minding our 11 month old son (who did what / more / less etc.)
    Of course I am not blameless but we keep coming back to how I’m such a negative person. I consider myself a worrier and work hard to try be more positive.
    He also saying most of our fights come down to my nagative attitude / stress around my job. I’ve been made redundant twice in my career and have long periods of un-employement as a result which has certainly caused me a lot of stress and it weighed on my mental health.
    We are married almost 2 years and he wants a divorce. I don’t know how to stop having the same arguments and am feeling despair.

  • SM says:

    Men do not change in their lifetimes – likings, dislikings, what they want to do, what they would abs. not do do not change. The only instigators to change are related to power – which they assume they have at “their home” without any challenges. They cannot accept why responsibility means – details, plans, schedules – because lives are involved at home also. The more the tasks they see the more worried they get because these things occupy “mindspace” .

    Most women change – each year and with each event in our lives. This is a very natural thing thanks to biology. Every change brings in stress of making the change successful – which translates to worry pretty fast. Work, worry, Cook, worry, Sleep, worry. Worry is our punctuation mark. Worry also becomes a catchall for all the other nice things which we tend to have alongside – intuition, insights we gain. However, since we are “worrying” we forget very quickly about all these other things and call ourselves “worriers”.

    The reasons you married this man – are probably the “complete set of attributes” that you have now also. Assess if the ride is worthwhile – What is being done for you ? Who is the custodian of the big areas of life ? How is responsibility assigned in your marriage – culturally ? default ? understanding ? fighting ? negotiating ?

    Good Luck.

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