How To Stop Stonewalling

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Stonewalling: Stop this before it ruins your relationship.

 

You’re talking to your partner about an emotional topic, and you can feel the energy rising between the both of you, then boom. Your partner throws up a wall completely made of stone. It’s not something you can see, but you can feel it. You continue to talk, and your words bounce against the wall and fail to be heard or understood. Frustrated, you try harder and harder to penetrate the wall to get any ounce of open communication with your partner, but you don’t succeed because your partner is stonewalling. And the more that is said, the larger and thicker the wall becomes as it thrusts more distance between you and your partner.  

 

Stonewalling is one of the largest predictors of divorce or the end of a relationship, according to Gottman, a famous psychologist who spent 40 years researching the dynamics between couples and in relationships.

Stonewalling is when during an argument or disagreement, someone shuts down, withdraws from the conversation, gives the silent treatment, or builds a wall between themselves and the opposing person. 

 

Stressful situations can lead to interesting coping mechanisms, such as shutting down. This happens when one feels overwhelmed or flooded with emotions. In the moment, it can look like the other person is choosing to ignore you. However, it may be something your partner is doing unconsciously. Conflict thrusts us into a fight, flight, fawn, or freeze mode, and our instincts to survive take over. Our adrenaline spikes, and it signals to our bodies that we are in a potentially dangerous situation. 

 

So what are the 4 reasons why people stonewall? 

 

  1. It’s a defense against being overwhelmed or emotionally flooded

    • Stonewalling can be a coping mechanism, like a turtle ducking into its shell when overwhelmed. Stonewallers may duck into their shell because they’re emotionally overwhelmed and emotionally flooded; because they’re unable to process what’s going on in real-time, don’t have the words to describe their emotions, they decide to duck into their shell and vanish and hide. 

  2. It’s emotional suppression + avoidance

    • When a person stonewalls, it could be because they deny their own emotions. Instead of saying how they feel, they are bottling them up. Suppressed emotions are like shaken-up bottles of soda. At some point, the pressure just pops the top right off and sprays everywhere and at the wrong time. 

  3. You feel powerless 

    • Stonewalling may also be a sign that you feel powerless or helpless. It’s a sign that you have given up on arguing, negotiating, winning, or problem-solving because you may feel that it won’t do any good, and therefore you retreat into silence. You may feel that you don’t have a voice, and no matter what you say, there will not be any positive action steps taken from the argument, like you’re stuck, so you avoid the argument rather than tackle it.

  4. It’s aggressive manipulation 

    • When stonewalling is used as a punishment to the other person, this is a form of aggressive manipulation, and it is extra toxic to the relationship. This is different than using stone walling as a defense mechanism or a way to avoid, as those are more innocent. Using it as a punishment is controlling + manipulative and is often used for the stonewaller to get their way. 

 

 

Stonewalling allows those in conflict to take control of the situation because they are either choosing not to engage or to stop listening. This is also used as a protection or defensive technique. They have their shield up because they are either trying to avoid the conversation altogether, or you triggered them, and they don’t want to react, so they just shut down, or they are doing it vindictively to get a rise out of the other person. Stonewalling directly stops whatever confrontation is happening," so it really can provide a sense of relief to the disgruntled person, even if it's to their partner's detriment. 

 

However, this defensive technique isn’t good for the relationship or communication in general and has the ability to erode the relationship over time.

 

Why does it hurt the relationship? 

 

 Stonewalling is a sign that your partner wants to detach from the conflict at hand and, therefore, the health of the relationship. It negatively affects both partners because there is no resolution to the conflict, only an open-ended question. It often escalates conflicts because the partner that is being stonewalled doesn’t feel heard and instead feels neglected, rejected, or offended. Stonewalling stops teamwork. Therefore, one partner could feel like they’re willing to work on the relationship, and the other one is not. By stonewalling and avoiding the conflict, it can cause the issue to snowball and become larger and larger, the elephant in the room, a monster that is creeping behind your relationship.

 

So, let’s bring awareness to what stonewalling looks like! Here are 12 signs that you may be stonewalling 

 

You may be stonewalling if you:

 

  1. Give the silent treatment to your partner

  2. Avoid eye conflict and stare anywhere else but your partner 

  3. If you abruptly get up and walk away 

  4. If you minimize or dismiss your partner’s concerns 

  5. If you busy yourself with something else rather than paying attention to what your partner is saying

  6. If you portray aggressive body language such as smirking or eye-rolling 

  7. If you find ways to avoid conversations about the conflict 

  8. If you refuse to answer any of the questions 

  9. If you deflect or blame your partner

  10. If you ignore your partner or act like you can’t hear them 

  11. If you say, I’m fine, I’m good, nothing’s wrong, and refuse to give an honest answer. 

  12. If you’re a visual person if you, throw up a huge energy wall between you two so that you block your partner out. 

 

 

How can you stop stonewalling? 

 

  1. Do you want to stay in the relationship? Make a choice that you want to stay in the relationship. Being indecisive on whether you want to stay or leave the relationship is draining for both you and your partner. If you want the relationship to work out, then you’ll be more willing to stop stonewalling. As we’ve learned before, it’s not helpful for the relationship at all and makes problems in the relationship worst because you’re acting as a sole individual and not a team player because you are blocking communication and hiding or avoiding those emotions. So take some time and really think about if you want to stay in the relationship. If you do, then you’ll feel aligned with the rest of these tips. 

  2. You can stop stonewalling by bringing the awareness to the fact that you actually stonewall. The first step to change is awareness. Acknowledge that you do, in fact, stonewall. Let your partner know that you are working on not stonewalling anymore and that you would like them to gently point it out. When they feel like the stone wall or shield has arisen or that you have vanished from the conversation to perform a sign or use a buzzword to bring you back to the present conversation.   

  3. You can stop stonewalling by halting the argument when you feel emotionally flooded and ask for a time-out or a break. You can say things like: 

    • “I want to talk about this and find a solution, but it’s so intense for me. Can we take a break and resume in 20 minutes.”

    • I feel like I’m going to blow up, and I don’t want to do that. Can you give me a few minutes?”

    • I can’t handle this anymore. Can you please help me calm down, and then we can continue this conversation. 

  4. Take note of the topics that you stonewall

    • What topics are you more prone to stonewall. This is important information because stonewalling shows you that you have deeper emotions there that you could dive into. Write the topics down and let your partner know that you are working on them. Then at your own pace, bring up the conversation again along with the deeper thought and processing that you’ve done on your own. You’ll be able to be more present for the conversation with your partner. 

  5. Trust yourself in challenging arguments and have courage 

    • Trust yourself and have the courage to speak your truth in conflicts. It’s uncomfortable, but healthy relationships aren’t built off consistent comfort. They are defined by the ability to work through the hard moments, big and small. It’s better, to be honest about how you feel rather than let that dishonesty build the wall between you two and cause a slow and long death of the relationship. Say how you feel, own your emotions, and do it in a way that doesn’t criticize your partner.  

 

 

And lastly, how can you get through to a Stonewaller?

 

So, this is a challenging one because the fastest way to help your partner stop stonewalling is to first help them become aware of the issue. Once they have the awareness and the internal motivation to improve, then you can really begin to do the work together. Knowledge is power. Send them this video on stonewalling or maybe an article describing what it is. 

 

  1. Begin a tough conversation slowly and softly. The slower and more even your emotions, the less likely your partner will feel threatened and throw up the shield. Talking always beats yelling. 

  2. Begin the conversation with affirmative words. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been really trying lately, and I want you to know that I appreciate that.” You’ve got to warm them up and make them feel safe before you go straight into the hard topic; they’ll do anything to avoid. 

  3. Timing is everything. Probably not a good time to bring this tough topic up while you’re out drinking or when they’re in the middle of the workday. Pick a time when you know they’re much more open to hearing you. 

  4. Repair and de-escalate:  When you see your partner begin to tense up or when he starts getting defensive, it’s not the time to double down as most people do. It’s time to repair and take a step back.

    1. Remember: one step back, two forward.

  5. Work on saying how you feel with an “I statement” instead of blaming, criticizing, or name-calling your partner. If they feel they’re under attack or overly criticized, they’ll most likely shut down. 

If your partner says that they need a break, don’t take it personally. They’re doing their best to stay engaged through the conflict, but they may need some personal space to regroup. Make sure to set a time to come back to the conversation.

 

Don't stop now! Check out our next article!

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