How to stop stonewalling in a relationship?

 How to stop stonewalling in a relationship?

A communication tactic known as stonewalling is employed in dispute and is defined as stopping a conversation and refusing to speak with the opposing party during debates or arguments. By inhibiting emotional closeness and leaving one or both individuals in the relationship feeling terribly lonely, it can over time do significant harm to your relationship. Fortunately, there are methods for overcoming stonewalling and creating more effective communication techniques.

Stonewalling in relationships has been a thing for a while, but Drs. John and Julie Gottman of The Gottman Institute's "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" have helped it become more well-known. The Gottmans undertook a significant, decades-long sociological study on couples in an effort to identify the characteristics of successful partnerships and failing ones. When there is tension in a relationship, the "Four Horsemen," or criticism, defensiveness, disdain, and stonewalling, tend to surface. If these communication patterns are not addressed, they can result in relationship burnout and even the breakdown of those partnerships.

According to research, a highly gendered habit, stonewalling, men commit the great majority of stonewalling actions. Only 15% of women refuse to talk when they experience emotional dysregulation, and this is a major warning sign. Wives report to couples therapists that their stonewalling husbands have chosen to purposefully leave them because they are bored and uninterested in the talk. She feels that doesn't give a damn, and that makes her very angry. In contrast, husbands claim to feel nagged, pushed, and pressured into sharing an emotional excursion into feelings-land. Men hardly ever ask for directions, thus they rarely arrive at their destination together.

A person who is stonewalling in a relationship could engage in some of these actions:

  • Offers the silent treatment when spoken to, stays unresponsive to questions, or only speaks in curt, one-word remarks.
  • To pretend not to hear or listen, one "tunes out."
  • Being spoken to, the other person turns or moves away, acting as if they are invisible or not there.
  • Acts too busy, on the go all the time, or busy to talk; avoids emotional connection and eye contact.
  • Even in a cordial conversation, when challenged, the subject shifts to something irrelevant.
  • Shifts the conversation to the speaker's alleged flaws or weaknesses.

The act of stonewalling can be expressed in several different ways:

  • Gazing away and turning around.
  • Treatment in silence.
  • Leaving the room in person. 
  • Refusing to respond to or discuss the matter at hand.
  • Yelling at the dialogue to end.
  • Stonewalling frequently occurs as a result of flooding, such as when we feel too overwhelmed to concentrate. However, the stonewaller implodes rather than bursts.

Causes of stonewalling

When someone in a relationship puts up a wall, it's common to assume that they are hostile, impolite, careless, immature, or just uninterested in how they interact with others or the outside world. This may be the case for some people, but protective behavior of this nature is frequently complex and complicated. Men are more prone than women to stall in relationships, according to research. There are many possible causes for stonewalling, many of which are not malicious at all. Although gaslighting often entails the individual trying to persuade the other person of a fact different from what they experienced, stonewalling is sometimes related to it.

Protection against feeling overwhelmed

Stonewalling can be a coping strategy and a means of retreating to one's figurative "man cave." This area could provide individuals with the much-needed inner (and occasionally outer) seclusion they need to deal with emotionally overwhelming circumstances. When they are unhappy, they prefer to just "vanish" emotionally since they are unable to verbalize or otherwise process their emotions. While extended stonewalling is not a smart relationship tactic, isolation can sometimes be helpful. Due to feeling overwhelmed, women are not immune from acting in a stonewalling manner, although males tend to exhibit this behavior more frequently.

Emotional restraint

A person denies emotions the gentle space they need when they resort too quickly to stonewalling as a coping strategy in a relationship. They just have to be felt. Suppressed emotions have terrible repercussions. Think of suppressed emotions as vampires: they will undoubtedly reawaken, typically stronger than before until you confront them and plow a stake through their hearts. There is strong evidence connecting emotional dysregulation, physical disease, and depression.

Brutal Manipulation

The most destructive reason for stonewalling in relationships is this one. The aggressive stonewaller prioritizes their preferences in the relationship and employs stonewalling behavior to get their way. In its more innocent version, stonewalling is an avoidance strategy used to avoid dealing with issues or circumstances. These characteristics are not conducive to bonding since they are harmful, self-centered, and immature. This kind of resistance is frequently harsh or approaches such.

If a partner refuses to budge despite repeated attempts by their partner to engage them, they may be hiding something. It may be something as heinous as an extramarital affair or a crime, or it might be something less sinister like losing your job or being unable to control your addiction to food, video games, cigarettes, etc. Withdrawal from a relationship might be a sign of anything, including guilt or desire to break up. There are several reasons a spouse could refuse to cooperate, as well as other motivations.

In severe circumstances, a personality condition like borderline personality disorder, narcissism, or sociopathy may be the cause of influencing people in this way.

Other indications of manipulative stonewalling include denials of the stonewalling's nature in the face of evidence to the contrary.


  • Insulting other people
  • Invalidating the perceptions and emotions of others
  • Justifying abuse
  • Relationships are reciprocal. Relationships cannot endure if one partner withdraws from them frequently.

How to prevent stonewalling?

When you're being stonewalled, self-talk may help you transition from feeling upset and from telling yourself, "He doesn't love me," to realize that he or she is running away from feeling overburdened or inadequate. You might rationalize to yourself, "He needs a break to regroup," rather than taking it personally.

You may encourage your spouse to listen to you by utilizing I-statements. Before engaging in a conversation that you anticipate would be challenging to understand, try expressing, "I simply want to say how I'm feeling. Without making any attempts to correct things, I want you to hear me. "I'd like it if after I explain myself, you'll say something like, 'I hear you,' 'I understand,' or just nod to signal that," you may add.

By outlining your preferences in advance, you eliminate any potential threats and make it more likely that your partner will stay.

Your partner is likely to be more at ease, direct, and receptive when you utilize these and other constructive communication techniques.

Effects of stonewalling on a relationship

When someone puts up a wall, they are trying to avoid engagement. This psychological disengagement from people and circumstances might have negative consequences. According to research by the Gottman Institute, when stonewalling is involved, both parties may exhibit lower levels of empathy, a reduced capacity for problem-solving, and a diminished capacity to receive information (such as listening). Stonewalling is likely to result in significant marital or relationship distress, dispute, and disruption if it is not handled. Studies have conclusively shown a connection between these marital upheavals and melancholy, poor social skills, disengagement, health issues, and subpar academic achievement in kids. These kinds of turmoil have been shown to lead to disease in women, and they frequently result in loneliness in males. Divorce's destabilizing effects, which are a likely result of extreme and persistent stonewalling, it does not need elaboration.

It intensifies arguments

The other partner may become more and more enraged with their participation if one partner doesn't respond. The confrontation then escalates as a result and may hurt sentiments for both, when his wife tries to get back together, he is more and more enraged by her response.

It doesn't address issues.

Checking out precludes any potential resolution to issues, and, if anything, it serves to exacerbate and snowball them.

Emotional Disconnection

There cannot be an emotional connection when one partner does not completely participate. And the foundation of healthy partnerships is emotional connections.

It incites a feeling of hopelessness

The marriage cannot communicate and work through issues when stonewalling becomes the norm. When a sense of hopelessness regarding the relationship sets in, it is at this point that it ends.

Ways to stop stonewalling

Some people decide to freeze up and construct a wall or barrier between themselves and the enormous issue at hand when faced with a marital crisis. This response could be deliberate or unconsciously occurring. Such an answer is referred known as stonewalling. Stonewalling may cause a significant split in the connection, which can lead to a great deal of marital distress, discord, and turbulence. The individual stonewalling also suffer since they are depriving themselves of emotional contact with their partner. Even while stonewalling harms relationships, partners can try to get through it.

If you are in a relationship with a stonewaller, you can use the following techniques to improve communication and cope with your partner:

Acknowledge your partner's emotions.

You should be aware that while you are not responsible for your partner's actions, stonewalling commonly happens in response to severe criticism or contempt. You'll understand that it's essential to acknowledge the behavior and let the individual know that it isn't the best course of action when selecting how to respond to stonewalling. Instead of criticizing your partner's bad behavior or something they did wrong, express your thoughts and make an effort to understand their point of view.

Understand that you are not the "fixer".

If your partner shies away from conflict, you could feel that it is your duty to bring up the subject or resolve the issue when it arises because you don't expect them to do so. Conflict must be resolved, and usually, someone must take the initiative to do so. However, you are not always required to do this. You must let go of any guilt you may be experiencing if your spouse is constantly stonewalling you and quit attempting to salvage your toxic relationship.

Do not try to alter your partner.

When your partner refuses to budge, you could clarify that the objective is to modify a behavior that isn't good for the relationship rather than to change who they are. Develop communication strategies that won't contradict or be critical of your partner.

Visit a Couple Counselor.

A relationship won't work without collaboration and you need to locate the right tools to rewire outdated communication patterns. Couples counseling may be helpful in this situation. The workplace is a secure environment, thus stonewallers may feel at ease speaking up there.

For good reason, stonewalling is regarded as one of the Four Horsemen. The strongest of relationships can be destroyed by a partner's stonewalling, yet there is always hope. Today, take the first step toward a great relationship.

The majority of the time, stonewalling happens in love partnerships. Although women also stonewall, males are more inclined to do so. Imagine, for instance, that someone goes to talk to their spouse about something their partner said that offended them. However, the partner often shuts down during a disagreement and turns away, refusing to face their spouse. The stonewaller then refuses to vocally reply when their spouse begs them to look at them. However, the obstructionist remains silent and acts as if they were not aware of what was said. They could even leave after that and stop talking altogether.

For both parties involved, stonewalling may be incredibly emotionally harmful. Couples counseling may be able to counteract stonewalling. To increase general communication and foster creative problem-solving when problems emerge, this may be important for both parties.

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