In an ideal life, when your significant other’s behavior or attitude shifts, they become willing to identify and communicate why. But if your significant other shut you down entirely, avoids your texts for extended time periods, or goes silent when you bring up any particular subject – unwilling and unable to explain why – they could actually be stonewalling.
Sometimes no matter how much you prod them, they won’t open up, and it feels like you are talking to a stonewall, impossible to break through.
When this actually happens, you will find yourself internally spiraling – questioning your very last moves, wondering whether or not you have missed anything, and instead coming up with a thousand made-up reasons as to what you could be reacting differently.
Stonewalling can definitely cause understandable confusion and frustration. And it is not just extremely hurtful, but it can prove to be absolutely detrimental to your relationship.
In fact, so detrimental that it is popularly known as one of the ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,’ the four different communication patterns that can cause a relationship to end, as per Dr. John Gottman from The Gottman Institute. The other three patterns include defensiveness, contempt, and criticism.
Stonewalling includes giving someone silent treatment, not talking to someone, or even avoiding confrontation over a particular topic. But it can also be a manipulation tactic. Stonewalling is a convoluted, unhealthy attempt to see how much your significant other cares about you.
Are they texting you constantly, even when you are not responding? Do they get anxious, suspicious, jealous, or annoyed? Stonewalling is used at times to evoke emotional replies from your significant other just to see how much they care about you.
If you have not caught on already, stonewalling is simply a negative pattern of communication, as per The Gottman Institute, and it can become a habit very fast if not taken care of!
So without wasting time, here is all that you need to know about stonewalling, including how you can handle it if it becomes a part of your romantic relationship.
What Is Stonewalling?
So, what is stonewalling?
If your partner keeps stonewalling you during any argument, then it will be exactly like you are talking to a wall of stone. There is no movement forward – nothing that you say can get through to them, and it can be pretty difficult to come up with any solution.
It is not really a healthy form of communication, considering it results from a lack of the same and can include plenty of hate and spite on both sides with no resolution.
As per The Gottman Institute, it can also be considered as a reply to feeling flooded physiologically, and people who actually stonewall mightn’t be in any psychological state to discuss anything rationally. It can also be a reply to contempt, a pattern of communication in which pairs treat each other with mutual disrespect that includes sarcasm, scoffing, eye-rolling, ridicule, and mocking.
This means their replies, albeit not really helpful and definitely frustrating, could also be a reply to your habits of communication as well.
|💡 What Does Stonewalling Feel Like? For the individual being stonewalled, it is typical to feel hurt, confused, angry, or frustrated. It can have a damaging impact on the self-esteem of a person and can just make them feel like there is no trust or closeness in the relationship.
Types Of Stonewalling:
The stonewalling definition or stonewalling meaning will give you a fair idea about the concept. There are multiple healthy behavioral patterns that can actually be mistaken for stonewalling. It is vital to note that stonewalling is not similar to setting boundaries or asking for space.
Asking for space to time requires communication. When your significant other wants to discuss anything with the intention of coming back into the conversation, they are not really stonewalling you.
If your partner stonewalls you to demean, disrespect, belittle, or control you, then it might be a form of abuse – we call it stonewalling abuse! In such situations, you should definitely connect with an expert for help.
But interestingly, there are different ways that stonewalling might appear in your relationship.
- Intentional Stonewalling, and
- Unintentional Stonewalling.
In extreme cases, stonewalling is used for manipulating any situation, maintaining control of the relationship, and inflicting punishment. If you believe that your significant other is abusing you verbally, you need to talk to a therapist or counselor for advice.
Sometimes, stonewalling can also be a learned response that people use in order to cope with emotional or difficult issues. People who actually stonewall might do so in order to avoid escalating any fight or to just avoid discussing something uncomfortable. They might also be afraid of their significant other’s reaction.
Signs Or Examples Of Stonewalling:
A majority of the time, stonewalling within a romantic relationship can be easily spotted. However, it might also be really subtle, and you might not even realize that you or your romantic partner is engaging in this behavior, which is why you need stonewalling examples and signs to spot the same!
These examples are as follows,
- Walking out without any explanation.
- Coming up with weird reasons not to have a conversation.
- Refusing to give answers to questions that matter.
- Changing topics to avoid uncomfortable discussions.
- Ignoring what someone is trying to say.
- Instead of talking about problems, make accusations.
- Using different types of dismissive body language like closing or rolling their eyes.
- Engaging in different, passive-aggressive behaviors like procrastinating or stalling to avoid having a conversation without any problems.
- Refusing to acknowledge stonewalling behavior.
Why Do People Engage In Stonewalling?
There is no one-size-fits-everyone reason behind why people actually stonewall, and it can even take multiple forms. You cannot pinpoint one major reason behind what causes stonewalling.
Your partner might not like talking until they give it time to think, which is more like a pause, but it can still be hurtful. There is nothing wrong with taking a break so that you can compose yourself and then just re-visiting the whole issue once both parties are ready. But then that needs to be communicated clearly.
If your partner actually handles conflict by just going silent and not talking it out, it is possible they might not really have the skill set to communicate their emotions or just are not in the right headspace to even do that.
If that is really the case, the person who is stonewalling might not be doing the same intentionally or maliciously, for that matter, but that does not mean it is not frustrating to the person who is on the receiving end.
Stonewalling in a relationship can happen when an individual feels there’s absolutely zero hope for change and, as a result, will not talk about the problem. They feel that ignoring the problem can let the same subside and, as a result, allow time to pass for the ‘normal’ to eventually resume.
If someone does not see any solution to the conflict that two people are facing together, ideally, they would communicate the same to you and become willing to find the middle ground. But ignoring the problem altogether and just hoping it will pass away does not contribute proactively towards any solution.
Stonewalling can just look like your significant other is giving you the silent treatment, threatening the entire relationship dynamics, engaging in name-calling, placing blame on you, walking out, or creating power struggles.
Trying to find out how to stop stonewalling can prove to be incredibly frustrating, and you mightn’t even understand why your partner is even doing so, but relationships are different for everyone, and there are some ways to work through this problem.
How To Deal With Stonewalling Partners?
So, how to deal with stonewalling partners?
If your significant other ices you out or just make you feel really bad during a conflict, you should be comfortable enough to bring up the issue so that you can talk it out. If you are uncomfortable addressing the issue, then it is worth asking yourself why and what is the best thing you can do about the situation.
Is it sharing with a therapist? Is it going for couples therapy, maybe? Is it about walking away altogether? The only person who can define stonewalling in your relationship is you – only you know what your needs actually are.
Maybe you can come up with a ‘safe word’ when one partner feels like the other partner is stonewalling them. Before the situation gets out of control completely, and you come up with something regrettable, one of you has to say the safe word.
As per The Gottman Institute, one way to handle stonewalling is to take a break of twenty minutes from the entire conversation and do something on your own, like going for a walk and then going back to the conversation when you are ready.
While a break is fine, it is vital to communicate clearly with your partner that you are taking one – walking out without giving your partner any explanation is the opposite of healthy.
The truth is you can not force a stonewalling individual to have a conversation with you, just like you cannot force anyone to do anything at all, really. But you can definitely control how you reply, both while it is happening and in the long run.
Do not forget that while doing this, it is vital to think about yourself and honor your news as well.
So, how to respond to stonewalling within your relationship?
It is best to deal with this issue as one team. Whether you are being stonewalled or you are the stonewaller, you can’t isolate the stonewalling as the major problem. When you do so, you end up assigning blame, ending up diminishing the bigger issues in your relationship.
Because it is unlikely to succeed in a relationship without any collaboration and communication, you will need the right tools so that you can reprogram your former communication habits. While the emotional effects of stonewalling can be damaging to any relationship, it is not a problem you cannot overcome.
Once you and your partner identify practices or behaviors that cause stonewalling, you can try to learn to communicate in a way that is relatively more structured.
Here are some elements that might prove to be of help!
- Accepting feedback.
- Acknowledging mistakes and wrong perceptions.
- Acknowledging what has already been said instead of thinking about replies.
- Agreeing to have the conversation later when things start getting contentious.
- Being familiar with body language when the other individual speaks.
- Expressing an understanding of the situation and letting each individual reply.
- Decompressing before even approaching any contentious topic.
- Creating a safe space where nobody feels cornered.
- Setting a proper time to come back to the conversation once things settle down.
- Using neutral words and phrases instead of keeping things accusatory or critical in nature.
Wrapping Up: Can A Relationship Experiencing Stonewalling Be Saved?
So you know what does stonewalling means! The question then naturally is – can a relationship experiencing stonewalling be saved?
It is possible! Like any other relationship issue, stonewalling does not have to be a big deal-breaker if both partners can acknowledge what they are doing is absolutely unhealthy, identify the communication patterns that are unhealthy, and do what it really takes to rectify this behavior.
But this obviously takes practice and time. Plus, it is a two-way street. Perhaps, there is something that you are doing that makes your significant other feel like they have to engage in stonewalling, or perhaps it is a much more deep problem that your partner needs to discuss with an expert on their own.
Ultimately, stonewalling happens to be a complicated issue that does not have any overnight solution. The other communication styles can also be at play by either party or both parties – so it is best to work with an expert to identify these communication habits and, more importantly, how to get back on the right track.
For any relationship to become successful, both parties must learn to work through their problems in a healthy way that actually works for most people. You and your significant other both deserve peace, and if you work together, you can save your relationship.
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Barsha Bhattacharya is a senior content writing executive. As a marketing enthusiast and professional for the past 4 years, writing is new to Barsha. And she is loving every bit of it. Her niches are marketing, lifestyle, wellness, travel and entertainment. Apart from writing, Barsha loves to travel, binge-watch, research conspiracy theories, Instagram and overthink.