In this article you will learn everything about stonewalling in relationships.
What is stonewalling, stonewalling examples, what stonewalling does to relationships and how to end stonewalling.
- What’s Stonewalling
- What Stonewalling Does to Relationships
- Stonewalling Examples In Relationships
- How to End Stonewalling
In Why Marriages Succeed or Fail John Gottman defines Stonewalling as one partner withdrawing from the conversation and stopping to engage.
Stonewalling is expressing in a variety of different ways:
- Turning around and looking away
- Silent treatment
- Physically leaving the room
- Refusing to answer or talking about the issue at hand
- Yelling to stop the conversation
Stonewalling often happens often as a consequence of flooding, such as feeling so overwhelmed that we can’t focus. But instead of exploding, the stonewaller implodes.
Stonewalling: An Holistic Overview
The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse predict divorce in more than 90% of the cases.
Who Stonewalls in Relationships
While criticism, contempt and defensiveness are gender neutral, stonewalling is mostly a male phenomenon. Men indeed comprise 85% of stonewallers cases.
Why is it more men?
Stonewalling Explained Through Evolution
The reason is because of evolution, as Gottman explains in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.
Women produce more milk when they’re relaxed and oxytocin flows in the brains. So self soothing during tense situation was advantageous for women.
Men instead survived more frequently in the wild when they quickly accessed their fight or flight response -a great state to survive but a terrible one to talk things out-.
Still to this day that holds true: men get flooded more quickly it takes them longer to soothe and relax.
When Stonewalling Spells Relationship Doom
Shirley Glass, author of Not Just Friends, says that when wives complain about a lack of emotional intimacy they are still committed to the relationship.
But when they start withdrawing and stonewalling, it’s a sign that they have become discouraged and are giving up.
Funny enough, men are happy about it in the beginning as they believe the nagging has stopped and have finally won some respite. But it’s a false sense of security: often the relationship is about to end.
Why Partners Stonewall
There can be different reasons why a partner stonewalls, including:
- He can’t take it anymore (honest flooding)
- To willingly hurt or win an argument (a power move)
- Fear or unwillingness to vulnerably engage (avoidant strategy)
- Feeling of complete powerlessness
- To avoid further escalation
The last one is particularly interesting. Many stonewallers indeed erroneously believe that by withdrawing they are doing their part to make things better.
But they couldn’t be farther from the truth.
What Stonewalling Does to Relationships
When women stonewall, it frustrates men.
But it’s worst when men stonewall women. Laboratory studies show that when men stonewall women’s heart rate jumps (Levenson & Gottman, 1985).
Stonewalling is indeed emotionally painful for women and damages relationships in the following ways:
A partner who refuses to answer can lead the other partner to see their engagement with more and more vehemence. The result is an escalation of the conflict.
And bitter feelings for both: the wife aggresses to reconnect, and he is more and more indignant by her reaction.
2. Unsolved Problems
Checking out prevents any possible solution to problems.
3. Emotional Disconnection
With one partner fails to fully engage there can be no emotional connection. And emotional connections are the bedrock of good relationships.
4. Sense of Hopelessness
When stonewalling becomes the norm, the couple loses the ability to talk and solve problems. A sense of hopelessness about the relationship sets in, and that’s the death of the relationship.
Stonewalling Examples In Relationships
And here are a few examples of stonewalling in relationships:
#1. Spread: The Avoidant Stonewalling
Kutcher has a typical avoidant attachment style in the movie Spread. And like many avoidants, he distances himself from relationships when they start getting too serious.
Stonewalling is one of their ways to keep emotional distance:
He stonewalls when he leaves.
But notice how by avoiding defensiveness when he’s under attack he manages to stop the escalation.
#2. Spread: Defensive Stonewalling
This is an example of stonewalling with a mix of defensiveness and emotional overload. Both the critique and the emotional intensity of “I love you” were too much for him to handle.
Stonewalling after someone opens up their heart is, needless to say, one of the worst moments to leave.
#3. SATC: Emotional Overload
This is a more hidden, under the radar example of stonewalling in a relationship. But at the core, he couldn’t handle her emotions.
If anything, this is a sneakier form of stonewalling in relationships.
By giving an appearance of caring in the beginning, he makes it seem as if she is overreacting (which she probably is, BTW :).
#4. The Godfather: Aggressive Stonewalling
Stonewalling isn’t always and necessarily peaceful and quiet.
Trying to forcefully stop the conversation is also a form of stonewalling, as exemplified here:
Godfather: “I don’t wanna hear about it. OVER!”
Maybe not an accident that her first comment after his aggressive stonewalling is “I feel no love for you anymore”.
#5. Blow: When Stonewalling Escalates
Albeit this example is way overblown (excuse the pun) as it involves drug usage, it’s an example of escalation following stonewalling.
She’s still a crazy, low value woman, but if he had fully engaged her, the escalation might have not happened.
6. Crazy Stupid Love: Powerless Stonewalling
In this example he feels so powerless to listen and engage that he goes out of his way to end the interaction (another pun, sorry :).
Now that’s some high commitment to stonewalling :).
I don’t want to overload this post with too many examples, but if you’re interested check out again Cal Weaver, later in that same movie he uses another stonewalling technique: pretending not to hear and talking about something else.
How to End Stonewalling
Once you understand that stonewalling damages your relationship, here’s what you can do to combat it:
1. Stop arguing
If you notice your partner stonewalls, stop arguing because it will only get worse. Tell him you both need a break instead.
2. Call a break if you stonewall
If it’s you who stonewalls, heed the signs. Such as, when you feel your heart rate increasing, diminishing focus and defensiveness kicking in, that’s the moment to call a break.
Here’s a few things you can say:
- I want to listen to you but this is getting too intense for me. Let’s take a break and resume in 20 minutes
- I feel like I’m about to blow up and I don’t wanna blow up to you. Give me please a few minutes to recollect
- I can’t handle this anymore, please help me soothe and then we’ll continue
3. Practice self soothing
Gottman says men are more likely to think negatively about their partner during the break. But it’s paramount you don’t do that and take your mind to neutral state instead.
Some good activities during the break include:
- Reading a magazine or book
- Take a walk around
- Listen to music
It’s important that you only go back once we are fully calm, and it usually takes more than we think. Stay 5 minutes longer in the break after you already feel fully calm.
4. Trust yourself and engage
Finally, trust yourself that you can handle emotional arguments. And the more you do it, the better you become.
And remind yourself that engaging is good everyone: for you, for your partner, and for your relationship.
Stonewalling is a refusal of engaging with our partner.
It leaves our partner feeling ignored in the best case, and it actively hurts our partner and escalates the fight in the worst cases.
And of course, it prevents from actually solving the issue.
In the long run, it leads to emotional death and hopelessness.
In this article, you have learned what’s stonewalling and what you can do to deal with stonewalling in your relationship.
- The magical relationship ratio of 5:1
- Develop intimacy by getting to know your partner
- How build emotional connection
- Get a positive perspective
- Decrease combativeness by accepting influence
- Learn conflict management skills
- How to move past combativeness
- Don’t say mean things: they always leave bad scars
Or in one go, get the relationship manual: