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What is stonewalling and how to respond to it

woman stonewalling

What is stonewalling 

Stonewalling is a communication tactic that involves refusing to communicate or cooperate. This can be used as a way to avoid conflict, defuse tension, or stall for time. 

When someone is stonewalling, they may become unresponsive, evasive, or even hostile. 

This can make it difficult to resolve disagreements or come to an agreement on something.

According to google, the stonewalling definition is: ‘the delaying or obstruction of a request, process, or person by evasive behaviour.

The term “stonewalling” comes from the image of a person sitting on a stone wall, refusing to move or communicate. 

In a relationship, stonewalling is the act of shutting down emotionally and withdrawing from interaction. It is a way of deflecting conflict and creating distance.

Basically, it is when someone is literally shutting off and they build an imaginary wall around them, to protect themselves from their partner or the person who is talking to them. 

Because it is not obvious what and why they are doing it, their partner might misinterpret this behaviour becoming more and more annoyed and upset. 

They are withdrawing, either in themselves or physically, from the conversation leaving the other partner, oftentimes frustrated. 

However, this also can also be a manipulation tactic. 

What is stonewalling in a relationship

Stonewalling in relationships is a concept promoted by Dr John Gottman. It refers to one of the 4 main horsemen, or reasons, why a relationship is bound to end. 

Dr John Gottman is a psychologist from America that has done extensive research on finding out what are the main causes of divorce. 

And stonewalling is one of them and the most serious one. Once this has become a habit, it needs a great deal of work to be done, to save the relationship. 

Conflicts arise when people have different needs, wants, or perspectives. 

When someone stonewalls during a conflict, they are effectively saying that they do not want to resolve the issue. This can be hurtful and frustrating for the other person involved. 

If stonewalling becomes a habit in a relationship, it can lead to feelings of disconnection and resentment.

Whatever the reason, stonewalling is not a healthy way to deal with conflict. It will only damage the relationship and lead to further conflicts down the road. 

If you find yourself resorting to stonewalling in your relationships, it is important that you take action to let this habit go. It also is important to seek help from a therapist or counselor who can help you learn healthier ways of dealing with conflict.

With help, you can learn how to communicate in a way that doesn’t shut down your partner and you can begin to rebuild trust and intimacy in your relationship.

Stonewalling is a form of emotional shutdown where one partner withdraws from the relationship and refuses to communicate. It is a way of protecting oneself from emotional hurt, but it is used as a form of control. When one partner stonewalls, it creates an atmosphere of tension and mistrust.

Stonewalling can also be a manipulative tactic that should be avoided in any kind of relationship. If you find yourself being stonewalled, it is important to trust your instincts and set boundaries accordingly.

Stonewalling is destructive because it prevents couples from resolving conflict in a healthy way. When one partner withdraws, the other is left feeling unheard and alone. This can lead to resentment, bitterness, and a feeling of being trapped in the relationship.

Signs of Stonewalling 

There are certain signs that can let us know if our partner, or even ourselves, are stone walling. 

In order for someone to stone wall, it doesn’t mean that they have all these signs. They can have 1 or 2, or even all 5, but that is not the case for each situation. 

The degrees of stonewalling differ as well, depending on the severity of the situation and how many of these, and other, stonewalling techniques they use. 

Some of the most common signs of stone walling are: 

  1. Not engaging in conversation or argument, as if you’re not there

  1. Leaving you mid-sentence and going somewhere else

  1. If not leaving, then ‘zoning out’, looking through you as if you’re not there. And you can tell their mind is on something else and not even listening

  1. Changes the topic suddenly and without warning

  1. Starts talking about something unrelated

  1. Refusing bluntly to talk about the subject, often times without any explanation 

  1. Giving one-word answers

  1. Not remembering the conversation later on when reminded

  1. Silent treatment towards their partner

  1. Blaming their partner for everything 

  1. Using ‘I’ statements, instead of ‘WE’

If you notice any of these signs in your relationship, it’s possible that stonewalling is occurring.

If you’re not sure, the best thing to do is talk to your partner about it directly. However, be prepared for them to deny any wrongdoing or dismiss your concerns entirely.

That doesn’t mean that they’re not doing it. 

Continue reading to find out how to stop stonewalling when you notice it. 

man stonewalling his partner

What causes stonewalling 

Stonewalling is often a symptom of larger issues, such as unresolved childhood trauma or untreated mental illness. It can also be a learned behavior; if one or both partners grew up in homes where stonewalling was common, they may be more likely to do it themselves.

Below are some of the most common reasons and explanations for why people are stonewalling:

  1. One of the main reasons for stonewalling is when they get overwhelmed by the marital or relationship issues they face. And they’re looking for a way out of the difficult conversations. 

Just because they have a reason for stonewalling it is still not making it a valid and desired option to use in difficult situations. 

  1. Another reason might be that they simply don’t know how to deal with their feelings and how to express them. 

For example if the partner who is stonewalling is not used to talking about their feelings and emotions, they will stonewall as they will simply not know how to express their feelings. 

They will shut down, because they simply don’t have the capability to express what it is that they are feeling. They have never been taught how to express hurt, or anger, and sometimes not even love. 

  1. Other times the reason for stonewalling might be that this is something they’ve learned, early on in their childhood. And they’ve seen this work, whenever in conflict. As this will put a pause to the conflict. 

If they grew up witnessing parents argue and seeing that one of them was stonewalling the other, they’ve probably picked that habit up as they’ve seen it is a, although temporary, solution to ending the conflict.

 

Obviously this is not helpful to the relationship long term, but if it stopped the arguing and shouting, it is understandable why a child might think that THAT is a good strategy. 

  1. Another reason might be because they don’t want to hurt their partner, but also don’t know how to communicate effectively and efficiently. They might see that their partner is very upset already and it is less likely that whatever they say will make things any better. 

We often think that we know how to communicate with each other. The reality however is that we actually don’t know how to do it effectively. Most situations, especially when it comes to relationships, need a different kind of communication, than the normal day to day one. 

And I know some of you might roll your eyes at me, because you already have so many things on your mind that you don’t want to be given another chore. 

However, when I was in my corporate role and I was going through management training, I was taught the importance of effective communication. 

It was during that period of time when it clicked: If people would be aware of the effective communication skills, they could actually use it in their relationships too. So many people would end up being happier and more fulfilled with their partners.

  1. Another cause of stonewalling might be manipulation. By stonewalling one can manipulate by withdrawing crucial information, or even gaslighting the other person and tricking them into thinking that they are wrong and should feel guilty for it, and not the person doing the stonewalling. 

  1. And sometimes it might just be a simple case of being tired and not having the physical energy that a heated discussion requires. Or a good explanation of what happened or hasn’t happened. 

How to respond to Stonewalling

  1. Try to understand why they are behaving this way. 

If they are feeling overwhelmed, see if there is anything you can do to help them feel more comfortable.

 

If they are trying to control you, have a conversation about what their intentions are and why that is not healthy for the relationship.

Sometimes firmness is needed, even if it would upset the person who is stone walling. 

  1. Don’t take it personally. It is important to remember that their behaviour is not about you. It is about them and how they are choosing to deal with the situation.

Be aware of the fact that they might try to make this about you and your behaviour. When in fact it is their actions that are leading to stonewalling. 

  1. Don’t enable their behaviour by continuing to communicate with them when they refuse to talk to you. 

This will only reinforce their belief that they can get away with this type of behavior. And will continue doing it for longer periods of time. 

  1. Set boundaries with them. 

Let them know what type of behaviour is acceptable and what is not. 

If they continue to stonewall you after you have set these boundaries, then it may be necessary to take further action such as ending the relationship.

Stonewalling can be frustrating and hurtful, but there are ways to deal with it. By understanding why the person is behaving this way and setting boundaries, you can start to take back control of the situation.

woman stonewalling her partner

Why does it seem like men are more likely to engage in stonewalling than women?

It’s no secret that men and women communicate differently. 

Women tend to be more verbal than men and are more likely to share their feelings and emotions. 

Men, on the other hand, are more likely to bottle things up and avoid talking about their feelings. This difference in communication styles can often lead to conflict, especially when one person is trying to get the other to open up and share what’s going on.

What is interesting about stonewalling is that this is something that men do more often than women. According to Dr Gottman’s studies, 85% of stonewallers are men and only the rest are women. 

Although men are the ones stonewalling more often, it seems to affect women psychologically, more than men. Men don’t seem to be as bothered by it. 

An explanation offered by Dr Gottman relates to the primal instinct of ‘flight’ if they cannot ‘fight’ it. 

Although men don’t seem bothered by the stonewalling itself, one of the main reasons why they do it is because they feel very attacked by their partner and tend to be more overwhelmed by ‘marital difficulties’. Therefore this is a way of defending themselves. 

Not the most effective way, however it does remove the immediate perceived threat. 

All of us stonewall at one point or another in our relationship. But this becomes quite toxic if it is done habitually. 

One way that men deal with conflict is by stonewalling. Stonewalling is when someone shuts down emotionally and refuses to communicate. It’s a way of avoidance and can often make the situation worse.

So why do men seem to stonewall more than women? There are a few theories. One is that men are socialized to believe that they should be strong and stoic. They’re taught that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. As a result, they bottle things up instead of dealing with them.

Another theory is that men are more likely to react aggressively when they’re feeling emotional pain. When faced with conflict, they may lash out instead of trying to talk through the issue. 

This can be a self-protective mechanism, as it allows them to avoid feeling vulnerable.

Whatever the reason, stonewalling is not an effective way to deal with conflict. It only makes the situation worse and can lead to further communication breakdowns. 

If you’re in a relationship with someone who tends to stonewall, try to encourage them to open up and communicate more openly about their feelings. 

It takes time and patience, but it’s worth it in the end.

Conclusion

Stonewalling is a form of communication in which one person deliberately withholds information or refuses to communicate with another.

It can be used as a way to control the flow of information, manipulate the conversation, or simply avoid conflict.

While stonewalling may seem like an effective way to handle difficult conversations, it often leads to more misunderstandings and frustration.

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