“Just leave me alone…”
“Do whatever you want…”
“Get out of my face…”
“I’ve had it!”
“Has your partner, friend or family member ever ignored you when you tried to have an important discussion or addressed something significant to them? Have you ever been silenced by a toxic person’s silent treatment? You may have experienced what is known as “stonewalling.”
According to researcher Dr. Gottman, there are “four men of the apocalypse” or four communication styles in a relationship that can predict its inevitable demise. These are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
Stonewalling is when a person withdraws from a conversation or discussion and refuses to address your concerns. The person may choose to outright ignore your requests, respond with dismissive, invalidating replies or evade responding appropriately altogether by giving vague responses that refuse to answer your original questions.
In many cases, when one partner stonewalls another, the conversation is shut down before it even has a chance to begin.”
— Shahida Arabi
You can call it the silent treatment, being frozen out, or stonewalling. It’s what happens in romantic relationships or workplace settings when someone refuses to discuss important issues. They tune you out, give you one-word answers, walk away, or change the subject.
“The best description I’ve read of stonewalling comes from, Jeffrey J. Pipe, PsyD.”In relationships, stonewalling is the emotional equivalent to cutting off someone’s oxygen. The emotional detachment inherent to stonewalling is a form of abandonment and the effect that it has on a spouse is dramatic. The initial feelings of terror which are usually below the water line of awareness are typically followed by secondary feelings of anger and, then, aggressive efforts to get some emotional reaction any emotional reaction even a negative one. And when these efforts fail, the internal response for your spouse is predictable. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t love me. He’s left me.”
— Margarita Tartakovsky
It can be especially frustrating and distressing when it happens with someone you love. In fact, many relationship experts believe stonewalling is a major contributor to divorce.
Is stonewalling an issue in your relationship?
If so, you’re encouraged to read on and discover that there is a way out. That changing the way you communicate is your solution. That there are strategies you can try for understanding and responding to a partner who stonewalls you.
Even when the external behavior looks the same, there can be many different reasons behind stonewalling. Knowing the causes can help you to respond effectively.
Try these techniques to figure out the cause:
✒ Look back.
Your partner may be trying to protect themselves because they feel overwhelmed.
This can be due to patterns they developed in childhood if they were raised in a family where feelings were seldom discussed.
✒ Recognize manipulation.
On the other hand, your partner may be trying to punish or control you.
Ask yourself if there are other signs of abuse in your relationship.
✒ Cool down.
Distinguish between taking a brief break to calm down during an argument and prolonged stonewalling.
A short and strategic time out can be beneficial.
Responding To Stonewalling
While it’s natural to feel resentful and try to draw your partner out, you could be making the situation worse.
These alternatives are more likely to bring about the breakthrough you want:
✒ Express compassion.
While being frozen out is uncomfortable for you, remember that your partner is suffering too.
Be sensitive to their insecurities and reassure them of your love.
✒ Engage with each other.
If there is growing distance between you, it may help to start reconnecting gradually.
Put aside deeper issues temporarily and go for a relaxing walk together or go catch a movie.
✒ Make yourself accessible.
Let your partner know that you’re available to talk when they’re ready.
Be supportive rather than aggressive.
✒ Stop nagging.
Resist the urge to nag or yell to try to make your partner talk.
Pushing them too hard is likely to backfire.
✒ Work on communication skills.
To overcome your differences, you both may need to strengthen your communication skills.
Practice listening, giving feedback, and monitoring your body language.
✒ Offer forgiveness.
In order to heal, you’ll need to pardon each other for your past grievances.
Remember that forgiveness helps you as much as the other person.
✒ Take care of yourself.
A strained relationship can take a heavy toll on your mental and physical health.
Ensure that you eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get adequate sleep.
✒ Manage stress.
If possible, find ways to reduce sources of chronic tension.
If finances are tight, look for a second job or cut back on expenses.
If you have frequent arguments about parenting, clarify your priorities and set ground rules.
✒ Go for counseling.
Couples counseling is ideal, but you and your partner may also want to speak with a therapist individually.
You can find support and explore your options on your own or together.
In the early stages, you may also be more comfortable speaking with a professional rather than each other.
✒ Move on.
If you find that your relationship is unlikely to meet your needs, you may need to let go.
That’s especially true if other signs of abuse are present.
Focus on the valuable lessons you’ve learned and build a brighter future.
Stonewalling can make you feel isolated and helpless, but
there is a way out.
If you and your partner are willing to change the way you relate to each other, you may be able to reconnect and build a healthier relationship.