One of the most clichéd advice dispensed for a happy and healthy relationship is good communication between you and your partner. In an ideal world, you and your partner would be able to talk to each other about everything and convey what you’re feeling at any moment without any misunderstanding. But, sadly, we do not live in an ideal world and communication issues between partners are very common.
One of the most common, and oftentimes overlooked, issues is when one partner completely shuts the other out and puts a metaphorical wall between them. The practice has been officially coined as ‘stonewalling’. Noted American psychologist Dr. John Gottman, of The Gottman Institute, calls stonewalling one of the ‘Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse’ or the four communication patterns that can lead to the end of a relationship.
Aside from stonewalling, the other patterns are criticism, contempt, and defensiveness.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what stonewalling means and everything that you should know about dealing with it in your relationship…
What is stonewalling?
Stonewalling is not talking to someone, giving someone the silent treatment, or even not talking about a subject to avoid confrontation. As the name suggests, it is when your partner builds a metaphorical stone wall between the two of you and hinders any healthy communication to resolve conflict.
Oftentimes, stonewalling is used as a manipulation tactic. Experts claim that some people can use stonewalling as a convoluted way to see how much their partner cares about them. By not answering text messages or giving the other the silent treatment, the stonewaller can see what all efforts the other one makes to get them to talk or evoke an emotional response from them.
However, experts also agree that sometimes stonewalling is a result of the stonewaller feeling overwhelmed and lacking the proper communication tools to convey that to their partner. Your partner might not want to talk to you about the issue until they’ve had time to think about it or introspect on it. But even then, not conveying this to your partner is unhealthy and a sign of stonewalling.
What are the signs of stonewalling?
If you want to know whether your partner is stonewalling you or not, here are a few common signs of the practice:
- Your partner walks out or ends the conversation in the middle without any explanation.
- They refuse to talk to you about the issue or give any reasons as to why they don’t want to talk about it.
- They give you the silent treatment for extended periods of time.
- They dismiss your concerns when you bring them up.
How to deal with stonewalling?
Whether your partner is doing it maliciously or not, stonewalling is a legitimate issue and your frustration at being on the receiving end of it is absolutely valid. Once you’ve recognised the signs of being stonewalled in a relationship, you should bring it up with your partner. If you feel uncomfortable about bringing it up with your partner, take time to introspect about why you might be feeling that way.
This would also be a good time to seek professional help from a relationship therapist to help you navigate this.
If you’re someone who gets emotionally overwhelmed easily, do not ignore (or stonewall) your partner if they’re trying to talk to you about something that is uncomfortable for you. Gottman suggests taking a break from the conversation and going for a walk to clear your head. However, it’s important that you convey to your partner that you’re taking a break and not ignoring their issue or the conversation. A helpful way to do this is by agreeing on a neutral safeword with your partner for when you would need a break from talking about the subject so that they know you’re not ignoring them.
Can a relationship be saved after stonewalling?
Yes. While there’s no overnight fix for stonewalling, experts agree that stonewalling doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a relationship. This is possible, however, only if both partners are willing to acknowledge that there’s a communication issue that needs to be solved and are on the same page.
Disclaimer: This article is based on research. It’s always best to seek professional help and advice for issues related to mental health and relationships.