8 Examples of Stonewalling in a Relationship
Conflict will arise in any relationship, but what defines your and your partner’s strength as a couple is how you manage it. Couples who approach the problem as a team while listening and empathizing with one another will grow closer together. Partners who stonewall, on the other hand, may only see the conflict get worse. Stonewalling is a major communication issue that many couples face, especially if one or both partners struggle with conflict resolution. To prevent your relationship from suffering as a result of stonewalling, you should understand what stonewalling is and what it looks like.
What Is Stonewalling?
Stonewalling is an unhealthy coping mechanism used to avoid conflict in a relationship. Instead of facing the situation directly, the stonewaller puts their walls up, shuts down, and withdraws. They refuse to discuss or acknowledge the issue, and they do everything in their power to distance themselves from the conflict. To the other person in the relationship, stonewalling looks like their partner is completely ignoring them and shutting them out.
Stonewalling usually develops as a defense mechanism. If you have a tendency to stonewall, you may feel like you desperately need to escape when you see a conflict arising. This could result from past issues with conflict or a lack of opportunity to develop your conflict resolution skills.
Sometimes, stonewalling happens because you feel stuck and you know that you can’t engage productively with your partner. When you expect that engaging with them will lead to a fight, you may shut down and ignore them because it’s the easier option. Stonewalling is common in toxic relationships and when partners are growing apart and nearing the end of their time together. Psychologist John Gottman even lists stonewalling as one of the “Four Horsemen” signaling the end of a relationship.
8 Examples of Stonewalling
Stonewalling will take a severe toll on your relationship. Whether it happens because you’re uncomfortable with conflict or because you’re at the end of your rope with your partner, stonewalling drives a wedge and causes intense frustration. By recognizing the signs of stonewalling in a relationship, you create an opportunity for you and your partner to get back on track. The following are some key examples of stonewalling:
Silence is the most classic form of stonewalling in a relationship. When you start telling your partner about something that upsets you, they say nothing. When you bring up a topic that they don’t want to discuss, they shut down. You know that they can hear you, but they’re just not responding. The silent treatment can be incredibly painful and confusing, and it can make you hesitant to ever bring up your concerns again.
2. Avoiding Eye Contact
Eye contact can feel very vulnerable, so a stonewaller may avoid eye contact when you bring up something they don’t want to discuss. You try to catch your partner’s eye so that you can connect with them, but they avoid looking at you at all costs. This is their attempt to distance themselves from the conversation.
3. Avoidant Body Language
In addition to avoiding eye contact, stonewallers may show other signs of avoidance. Your partner may physically turn away from you when you speak to them, or they might take a few steps back to put more space in between the two of you. Avoidant body language can be a sign that your partner is trying to emotionally and physically distance themselves.
4. Leaving the Room
Sometimes, stonewallers physically remove themselves from the situation to avoid the conflict. If you struggle with stonewalling, you might feel a physical impulse to run away when your partner brings up an issue. Conflict activates a fight or flight response in some people, so leaving the room is a common response.
5. Changing the Subject
Stonewalling doesn’t always involve shutting down, going silent, or running away. Your partner might continue to engage with you, but they’ll try to change the subject. As you start speaking about something that concerns you, your partner interrupts with a completely random statement. When you try to redirect the conversation back to your point, they continue to deflect.
6. Acting Busy
When you don’t want to face conflict with your partner, you may try to make yourself unavailable by acting busy. As they bring up an uncomfortable subject, you get up from your chair and start doing the dishes. Not only does this give you an excuse not to talk to your partner, but it also gives you something else to focus on.
Deflecting is a common and destructive stonewalling tactic. Instead of listening and responding to your concerns, your partner turns it around on you. They might bring up another issue or make accusations toward you to deflect from the matter at hand.
8. Making Excuses
When stonewalling, you may try to make every excuse you possibly can not to face the conflict. There are a thousand reasons why now isn’t the right time to have the conversation. You don’t have time to talk, or you’re not in the right headspace to talk. While there are always valid reasons to get some space before having a serious conversation, a stonewaller will make excuses just to avoid the situation.
Overcoming Stonewalling with Couples Therapy
Stonewalling is often a sign that a relationship is suffering, but it doesn’t mean you and your partner are doomed. Improving your communication is the best way to maintain a happy, healthy relationship. If you and your partner feel stuck, couples therapy may be the answer.
When one or both partners stonewall, learning to manage conflict and communicate openly on your own can be tough. Shutting down becomes so habitual that any attempt to work through the problem may just result in more stonewalling. A counselor will help facilitate an honest, productive discussion so that you and your partner can start learning how to communicate with one another.
Menachem Psychotherapy Group offers counseling services for couples who are struggling with stonewalling and other relationship issues. If you’re looking for a couples therapist in Los Angeles, reach out to us today.