Interpersonal conflict is tough. Learn what stonewalling in a relationship is, why it's harmful, and how to get through it so you can go forward with your life.
What is stonewalling in a relationship? Stonewalling is a behavior in which a person completely withdraws from a conversation or interaction with their partner, often in response to a conflict or disagreement. This might take the form of complete silence, complete avoidance, or terse remarks that betray little emotion or desire to continue the conversation.
If the other person feels ignored, disregarded, or dismissed as a result of stonewalling, the relationship is likely to suffer. Also, it might put people at an emotional distance from one another and spark additional arguments or animosity.
When people are feeling pressured, anxious, or emotionally overwhelmed, they may resort to stonewalling as a defense mechanism. It’s possible they’re trying to shield themselves from the risk of feeling too exposed or vulnerable during a challenging talk.
What Is Stonewalling in a Relationship? Real-Life Scenarios
Stonewalling occurs more often than people realize, therefore it’s crucial to know how to spot it when you encounter it. Here are some concrete examples of stonewalling in a relationship:
- Refusing to communicate: Completely withdrawing from and avoiding all dialogue with one’s partner, regardless of the topic. When their partner tries to interact with them, they respond with one word or ignore them completely.
- Minimizing or ignoring feelings: When one partner downplays or dismisses the sentiments of the other, it can leave the target feeling unheard or unimportant. ”You’re overreacting” and “It’s not that big of a deal” are two classic standbys.
- Silence: As a form of punishment or control, one partner may choose to remain mute toward their spouse via ”the silent treatment”. Several hours, if not days, may pass in stillness like this.
- Avoiding eye contact: By avoiding eye contact with their spouse during a conversation, partners might create emotional space between themselves and their relationship.
- Withholding intimate and physical contact: In addition to avoiding verbal communication, stonewalling can manifest itself through avoiding physical contact with the other person. When one partner reaches for the other’s hand or body, the other may flinch or draw away.
It is crucial to keep in mind that these are some classic examples of stonewalling. Stonewalling in a relationship can show itself in various forms and ways — sometimes clear, sometimes subtle.
Why Do People Do It?
When people stonewall in relationships, it’s usually because they’re feeling defensive, overwhelmed, or emotionally overloaded. These are some of the most frequent explanations for why people refuse to engage:
- Emotionally overwhelmed: Anxiety or stress can make it hard for a person to keep up with a discussion or encounter. To cope with their feelings and restore composure, they may believe they need to isolate themselves.
- Turning defensive: Stonewalling is a defensive strategy employed by certain people when they believe they are being attacked or criticized. To avoid saying something they’ll later regret or getting deeper into a fight, they may feel they have no choice except to withdraw emotionally.
- Avoidance: Some people may stonewall in order to avoid having to deal with an uncomfortable topic or direct confrontation. They could think the issue will go away if they just ignore it or withdraw from it.
- Fear of what will happen next: Feelings may get in the way of rational thought and action, and tempers can reach a fever pitch in the heat of an argument. As a coping mechanism for dealing with these powerful feelings, or preventing further escalation, some people may resort to stonewalling.
- Lack of communication skills: A person who has not developed good methods of communicating may find it difficult to express oneself. They may refuse to engage in conversation because they are at a loss for words. They may have been raised in a home where arguments were not discussed and could have some inner resistance about breaking through this barrier.
- Control: The last, and certainly the most insidious reason.
How to Work Through Stonewalling Together
If you or your partner is prone to stonewalling, it is critical to concentrate on creating healthier communication practices and finding constructive ways to resolve disagreements. Here are some helpful tips for dealing with stonewalling in a relationship:
- Recognition: Understanding when stonewalling is happening is the first step towards overcoming it. Both partners should be able to spot the signs of stonewalling and address them with intention.
- Give each other a break: It might be beneficial to take a break when one partner is experiencing an emotional overload. However, both partners should set a time when to talk about the topic again.
- Active listening: Paying close attention to what a partner is saying, can make them feel validated and understood. This can lead to a safe and trusting feeling in terms of communication with the partner.
- “I” statements: Making “I” statements instead of “You” statements can prevent the other person from getting defensive, but motivate them to actively listen.
- Professional help: There is no shame in getting professional help in a relationship and if stonewalling keeps happening despite all efforts, it might be beneficial to do so. Couples counseling or individual therapy may assist couples in resolving underlying problems and learning healthier ways of communication.
In the end, stonewalling can only be really overcome if both partners pull on the same end of the rope. Commitment and developing a safe space for communication together can lead to a deep emotional connection between two partners.
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