When put in a tough spot, people usually have two responses – fight or flight. In relationships too, when the going gets tough, some people choose to stay and face the music, and others completely shut down hoping to avoid a fight. When people, consciously or subconsciously, freeze up and put a wall between themselves and their problems or, in some cases their partners, it is known as stonewalling. At a glance, it may not seem like a big deal, but over time, it erodes a relationship. Whether it is you or your partner who stonewalls, communication takes a backseat, which leads to more problems.
What is stonewalling?
In the simplest of terms, stonewalling is when your partner gives you the silent treatment. Stonewalling is when a person refuses to cooperate with their partner, either ignoring or blatantly dismissing their concerns. When your partner refuses to communicate or engage in a conversation to solve the problem, know you are being stonewalled.
Why do people stonewall?
1. To punish someone
Stonewalling can be a form of abuse when one partner gives the other silent treatment in order to punish them.
2. Inability to express their feelings
Another reason why people stonewall is that they are incapable of expressing their emotions or they have been raised in an environment where people never talked about how they felt.
3. It’s easier to say nothing
It could also be because partners are looking for an easy way out when they are unsure about what to say and believe saying nothing is the best course of action.
4. As a defence mechanism
Some people also stonewall as a defence mechanism, because every time they tried to discuss their feelings, they were met with a negative reaction.
Stonewalling is usually a learned behaviour from the experiences one person has gone through. Though harmful, this is not abusive. But, if someone stonewalls with the intent of making their partner feel bad, then it crosses over to the emotional abuse realm.
Signs of stonewalling
- Your partner walks out in a middle of a conversation with no warning.
- They give you the silent treatment and avoid any form of verbal or non-verbal communication.
- They are dismissive of your concerns and keep telling you everything is fine.
- Your partner engages in passive-aggressive behaviour.
- Every time you want to discuss something, your partner gets busy with something else.
- They refuse to answer any of your questions, often behaving like you are not there or are invisible.
- Your partner gets accusatory every time they are criticised and turns it around to highlight your shortcomings.
How to stop stonewalling
1. Be self-aware
In case you are the one doing the stonewalling, you need to be aware of the signs. Take a note of how you respond to your partner, and if it is defensive and hurtful, take a step back. If you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed, acknowledge it and then move from there. If your partner is the one doing the stonewalling, acknowledge that you might not be the problem. Your partner could be overwhelmed and finding it difficult to communicate.
2. Take a break
When you feel overwhelmed and start displaying stonewalling behaviour, take a break. And if your partner is doing the same, signal for a time-out. It’s perfectly okay to tell your partner that you do not have the bandwidth for a conversation at this point. You can always revisit the conversation later. But make sure you let your partner know that you will be revisiting the conversation.
Stonewalling, unless done with the intent to hurt, is often a defence mechanism against criticism or what someone perceives as an injustice to them. So, while you may not be the problem, your partner may be reacting to what they perceive as extreme criticism of their actions. Empathise and don’t get patronising while conversing.
4. Don’t be accusatory
While conversing with your partner, don’t be accusatory. If you display accusatory behaviour, chances are your partner will shut down. So, communicate with the intent to solve a problem and not win an argument. Remember, it is you and your partner versus the problem and not you versus your partner.
5. Be accountable
If you are stonewalling, acknowledge it and work towards rectifying it. And if your behaviour has contributed to your partner stonewalling you, recognise it and work towards changing those behaviours. Taking accountability for your actions goes a long way in solving a problem and saving a relationship.
6. Get expert help
Sometimes, you can’t solve these problems yourself. In such a scenario, it is always a good idea to get expert help. There is no shame in visiting a couple’s counsellor or a therapist. In fact, that might just be the glue that strengthens your relationship.
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