What is stonewalling? the conflict style that can ruin relationships over time

Every intimate relationship will experience conflict at some point. As long as the conflict is handled healthily, it is okay. But stonewalling is dangerous.

We encounter relationship problems when we engage in destructive styles. For example, one person can stonewall in response to conflict, which is known as going silent.

You may have experienced it, whether you were the stonewaller or the stonewalled. We all experience destructive styles at times.

However, stonewalling damages relationships by erecting walls if it persists. The deal can be abusive in extreme cases.

Even if I have stonewalled and been stonewalled. Though I still shut down sometimes when my partner and I disagree, I have learned to identify behaviors and change my approach.

Let us discuss together: what is stonewalling the conflict style that can ruin relationships over time.

How does stonewalling in relationships work?


One typical response to stressful situations is stonewalling, also called silent treatment.

During conflict or disagreement, stonewalling is the act of withdrawing from communication and building a wall between yourself and the other person, says trauma-informed therapist Ludine Pierre.

According to her, conflicts can leave you emotionally drained or cause uncomfortable physiological responses.

Currently, Pierre explains to MBG that it might look like ignoring your partner, tuning them to talk, or engaging in another activity to create emotional distance.

Stonewalling: Why People Do It?

Stonewalling Why People Do It

Physiological and emotional flooding leads to stonewalling. Conflict is often accompanied by high emotions, which raise the heart rate, cause stress hormones to be released, and trigger a fight or flight response.

People’s ability to reason is impaired when fighting or fleeing. The stonewaller may completely shut down to protect and soothe themselves.

85% of men who stonewall in heterosexual relationships are men, according to Gottman’s research.

So it makes sense if these obsessive behaviors are more common in men since boys are socialized not to express their feelings.

Those who stonewall may:

  • They are unable to regulate their emotions.
  • They fear expressing their feelings may cause them to lose control.
  • They believe they’re avoiding conflict to protect the relationship
  • Withdraw so that they can rebalance their nervous system
  • The following section discusses how stonewalling can sometimes be abusive and manipulative.

Symptoms of stonewalling

Stonewalling may be characterized by the following signs:

  • Inaction.
  • Ignorance.
  • Switching topics.
  • Blaming instead of discussing.
  • Getting angry.
  • Not answering questions.
  • Irresponsible behavior.
  • Inability to listen.
  • Acting busy.
  • Disengagement.
  • Self-distraction.
  • Nonchalance.
  • Dismissive body language such as eye contact.


A variety of factors can lead to stonewalling.

One partner’s desire to hurt the other is not always the cause of stonewalling.

It is sometimes a sign that a person has nothing else to say. Others do it because they fear rejection or abandonment. Some people, however, use intentional stonewalling when they’re angry.

Some of the reasons for stonewalling are:

  • Hopelessness in finding a resolution to the dispute.
  • They believe their partner will not resolve the conflict or wishes to continue the argument in an unproductive way.
  • Trying to reduce stress.
  • Fearing what may happen.
  • Afraid of the reaction of a partner.
  • They believe they lack the resources or capability to tackle the topic.
  • Conflict avoidance.
  • The belief that avoiding a conflict will make it go away.
  • Their stance as “neutral” and their partner as “emotional” or “irrational.”
  • Stonewalling is often a healthy way of getting what one wants by manipulating the situation.

Relationship Effects

Stonewalling has the potential to damage any relationship. Stonewallers often feel demeaned or abused. Sometimes, they even start to believe that they are unworthy.

Furthermore, excluding someone usually worsens the creative problem-solving it was intended to solve key predictors.

In a confrontation, regrettable things are said and done that is regrettable because of either force or frustration.

How to Deal with Stonewalling

How to Deal with Stonewalling

Considering that overcoming stonewalling is a response to emotional flooding, Gottman posits that the antidote to it is self-soothing.

Be aware of the situation.

Increased heart rate and body tension are signs of flooding. Likewise, watch for signs of high emotion or overwhelm in you or the other person.

Ask for a break.

You cannot expect constructive communication if you or your partner are in a fight or flight mode.

Instead, you should ask for cues such as, “I feel overwhelmed…” or, “I feel dismissed… let’s pause a moment,” so that you can calm down before communicating.

It’s helpful if you both know this is a pattern to agree on this cue before the couples counseling. Also, it can be suggested during a conflict resolution process information.

Accept returning.

Avoid conflict from being swept under the rug for the sake of your relationship. When you separate from the other person, let them know you will revisit the communication later.

In addition, you will be affirming that you do not abandon their feelings.

Soothe yourself.

It takes Gottman’s research at least 20 minutes for a person to reach a state of equilibrium.

The important thing here is to take the time to do something entirely different to decompress rather than replay the events to avoid conflict repeatedly since that will only keep you in a state of stress. For example, consider taking a walk or reading a book.

Show empathy in your communications.

It is better to emphasize emotions over a partner’s behavior when communicating. Own your stonewalling behavior and name the relationship emotions you’re feeling.

Alternatively, the other person may be stonewalling to protect himself or herself from criticism or contempt, two of the other Four Horsemen.

You can improve your relationship if you listen and hold space for the key predictor of emotions that may feel shameful to your partner.

The red flags of stonewalling

Romantic relationships stay romantic or can suffer. The impact of your stonewalling behavior is likely to be varied. Below are some stonewalling signs.

The red flags of stonewalling


Stonewallers cause abandonment in their partners. A spouse can experience this devastating emotion, and its effects will show in the relationship.

Regardless of your true motivations, marriage is a transactional agreement between partners, and your disengagement shows that you are no longer interested in or available for the partnership.

Inflict Punishment

If you stonewall, you may feel you are punishing colleagues for unknown errors or misconduct. Consequently, they may not perform as well at work. Shutting off coworkers won’t get you anywhere unless you have sadistic tendencies.

Relationships with partners, friends, and children are all affected similarly. You may make them feel guilty when you stonewall.

Those around you may feel confused and hurt. Attachments die when a partner stonewalls constantly. This will likely make others feel helpless and incompetent.

Stonewalling Spreads other Negative Feelings

In many ways, stonewalling can spread, branch out, head-on, divorce prediction, and affect bondings. However, this will reduce hearing as well.

If your partner stonewalls you again, they will likely be frightened, angry, and aggressive.

The relationship could be that your stonewalling partner has an internal response of “She doesn’t self-care” or “He doesn’t love me anymore.” This could lead to increasingly desperate attempts to hurt you with escalating aggression.

Be aware of what you wish for.

To want an unhealthy amount of safe space, even righteous, feel safe and comfortable, which is why people stonewall. It could indicate that your stonewalling partner has had enough and is planning to leave if they ‘miraculously leave you alone.’ If this happens, you should be wary.

Stonewalling – What to Look for

Having the ability to recognize stonewalling in yourself is an outstanding achievement. This demonstrates emotional maturity.

One of the most challenging psychological milestones is genuinely accepting that one must change to improve relationships.

Additionally, understanding how your stonewalling affects others can help you develop empathy. Furthermore, it can also lead to changes in your relationship strategies.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) on stonewalling.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) on stonewalling.

How does stonewalling affect a relationship?

Stonewalling is someone refusing to engage in communicating or shutting down entirely.

How does stonewalling occur in conflict?

Simply put, stonewalling is when someone refuses to engage in conversation. Overwhelmed or physiologically flooded listeners withdraw from a discussion or argument, closing off their relationship with the speaker. A metaphorical wall separates them from their partner.

When your partner puts up a wall, what should you do?

Take a break when you disagree. Feeling overwhelmed often leads to stonewalling.
The “fixer” doesn’t necessarily have to be you in a relationship.
Feel confident.
Prioritize your own needs.
Speak with a mental health professional.

Do you stonewall out of narcissism?

The act of refusing to communicate effectively is known as stonewalling. Stonewalling occurs when your partner does not listen to what you say. In the realm of emotional abuse, stonewalling is standard practice.

How does silence affect us?

According to John Gottman, a renowned psychologist, stonewalling, or silent talk treatment, occurs when a listener withdraws from interaction and does not engage people, essentially becoming unresponsive.

Why does a listener stonewall?

Stonewalling is often to avoid escalating conflicts or discussing an uncomfortable topic. Some may be worried that other partners will react. You may use stonewalling to manipulate a situation, maintain control over a relationship, or punish someone.

Does ignoring someone constitute stonewalling?

The act of stonewalling is when a person withdraws emotionally from a conversation. You may feel ignored, that they are angry, or that they are pretending that you are not there. Physiological arousal or flooded is actually what is happening to the person.

What does stonewalling do to your stonewalled partner?

As a result of stonewalling, the stonewaller suffers as well, as they deny their partner to talk and emotional intimacy. A couple stonewalls can create a big rift, causing marital stability, conflict, and disruption.

How can you deal with someone who refuses to cooperate with you?

If you stonewall someone, they expect you to get emotional intimacy; if they don’t get that pleasure, they may back off. Stonewalling can be approached diplomatically. Have a conversation. Don’t be aggressive, but make it about you or them.

What makes people stonewall?

Stonewalling can occur because of frustration and fear in emotionally overwhelming situations or for self-soothing.

Do stonewallers have feelings?

In the absence of progress on a problematic issue, stonewalling occurs. As a result of criticism, reactivity, defensiveness, and contempt, feelings are at such an all-time high that one partner refuses to engage. Instead, they withdraw and become silent.

Where does stonewalling fit into psychology?

It means avoiding difficult conversations, wrong perceptions, refusing to speak to someone, and feeling frustrated. Conflict reduction or avoidance is a coping defense mechanism for some people.

For others, it is a tool for manipulating and controlling their partners. As a result, Bondings can be adversely affected by it regardless of the cause.

Conclusion on stonewalling

Stonewalling can cause a relationship to take a break if left unchecked. This is because both partners suffer from it, and it does not promote the communication necessary to sustain a relationship over time.

In the event of stonewalling, experts recommend taking a break from the conversation for both of you to calm your nerves, then returning to the conversation when you are ready. Also, know your self-worth!

Herzog says that re-engaging in a way that promotes positive communication is the best course of action. In addition, he emphasizes the importance of learning what other partners can do differently.

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