Silence can be a battlefield.
When words falter and communication freezes, we often find ourselves facing the invisible wall of stonewalling—destructive behavior that haunts countless relationships.
Let’s investigate some common examples of this relationship phenomenon, highlighting its signs and impact.
Recognizing stonewalling is the first step towards understanding, opening dialogue, and, ultimately, healing.
Prepare to identify, confront, and dismantle these silent barriers that may be holding your relationship back.
What Is Stonewalling in a Relationship?
Stonewalling refers to a defensive mechanism where one partner withdraws, shuts down, and ceases to communicate or engage, effectively constructing a metaphorical stone wall.
This behavioral pattern, often a response to conflict or stress, can lead to a devastating disconnect between partners.
It breeds frustration and resentment and starves the relationship of the mutual understanding needed for growth.
Comprehending this elusive yet common phenomenon is the first stride towards healthier interactions.
11 Stonewalling Examples in a Relationship
Unseen yet palpable, stonewalling can stealthily infiltrate a relationship.
To equip you with the knowledge to confront this silent saboteur, we’ve identified 11 common examples of stonewalling that may be subtly eroding the foundations of your partnership.
1. Refusing to Engage in Conversation
A refusal to engage in conversation is a classic sign of stonewalling. Your partner might appear distracted, unresponsive, or simply uninterested whenever you initiate a discussion. This goes beyond just needing some alone time—it’s a persistent pattern of avoidance.
This refusal to talk or discuss critical issues can create a significant rift in understanding and connection, preventing the resolution of conflicts and fostering resentment. Over time, this relentless silence can escalate the tension in the relationship, making it even harder to bridge the communication gap.
Example: You’ve been trying to discuss your finances for weeks, but your partner has clammed up and won’t talk about it. You get the silent treatment every time you try to bring it up, leaving you angry and feeling stuck with no decisions made.
2. Ignoring Emotional Needs
Stonewalling may manifest as disregarding your emotional needs. Your partner could seem indifferent to your feelings, consistently ignoring your emotional expressions or responding with indifference. Despite your attempts to share and express your emotions, they might not acknowledge or validate your feelings, leaving you feeling unheard.
This dismissive behavior makes you feel invisible or unimportant, eroding the emotional intimacy of your relationship. You feel unsupported and emotionally isolated, undermining the trust and comfort that are the bedrock of any relationship.
Example: Your partner always made fun of much you love your dog. But now your dog has to be put down, and they act like it’s no big deal. Every time you cry, they roll their eyes and leave the room.
3. Avoiding Conflict Resolution
Consistently evading arguments or discussions around issues in the relationship is another instance of evasive behavior. Rather than facing problems and working through them, your partner might withdraw or shut down when confronted with potential conflict.
This avoidance tactic can stall relationship growth as disagreements and issues are left unresolved. These unresolved issues pile up, fostering resentment and causing damage that is challenging to repair. With every avoided conflict, your closeness drifts further away from healthy understanding.
Example: You had a huge argument a few days ago and want to sort it out. But when you try to address it, your partner pretends they don’t hear you. They say nothing and leave the room. Or they keep saying, “I don’t know what you want from me.”
4. Using Silence as a Weapon
Silence can be a weapon in the arsenal of a stonewaller. It’s not the peaceful silence of companionship but a cold, punishing one intended to frustrate or hurt. This kind of silence can feel like a heavyweight, creating a one-sided dynamic where one partner feels silenced and marginalized.
This behavior is often wielded as a form of control or punishment and causes feelings of confusion, anxiety, and isolation. Over time, it leads to a power imbalance in the partnership, making it harder for the silenced partner to voice their needs or concerns.
Example: Your spouse has asked you to do something you don’t want to do, and you’ve said no. As a result, they have stopped talking to you. You try to explain your reasons, but they just give you a cold stare and refuse to talk. It’s been going on for days.
5. Frequently Turning Away
Regularly turning away can indicate this puzzling behavior. Whether your partner leaves the room when you’re speaking or diverts their attention to something else, these behaviors are clear examples of stonewalling.
The habit of distancing can be incredibly hurtful, making you feel dismissed. In the long run, it can breed feelings of loneliness and disconnection. Recognizing this sign is crucial for calling out this harmful pattern and working towards healthier interactions.
Example: Your partner is clearly irritated about something related to you but won’t say what it is. They get up and leave when you enter the room or pretend they are busy on the computer.
6. Excessive Criticism
While constructive criticism is healthy, excessive negative criticism can be a form of this defense mechanism. Your partner might consistently focus on your flaws and mistakes, rarely acknowledging your positive attributes or efforts.
This tactic can serve as a wall, deflecting attention away from their own behavior or the actual issues at hand. It results in a toxic environment where the criticized partner feels perpetually defensive and unheard.
Example: You try to talk to your partner about their messiness, but instead of acknowledging your frustration, they point out bogus flaws and issues with you. They even resort to calling you demanding and telling you to get over it.
7. Non-Verbal Stonewalling
Stonewalling isn’t always verbal; it can also be non-verbal. Your partner might use body language—like crossing arms, turning away, or showing a lack of facial expressions—as a form of stonewalling.
These physical cues can create a hostile environment, emphasizing the lack of openness and dialogue. Off-putting non-verbal signals can further widen the communication chasm and make it challenging for the other partner to engage positively.
Example: You’ve asked your partner three times to help with putting the kids to bed. You stand in front of them, trying to get an answer, but they look at you with a blank, unconcerned stare and continue to watch television.
8. Deflecting and Changing the Subject
Deflecting the conversation or frequently changing the subject is another form of stonewalling. When your partner consistently shifts the focus of discussions, especially those that address relationship issues or their behavior, they’re avoiding a genuine connection.
This kind of deflection prevents any meaningful resolution and maintains the status quo, which may be detrimental to your growth as a couple.
Example: You and your partner need to have a hard conversation about their spending habits. Every time you bring it up, they dance around the topic and won’t commit to a budget – or even discuss one.
9. Playing the Victim
Consistently playing the victim can also be an instance of this behavior. Your partner might turn every disagreement into a scenario where they’re the wronged party, irrespective of the facts.
This tactic can be an effective barrier, preventing you from addressing your concerns or feelings about their behavior. It can lead to a cycle where your needs and feelings are constantly sidelined, making you feel like an outsider with your partner.
Example: You’ve been asking your partner to cut back on their excessive drinking. Instead of discussing the issue, they bring up their painful past and how unloving you are to insist they stop the one thing that makes them feel better.
10. Retreating into the ‘Busy’ Excuse
Frequently using ‘busyness’ as an excuse to avoid engaging could be a sign of this behavior. When your partner consistently claims they’re too busy to talk, especially about important issues or emotional topics, they may be trying to evade difficult conversations.
This behavior can leave you feeling sidelined and unimportant, with your concerns repeatedly brushed under the carpet. It makes genuine and necessary communication nearly impossible, leading to an accumulation of unresolved issues and growing frustration.
Example: You feel overwhelmed getting the house cleaned for guests coming over. You ask your spouse to pitch in, but they suddenly have to finish a work project, even though it’s the weekend.
11. Excessive Use of Sarcasm or Humor
Sometimes, stonewalling manifests through excessive sarcasm or humor. Your partner might consistently make light of serious topics or use humor to deflect from addressing important issues. It creates an environment where crucial discussions are glossed over, and your concerns are not taken seriously.
When the underlying issues are not addressed, you feel dismissed and belittled. The more frustrated you grow, the less seriously your partner takes the situation, even making light of your angst.
Example: You are worried your child has been spending too much time playing video games. Your partner, who often plays the games with your child, thinks you’re overreacting and makes dismissive comments and jokes about your worries – in front of your child.
Delving Deeper: The Psychology of Stonewalling
Stonewalling is more than a mere communication roadblock—it’s a behavioral response deeply rooted in our psychological mechanisms. Often, individuals resort to stonewalling as a defense mechanism against perceived threats, a way to avoid discomfort, or as a form of control in the relationship.
The act of ‘stonewalling’ is generally linked to the fear of confrontation or vulnerability, and it can also stem from learned behaviors from past experiences.
• Fear of Confrontation: Many people dread conflict and choose silence to avoid uncomfortable situations. They perceive confrontation as dangerous and use stonewalling as a shield.
• Control and Power: This behavior can be a way to exert control using silence or withdrawal as a form of punishment or manipulation.
• Fear of Vulnerability: Opening up to another person can be scary. Some individuals use evasive tactics as a protective barrier against feeling exposed or vulnerable.
Understanding the psychology behind stonewalling can help illuminate why your partner might resort to this behavior. It’s a step toward empathetic understanding and, ultimately, healthier communication and resolution.
What Type of Person Uses Stonewalling?
There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ mold for the type of person who resorts to these actions. It cuts across gender, age, and personality types. However, certain characteristics are commonly associated with this behavior.
People who are conflict-averse, have difficulty expressing their feelings, or struggle with being transparent may be more inclined to stonewall. Those with a need for control or power may also employ these tactics.
Sometimes people who are emotionally immature or haven’t been exposed to healthy communication skills don’t know how to express their frustrations or negative emotions without resorting to the actions we’ve outlined here.
Is Stonewalling a Form of Emotional Abuse?
Stonewalling, when chronic and used as a control mechanism, can indeed qualify as emotional abuse. It is a way of exerting control by withholding communication, care, or affection, leading to feelings of isolation, confusion, and self-doubt in the other partner.
However, it’s important to note that occasional stonewalling doesn’t necessarily indicate abuse—it might be a response to stress or conflict. The key lies in recognizing consistent patterns of stonewalling behavior and its impact on the relationship’s emotional health.
How to Deal with Stonewalling in Relationships
Navigating stonewalling in relationships is complex, but it’s far from impossible. Understanding and addressing this behavior requires patience, vulnerability, and a commitment to fostering healthier communication. Here are some strategies to help break down the wall.
Practice Real and Honest Communication
Clear, respectful communication is a cornerstone of any healthy relationship. Talk to your partner about your concerns without blaming them. Use ‘I’ statements to express your feelings—for instance, “I feel ignored when you don’t respond to my concerns.” This approach can reduce defensiveness and clear the way for dialogue.
Seek to Understand Their Perspective
Try to understand why your partner might be resorting to these ploys. This doesn’t mean their behavior is justified, but understanding the root causes can help you address the issue more effectively. It might be linked to past experiences, fears, or insecurities. Show empathy and patience as they navigate these challenges.
It’s important to establish boundaries in your relationship. Let your partner know that stonewalling is not a productive way to deal with conflicts. Encourage open dialogue, but also respect their need for space during heated moments. Balancing openness with respect for personal boundaries can help foster a more understanding relationship.
Vulnerability is key to breaking down walls. Encourage your partner to share their fears and feelings. Show them that it’s okay to be vulnerable and that it can strengthen rather than weaken your relationship.
Seek Professional Help
Sometimes, stonewalling is deeply ingrained and difficult to overcome without professional help. A counselor or therapist can provide valuable tools and strategies to address stonewalling, improve communication, and rebuild trust.
While dealing with a partner who stonewalls can feel daunting, remember that change is possible. With understanding, commitment, and perhaps a little professional guidance, you can transform your relationship into a space of safe, respectful, and loving interactions.