4 Ways to Tear Apart A Relationship- Stonewalling

Very few people actually enjoy conflict, and it's natural to sometimes feel stuck during a fight.  Maybe you are struggling with what to say, or perhaps you are trying to remain neutral so the conflict doesn't get worse.  Today's topic isn't what this is about.  Actually, today's topic is quite self-explanatory! #4 Stonewalling

Stonewalling, as John Gottman describes, is something that happens when a couple is talking.  Imagine yourself in the middle of a fight, where you are sharing with your partner what you are upset about.  Your partner mutters "whatever" then refuses to speak, and with stony silence, he/she just  leaves (the room, the house, or the conversation).  Or perhaps your partner is upset with you and when you ask them what is wrong, they reply "nothing", then proceed to give you the silent treatment for the rest of the day.  These are different forms of stonewalling.

Stonewalling is basically when, during communication, a person refuses to give even the most basic of feedback to let the speaker know he/she is listening.  They won't look at you, or let you know they hear what you are saying.

Stonewalling is very powerful to the receiver of the message-- it communicates disapproval, distance, and is very upsetting if you are on the receiving end of this!

Some people who stonewall won't speak at all-- others change the subject or mutter something dismissive and rejecting ("whatever" and "oh well" are just a few).  The message is the same.  The receiver of the message is withdrawing or refusing to engage in a two-way conversation. 

Because men are more likely to feel an instinctive need to flee from intense conflict with their partner, John Gottman's research showed that men are more likely to become stonewaller's than women.  This doesn't mean that women aren't just as likely at times to shut down and refuse to communicate when they are hurt, angry, or disappointed about something with their partner, though!

If you find yourself habitually and regularly shutting down during conflict, be open to looking at this and try to push through conflict.  If you aren't regularly providing a two-way street with communication, it becomes even more upsetting to your partner and only causes conflicts to build-- and lessens the intimacy in your relationship.

Remember... this is only one of the "4 Horsemen" that Gottman describes as something that can tear a relationship apart.  One of them has the ability to hurt a relationship, but if it's in combination with any of the earlier posts from this week's blog, it becomes even more urgent to deal with!

Adapted from "Why Marriages Succeed or Fail" by John Gottman

Joleen Watson, MS, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling.  Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.