Stonewalling is a type of behavior in relationships where the person exhibiting it is trying to evade or obstruct communication. The purpose is usually to avoid talking about something or avoid having actions questioned. It is one of the most harmful behaviors to intimate relationships.
Stonewalling in relationships can be described as negative communication. It may also be a form of emotional abuse. People who display this behavior in relationships usually do it because they don’t know how to properly express negative emotions. As a harmful behavior, it may require therapy to correct.
What Is Typical Stonewalling Behavior In Relationships?
There are various ways to stonewall communication. The following are some typical behaviors in relationships that can be considered stonewalling:
• Replying tersely to questions or simply staying silent
• Pretending not to hear or listen
• Walking away from the speaker or otherwise pretending they’re not there
• Acting too busy and occupied to converse or answer questions
• Changing the topic to something unrelated
• Changing the topic to criticism of the speaker
Essentially, when one person completely withdraws and refuses to interact with their partner, it can be likened to talking to a wall for the person being ignored. Relationship therapy professionals often consider stonewalling to be one of four major divorce predictors, along with contempt, defensiveness and criticism. Men are more likely to stonewall than women. In fact, 85% of those who exhibit stonewalling behavior in relationships are men. It’s important to understand that stonewalling isn’t just a refusal to talk. Instead, stonewalling is defined as complete emotional disengagement.
Why Do People In Relationships Engage In Stonewalling?
You might assume that a person who stonewalls is simply childish, rude or indifferent. This can be true in some relationships. However, many times the reason for stonewalling behavior in relationships is more nuanced. In fact, a person who stonewalls might not have any nefarious intentions at all. For many people, mainly men, stonewalling is a coping mechanism against being overwhelmed. When they’re unable to express or process how they feel, they instead disappear emotionally. There are often two main reasons behind stonewalling in relationships:
• Emotional suppression
• Aggressive manipulation
The first reason is less nefarious than the second. This occurs when a person denies their emotions instead of confronting them. Unfortunately, emotional suppression often causes them to intensify and results in mental stress. Therapy professionals believe there is a solid link between emotional suppression and depression.
Aggressive manipulation is the most toxic reason for stonewalling in relationships. The aggressive stonewaller uses the technique to have their way and to avoid considering their partner’s perspective. This type of behavior is a form of emotional abuse.
How To Deal With It
When one partner in a relationship consistently stonewalls the other, it can spell the eventual end of the relationship. Relationships can’t survive this toxic behavior for long. The reason for the stonewalling is also a concern. The stonewaller might have something significant to hide. For example, they might be conducting an affair, or they committed a crime. They may have lost their job or be hiding an addiction. They might stonewall purposely in an attempt to end the relationship or out of shame over whatever they’re hiding.
When it comes to how to deal with stonewalling in relationships, it’s important to understand that you are likely not the problem. If you give your partner the benefit of the doubt, then they are probably feeling overwhelmed by emotions that they can’t process or express. If it’s something else, like cheating or addiction, then it’s still likely that you’re not the problem. Consider not persistently trying to engage your partner, but instead, assure them that you will be available when they feel ready to discuss whatever the issue is.
Relationships are two-way streets, so it’s also important to check your own behavior and make sure that you’re not hurting your partner.
How Therapy Can Help
Couples therapy is often necessary to deal with stonewalling in relationships. If the reason isn’t aggressive manipulation, then your partner may feel the same way about therapy. Remember that many times stonewalling in relationships is simply a coping mechanism. Your partner might even feel frustrated at being unable to change this response. Therapy is very helpful in unraveling complex issues and underlying mental health problems. Therapy also presents a neutral third party that can help you see if any of your behaviors are problematic and causing the stonewalling response in your partner.
As an experienced therapy professional and Couples Therapist in Los Angeles, Doctor Howard Samuels is well-versed in Therapy for Stonewalling. Don’t let negative behaviors intensify and spell the end of your relationship. Couples therapy can help you get to the bottom of complex issues and allow both of you to heal.