13 May Are you ‘Stonewalling’?
When faced with relationship conflicts, we naturally get defensive. Everyone’s defences are different and normally develop in childhood. For example, when arguing with your spouse, you might storm out the house. You might completely shut down and go to bed. You might embark on a spiky verbal rampage of cutting accusations. Whatever you do, you are simply trying to protect yourself in that moment.
But, there are healthy and unhealthy ways of being angry and expressing yourself during an argument. All couples argue, and often it is claimed by experts that arguments are healthy, but there are unhelpful ways you might be making things worse.
What is stonewalling?
If you completely shut down during or after a conflict and go into total silence, ignoring your partner even if they try to speak to you, this is called ‘stonewalling’. It means one person ‘checks out’ of a conversation, perhaps for a brief period or even for months, as a way to stop dealing with it. It can involve total silence or one word answers, or just a refusal to discuss an issue.
Stonewalling is a known psychological concept. It is more common in men than in women, and is often a defence response to a high conflict situation – often as a way to avoid or diffuse the situation. However stonewalling tends to have the opposite effect to that, and causes more anger and frustration in the other partner who just wants to have a conversation.
In some extreme and rare cases, stonewalling becomes a form of psychological abuse and bullying. For example, a partner might fear addressing a conversation because she may become ‘stonewalled’, and end up spending the rest of the day in silence if she tries to address an important subject. Nobody is happy in this sort of scenario, and it is best completely avoided. If you think your partner’s stonewalling is an abuse tactic, it’s important to seek help and support.
In most cases, however, stonewalling is not intended to be abusive, and is instead defensive. And in these cases, becoming aware of how damaging it is can help to break the pattern.
When we stonewall, we are telling ourselves that we are safe from the conflict. But we are telling our partner that what they are saying doesn’t matter. In extension, we devalue them as people and cause a power imbalance in the relationship.
It is important to take time away from everyday life and focus on improving communication. Couples therapy, for example, can be a great way to improve communication skills in a safe space. It also gives the person prone to stonewalling, a chance to feel safe while faced with conflict. Group activities can be another great way to learn from other couples the best (and worst) ways to communicate.
We recommend you spend quality time with your partner and engage in meaningful activities that help to solidify your relationship. Book a Kailani Escape couples package holiday, and enjoy one of our many spa vacations with couple-focused activities.