Clinical psychologist John Gottman coined the term “the four horsemen,” widely used to describe couples in “apocalyptic” conditions. The four horsemen are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Each of these communication challenges and responses can cause major problems in your relationships, romantic or otherwise.
Here, we’ll take a look at the fourth horseman: stonewalling. When someone stonewalls another, they completely shut down and tune out conversations. If your partner is stonewalling you, they might become totally silent during arguments or conflict. It’s almost like they’re tuning out anything you say while categorically dismissing all of your concerns.
Needless to say, stonewalling is incredibly unhealthy. It can cause partners to feel frustrated, dismissed, and on edge. Most of the time, stonewalling is an unintentional defense mechanism. Other times, it’s considered a type of verbal abuse if the stonewaller is using it to be manipulative or make their partner feel insignificant.
If you are in a relationship with a stonewaller, here are a few tips you can use to improve the communication in your relationship:
Ask for a Break During Conflicts
A big reason for stonewalling is feeling overwhelmed. It’s natural to shut down sometimes during an argument, but that doesn’t make it the best option. If you sense your partner starting to tune you out, suggest a break in the conversation. Take time to collect your thoughts and emotions, and revisit the discussion when you’re both in the right mindset.
Acknowledge That You Are Not the “Fixer’ in the Relationship
You may feel as if it is your job to bring up or address conflict because you doubt your stonewalling partner will do it – but it’s not your job! While, yes, it’s necessary to talk about issues, you are not the “fixer” in your relationship. The stonewaller needs to acknowledge their behavior and work on making a change to restore balance in the relationship.
Lead With Empathy
While your partner’s stonewalling is never your fault, you should still understand that it’s often a response to extreme criticism or contempt. If you find that you’re starting an argument with criticism or defensiveness, your partner might feel as though you’re “coming after them.”
Try approaching the topic with empathy. Instead of pointing out what they did wrong, express your emotions and try to see things from their point of view. Creating an empathetic and safe space to discuss your problems will lead to better discussion.
If your partner is stonewalling and you don’t get any feedback during a conversation, it’s easy to start doubting your feelings. You may begin to ask yourself questions like, “Is there really any reason to be mad?” or “Am I blowing things out of proportion?”
Rather than letting them get inside your head, trust your gut! Remember that your intuitions and emotions are valid and have every right to be heard by your partner.
Being stonewalled is frustrating. While working it out with your partner is the ultimate goal, it’s also necessary to focus on yourself. Although you can’t control your partner, you can control your own behavior, and that should always include making time for self-care.
Instead of dwelling on your partner’s actions, try partaking in your favorite hobby, going on a walk to clear your head, journaling, yoga, or meditation. Anything that helps you feel relaxed and good about yourself!
Talk to a Professional at Relish
At the end of the day, consistent stonewalling is something that needs to be addressed in a relationship because it prevents healthy, necessary communication. If addressing it on your own doesn’t seem to be helping, you can always turn to professional help, such as Relish, a relationship coaching app. The professional relationship coaches at Relish are trained to help you navigate communication issues in your relationship, including stonewalling and the criticism that often precipitates stonewalling.
If stonewalling is destroying your relationship, there’s still a chance you can work through it! With some dedication, self-reflection, and improved communication skills, you and your partner can get back on track to reestablishing the happiness you both deserve.