How to Recognize Stonewalling

 Stonewalling–  first, they shut you out…now they are not talking…


Being in a situation where you are stonewalled is difficult. Extremely so. You are left doing mathematical analysis and computations, theorizing and second guessing. You spend so much time thinking wondering what could be wrong without any meaningful feedback from the person stonewalling you.

You are probably wondering now what I am talking about. Ok, let me explain. According to Wikipedia, Stonewalling is a refusal to communicate or cooperate. Such behavior occurs in situations such as marriage, diplomatic negotiations, politics and legal cases. Body language may indicate and reinforce this by avoiding contact and engagement with the other party.

Whilst it is obvious that stonewalling can be employed as a tool in many situations, I will like to focus on the aspect of relationships for the purpose of this discourse.

Stonewalling includes persistent refusal to communicate.  Intentionally shutting down during an argument, we know it by a common name- silent treatment. Many of us can relate to this, we have either served or been served doses of it. which means that we can agree that it can be unkind, frustrating, and detrimental to a relationship.

Stonewalling could also be when your partner is dismissive of your feelings. They make it appear to be that you are “making a big deal out of nothing”, belittling what you say and pretending “everything is fine”, when evidently it is not.

Being stonewalled can be extremely frustrating for the person on the receiving end as they want to know what is wrong but are unable to get an answer. It can be considered a form of emotional abuse and is often used as a form of control.

On the flip side, Stonewalling may be born out of frustration and fear, which means it may not be intended to be malicious, it occur as the result of a desire to decrease tension in an emotionally overwhelming situation, conflict or in an attempt to self-soothe. Some of us find it hard to express ourselves fully and may stonewall to avoid having difficult conversations that we deem problematic and unprepared to take-on.

The trick is to know which you are dealing with per time, intent is key. That is, it’s not emotional abuse unless there is malicious intent. Stonewalling crosses over into abuse if a partner intentionally uses this tactic to manipulate or make their partner feel insignificant.

For many people, stonewalling is a learnt response to cope with emotional and difficult issues. They do not want to control or manipulate but instead use it (usually without realizing) as a way to protect themselves from feeling uncomfortable.

When stonewalling is deliberate, the partner who refuses to communicate is often drawing the situation out and preventing the other party from seeking other options to address the conflict, exert control, inflict punishment or even end the relationship! –the rationale behind this is the notion ‘when you are tired, you will leave’ This comes with some measure of gaslighting, veiled threats and other forms of manipulative control methods.

Pointers to stonewalling

  • They ignore you when you talk and do not respond to any questions (this can last weeks or even months)
  • If you start a serious conversation they walk away, start doing something else or change the topic  
  • Storming off without a word
  • Dismiss your concerns as if they are unimportant
  • Make fun of you and patronize what you say when you speak
  • Making accusations rather than talking about the current problem
  • Dismissive body languages such as eyes rolling or refusal to make eye contact at all. 
  • Passive-aggressive behaviors such as stalling or procrastinating to avoid talking about a problem.
  • Refusal to ever acknowledge their stonewalling behavior and take responsibility.

It this you? is this them? Or is this both of you? stonewalling is a very negative form of communication, it breaks down any intimacy in a relationship leading partners to withdraw from each other. this is recipe for disaster whichever way the cookie crumble, I suggest therapy.

 There is no winner in situations like this, the stonewalled feels hurt, drained, angry, dismissed, ignored, low self-esteem may creep in after a while, they can begin to devalue themselves which leads to feelings of being helpless, worthless and powerless.

The stonewaller also suffers, as they are denying themselves the emotional intimacy that can make them truly happy. Cutting off from your feelings, withdrawing from social situations and intimacy will make miserable and lackluster!

 Are you being stonewalled?

Here are a few things you can do if you realize you are being stonewalled –

Understand that you are not the problem- the first thing to do is to give them the benefit of doubt. They may be overwhelmed and not deliberately trying to stonewall or manipulate. Take the heat off and suggest compassionate ways to discuss and resolve conflicts. Endeavor to reassure them of your availability and willingness to work through the situation with them. This should naturally help foster better communication and understanding. However, should the stonewalling be deliberate and persistent. It may be time to reevaluate the relationship.

You may be part of the problem- Check your behavior. Sometimes stonewalling can be a defense against criticism or a response to perceived aggression and hostility. Are you encouraging when your partner engages with you? Or, do you judge, condescend, and attack if your partner admits their faults? A lack of empathy and compassion from your side can encourage stonewalling. Consider your side of the situation, and it will help to clear up your role.

When you have done your best- you may have tried being understanding and patient. Even putting your own feelings aside to accommodate theirs in order to come to a better understanding but it has all come to naught, please take a step back. You are not their savior, don’t make yourself an emotional punching back, reassess your position and act accordingly.

Are you a stonewaller? If you have been able to identify this negative trait in yourself, then the problem is half solved and a huge step in the right direction Truly accepting that the need to change to foster healthier relationships is one of the hardest millstones psychologically. In addition, fully understanding how your stonewalling affects others could go a long way in developing your empathy.

Some few techniques you could adopt includes

  • When communicating with your partner moving forward, work on your listening skills and look at the discussion as a way to solve a problem rather than a contest or proving a point.
  • Accept feedback and acknowledge wrong perceptions or mistakes.
  • Think about things from your partner’s point of view. Even if you do not agree, listening will make your partner feel heard. And be empathic, put yourself in your partner’s shoes and see their point of view.
  • Agree to postpone the conversation if things get contentious
  • Decompress before approaching a contentious topic.
  • Setting a time to return to the conversation when things have settled.
  • Use words that are neutral rather than criticizing or accusing.

Learning how to communicate and engage to the best of your ability is key to a successful relationship. If this is very difficult for you and/or your partner, consider couples’ therapy, personal counseling, to help you heal as a lot negative behaviors we exhibit as adults are rooted in childhood traumas and learned coping mechanism.

Learning how to face and deal with difficult emotions will be a hard but rewarding journey to embark on. You won’t regret making the choice to do so.



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