Is Stonewalling A Form Of Abuse?
Updated October 14, 2019
Reviewer Avia James
If you've ever experienced stonewalling, you know it's very unpleasant and frustrating. Relationships can be tricky. They require a lot of patience and good communication. You both need to want to learn and grow together. So, what do you do when your partner refuses to cooperate with you? Sure, your relationship will suffer if you can't communicate civilly; that's a given.
You might even begin to think of ending the relationship over your partner's constant stonewalling, but can stonewalling be called abuse? To answer this question for yourself, begin by understanding the basic stonewalling definition and this harmful habit affects both people in the relationship.
What Is Stonewalling?
So, what is stonewalling, exactly? Someone who stonewalls you avoids engaging in problem-solving with you or cooperating with you. They may just sit sullenly and silently while you become more and more frantic to be heard. Or, they might dismiss everything you say as if you're boring, unreasonable, or 'making a big deal out of nothing.' While you try to address concerns, the person who is stonewalling acts like you are unimportant and have nothing of value to say to him.
How to Recognize Stonewalling
Men are usually the ones who stonewall. Women tend to have a strong reaction to being stonewalled, while men usually don't. Still, it can happen between any two people, with either being the one who stonewalls. How do you recognize it if it's a part of your relationship? Look at your partner's behavior, but also look at your own. Taking responsibility for your behavior is an essential part of a healthy, positive relationship as expecting your partner to take responsibility for theirs.
When Someone Is Stonewalling You
Stonewalling can be obvious at times. Sometimes, though, you might not realize what your partner is doing to you when they stonewall you. Here are some of the signs that someone is stonewalling you:
- You start serious conversations by criticizing your partner.
- Your partner ignores you when you speak.
- They busy themselves with something else whenever you want to talk seriously.
- They refuse to make eye contact with you.
- They roll their eyes.
- They speak very little, and when they do speak, it's usually to defend themselves and blame you.
- You feel physiological symptoms, like increased heart rate, when your partner won't listen to you.
- They dismiss your concerns without listening to them.
- They make fun of your concerns.
- They refuse to take responsibility for their stonewalling.
When You're Stonewalling Someone
If you've been stonewalling someone else, you may not realize what you're doing to them. You might have learned from your parents the mistaken notion that this is a normal part of a relationship. You can change your behavior and have a happy relationship, but first, you need to be able to recognize it for yourself. Here are some signs to watch for:
- When your partner asks a question or expresses a concern, you immediately feel defensive.
- You avoid arguing at all costs.
- Being 'right' is so important to you that you're willing to jeopardize the relationship.
- You're obsessed with 'staying out of trouble.'
- You're more concerned with avoiding conflict than you are with solving problems.
Effects of Stonewalling in Relationships
Even after you know how to define stonewalling, its effects may seem minor to you. Stonewalling is one of the most destructive habits in a relationship. In fact, when partners rely on stonewalling to deal with problems in the relationship, it usually signals an impending breakup.
Effects on the Person Who Is Being Stonewalled
The person who is being stonewalled tends to feel hurt and angry. They become frustrated with trying to be heard and may begin to stonewall themselves. However, since men do not respond the same way as women do to stonewalling, the woman who stonewalls continues to feel shut out.
When being stonewalled becomes the norm for that person, they may begin to doubt their value as a person. They might begin to feel like they're going 'crazy,' which is natural since stonewalling is a form of gaslighting. They not only feel dismissed, but they may begin to feel worthless, powerless, and hopeless. The experience can leave them feeling confused and weak, making it difficult for them to extract themselves from the relationship. Or, it might make them feel so angry that they leave as quickly as they can arrange it. After leaving, they may need mental health help to heal from experience.
Effects on the Relationship
A relationship marked by frequent stonewalling suffers tremendously for as long as the two partners don't learn how to communicate with each other more productively. The partners become more distant from each other. They may stop being intimate in any way, including sexually. They may live separate lives, living in the same house or apartment together but sharing no activities or interests with each other.
Effects on the Person Who Is Stonewalling
The person who is doing the stonewalling suffers, too. While you might feel like you're winning every potential conflict, you deny yourself the warm, emotionally intimate relationship that could make you truly happy. You may become callous to others, cut off from your feelings, and withdrawn from social interactions. If you continue in a relationship and continue stonewalling, you make both yourself and your partner miserable for no purpose other than feeling justified.
Is Stonewalling Abuse?
By now, you understand enough about stonewalling to see that it's harmful to individuals as well as relationships. Harmful, yes, but is it abusive? Psychologists recognize stonewalling as a behavior that belittles, demeans, disrespects and devalues the person who's being stonewalled. To see how this makes stonewalling abuse, consider the definitions of emotional abuse about the stonewalling definition.
Definition of Emotional Abuse vs. Definition of Stonewalling
Emotional abuse has several hallmarks. It is systematic, mean-spirited, and manipulative. Emotional abuse is expressly nonphysical. Its violence comes in the form of emotional harm. When you compare how we define stonewalling with the way we define emotional abuse, you might notice that some people seem to stonewall without malicious intent.
While stonewallers may not realize they intend to harm, their partner, some part of them realizes that their goal is to hurt the person they're stonewalling. This must be true because they choose the most hurtful things to say and not say, or do and not do. They are determined not to 'give in.' Even though they may not be consciously aware that they're trying to cause emotional pain, a part of them is keyed into that fact. Your partner is likely to view your stonewalling as a sign of not being valued by you, rather than as an indication that you are always right, as you may hope.
Is Stonewalling Normal?
Stonewalling may be common, but it isn't a mentally healthy way to behave. People who have happy marriages don't or rarely use stonewalling. Labelling it as 'normal' may make you feel justified in behaving that way, but it will also keep you stuck in unhealthy patterns of interaction. The real question you need to consider is not whether stonewalling is normal, but whether it will give you the relationship that will benefit you and your partner the most.
Do I Have to Tell Everything I Know?
People who have the habit of stonewalling often view stonewalling as a way to set themselves apart from their partner. While having your own identity in a relationship and keep some things to yourself is imperative to a healthy relationship,
when your partner asks you a direct question, and you avoid the conversation, you don't stand out as an individual. Instead, you present yourself as a hard, unyielding, blank wall. You don't have to share everything, but when you choose not to, you need to go out of your way to help your partner understand and accept it. You do this through communication, not stonewalling.
What You Can Do About Stonewalling
If you want to have a healthy, happy relationship, you have all the motivation you need to end the habit of stonewalling. You can't control the other person's behavior, of course. However, there are some ways you can begin to change the way you communicate.
What to Do If Someone Is Stonewalling You
If you recognize that your partner is stonewalling you, your next step is to consider how you may be contributing to the problem. Do some problem-solving of your own to decide what changes you can make that will harm neither you nor your partner. If you have low self-esteem because your partner has habitually stonewalled you, it can be difficult to dissect the problem logically. If so, a counselor can help you take a closer look at the way you can communicate and teach you ways to communicate what you really want to say. The following tips may help you get started:
- Work with a counselor to improve your self-esteem and communication skills.
- Make it a point to soften your presentation of a concern.
- Don't start a serious conversation with a complaint or criticism of your partner.
- When you begin to feel frustrated and angry, practice calming techniques like deep breathing.
- Give yourself credit for trying to solve problems, but remember that solving them is your goal.
- Expect your partner to take responsibility for his stonewalling behavior.
What to Do If You Realize You're Stonewalling Someone
Assuming you stonewalled someone without fully realizing your impact on them, what can you do now? How can you make changes? Here are a few tips to help you improve your communications:
- Put your effort into listening rather than into proving a point.
- Try to see the discussion as a problem-solving session rather than a contest.
- If you feel defensive, tell your partner you feel that way.
- Remind yourself that listening to your partner will make them feel heard, even if you don't agree with them.
- Develop a higher sense of empathy by trying to see what life is like for your partner.
- Examine the motives behind your behavior.
- Be willing to admit the stonewalling without blaming your partner.
- Commit yourself to finding a solution to your relationship troubles as a team.
Who Can Help You Overcome Stonewalling Abuse?
You can read books, listen to podcasts, or look up scientific studies on the web to find out more about stonewalling. However, it's very hard to change communication patterns without professional help. Consider going to a couples' counselor to discuss the stonewalling and other unhealthy behaviors that are going on between the two of you. If your partner is still stonewalling you, think about getting into counseling on your own.
You can find couples' or individual therapy online at BetterHelp.com. The therapists are licensed counselors who understand how stonewalling can damage individuals, relationships, and families. Starting is easy, and therapy is convenient and affordable. The sooner you address this difficult problem, the sooner you can leave stonewalling problems in the past and live the life that makes you happy.