Signs Of Stonewalling: The End Of Your Relationship?

Updated October 7, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

What should you do when your partner starts stonewallingyou emotionally? First, you need to understand what stonewalling is and how it can harm relationships; you can learn about the definition of stonewalling below. 

What Is Stonewalling?

Brenda stood at the doorway of the bedroom, engaged in an animated rant about the odd chores that still needed to be done around the house. 

"For six months, I've been asking you to take care of these simple repairs, and you won't do them. You have the know-how, the tools, and the time -- but nothing happens. You refuse to lift a finger."

Her partner Liam sat on the bed, his back turned toward Brenda, not saying a word. His rounded shoulders gave no sign that he had heard anything she said in the conflict. He had no emotions towards her issues or gave any sense that he had heard her frustration. This is an example of stonewalling. 

Stonewalling is a tactic used in an argument that can be a serious threat to anyone's emotional health, especially when the stonewalling occurs in a romantic relationship or marriage. Someone who is stonewalling in a relationship avoids engaging in an emotional discussion, problem-solving about feelings, or any sort of emotional cooperation or resolution. They don't address conflict, pain, anger, desire, or fear. They dodge a relationship of emotional intimacy with you.

The person stonewalling you may sit sullenly and silently while your heart rate rises and you become more and more excitable because you don't feel heard. Or they might dismiss everything you say as if you're boring, unreasonable, or "making a big deal out of nothing." They act as though they have reduced hearing. Being stonewalled can feel as if you're talking to a wall.

While you try to address your emotional concerns during a conflict, a person stonewalling acts like you're not important or have nothing valuable to say to them. In a situation like this, online therapy can be beneficial to help you process how to respond to their actions.

Could Stonewalling Be Present In Your Relationship?

Stonewalling Signs In A Relationship

Men are more commonly the ones stonewalling in a relationship. They often sit silently during a difficult conversation, adding little to nothing to the discussion or mediation of the conflict. That may be the way they process information, or their behavior could be a sign of something else. Women, on the other hand, typically tend to have strong emotional reactions, while men usually don't. Although women may be less likely to stonewall, anyone can stonewall another person. How do you know if there is stonewalling in your relationship? 

Usually, people stonewall when there's something in their relationship that they don't want to discuss, the result of which is the silent treatment. Or you may get a few grunts or an occasional "Mmm" -- noncommittal verbal gestures that add no substance to your conversation and do nothing to deflate the situations. Stonewalling is a defense mechanism to avoid others and the conflicts they present, now and in the future. 

What Are The Signs That Someone Is Stonewalling You?

Did you just get stonewalled? Stonewalling can be obvious at times, and other times it is subtle. You might not even realize it's going on. Here are some of the signs of stonewalling in a relationship:

  • You start serious conversations by criticizing your partner.
  • Your partner ignores you when you speak.
  • Your partner addresses you by your given name rather than a nickname.
  • Your partner is suddenly busy with something else whenever you want to talk seriously.
  • Your partner uses righteous indignation when you accuse them of stonewalling.

Other signs of stonewalling may be more obvious. Pay careful attention to body language and other types of non-verbal communication by looking for:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Showing you their back
  • Crossed arms
  • Feet pointed toward the door (or away from you)
  • Staring at objects
  • Leaving the place you're in to "get space"

How Can You Tell If You're The Person Stonewalling?

What if you're the emotionally absent person in the relationship? If you've been stonewalling someone else, like your partner, you may not realize what you're doing to them or the reasons why you're doing it. Be aware of the following signs that may indicate stonewalling: 

  • You immediately feel defensive when your partner asks a question or expresses concern.
  • You avoid arguing at all costs, even if it means walking into another room.
  • You'd rather say nothing at all than to say something that will trigger a fight.
  • The other person is totally unresponsive to your emotional pleas.
  • Being "right" in a conflict is so important that you're willing to jeopardize the relationship.

Stonewalling Effects 

Even if you know how to define stonewalling and you can identify instances of it in your relationship, it may not seem like a big deal to you, but doing this to someone else is one of the most destructive habits in a relationship. Stonewalling can be a sign of severe marital distress, and partners relying on stonewalling to deal with relationship problems usually signals an impending breakup. When someone engages in this state of behavior regularly, they may begin to doubt their value as a person or feel like they're going crazy. A lot of other obsessive behaviors may develop as well. This is a natural response because stonewalling is a form of gaslighting. A relationship in which this happens often can have tremendous challenges until both partners meet the issue head on and learn communication tactics to address things more productively. 

Can Stonewalling Be Considered As A Form Of Abuse?

Stonewalling is harmful, but is stonewalling abusive? Psychologists recognize abuse as behavior that belittles, demeans, and disrespects. 

If you want to have a healthy, happy relationship, you have all the motivation you need to quit stonewalling. You can't control the other person's behavior, of course, but there are some ways you can begin to change the way you communicate. The following tips may help:

  • Work with a counselor to improve your self-esteem and negotiation skills.
  • Make it a point to practice softening the way you present a concern.
  • Don't start a serious conversation with a complaint or criticism of your partner.

How Serious Is It In A Marriage?

According to the research of psychologist Dr. John Gottman, stonewalling is a predictor of not only marital conflict and strife but also the end of a relationship. The other three predictors are criticism, contempt, and defensiveness, and when combined with stonewalling, they've been called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse 

What To Do If You're The One Stonewalling Someone

Assuming you are emotionally abusing someone without realizing how your behavior impacts the other person, what can you do now? How can you make changes? Here are a few tips to help you improve your communication:

  • Try to see the discussion as a problem-solving session rather than a contest. Ask your partner if you can take a break from the conversation and come back to it later, in order to provide them with a proper explanation for your behavior. 
  • If you feel defensive when you have a conversation, tell your partner you feel that way. This may be a good time for both of you to take a physiological self-soothing break or do some other sort of self care. Take a walk, have a cup of coffee, or shower to "wash away" the defensiveness. 
  • Remind yourself that listening to your partner will make them feel heard, even if you don't agree with them. Validating their opinion can go a long way toward having a meaningful conversation, even about difficult topics like trust, sex, or parenting. 
  • Avoid placing blame on your partner or yourself. Stonewalling hurts, but if you have the ability to talk objectively about the matter, you have a chance that your relationship will not end in divorce. 

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the conversations you're not having with your partner, look for signs of stonewalling meaning or cases in your relationship. Then contact an online therapist who can help you initiate creative problem solving and develop coping strategies as you discover how to reconnect emotionally. It may be that couples counseling is a way to get you to have the conversation you need to save your relationship and avoid divorce. 

Conclusion

They're licensed counselors who understand how emotional abuse can damage individuals sexual and emotional relationships, and families. Starting is easy, and therapy is convenient and affordable. The sooner you and your partner address this difficult problem with patience, the sooner you can leave these problems in the past and live the life that makes you happy. Check out what people are saying about their experiences with BetterHelp's licensed therapists below.

Here are some popular questions about the topic:

What is stonewalling in a relationship?

The Gottman Institute identified stonewalling as one of the Four Horsemen, or harmful communication styles that often lead to the end of romantic relationships. Stonewalling is present when one person withdraws from the interaction or conflict. It typically occurs when an individual feels emotionally overwhelmed or psychologically flooded. Research has found that men tend to be more likely to stonewall; however, when women stonewall, there is a strong likelihood of eventual divorce.

How do you react to stonewalling in a relationship?

The Gottman Institute notes that the antidote to stonewalling is psychological self-soothing. When an individual stonewalls, they are likely psychologically flooded, which can manifest in physical signs such as increased heart rate. In such a state, it is not productive to continue discussing the matter at hand.

Instead, both you and your partner should walk away and take a break for at least twenty minutes to do something calming. Taking the time and space to self-soothe can allow both parties to return to the discussion feeling calm and grounded.

If stonewalling is an ongoing pattern in your relationship, you may consider seeking the support of a couples therapist. They can assist you and your partner in developing more effective communication patterns, which can lead to increased relationship satisfaction.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Stonewalling And Gaslighting?

 Stonewalling and gaslighting are both forms of emotional manipulation. The person who stonewalls will try to make it seem like you're overly emotional. The gaslighter tries to make you think you're losing touch with reality. Either way, they try to come across as more emotionally stable than you, and the negative effects can be devastating.

Is Stonewalling Narcissistic?

It can be a narcissistic matter. Although narcissists use stonewalling to trigger your emotions and put their needs above yours, not everyone who stonewalls is a narcissist. Some people may stonewall be they're at a loss for words.

What To Say To Someone Who Is Stonewalling You?

Tell the person you recognize what they're doing. Your response to them might go something like this:

"I see you're not interested in this conversation, so let's take a break. The subject is important to me, so I'd like to revisit it with you in a few days."

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns

Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.