Does Stonewalling Count As Abuse?

By: Sarah Cocchimiglio

Updated September 09, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Avia James

Relationships require patience and communication. But what do you do when your partner starts stonewalling? Is it considered abuse? Let's look at the basic definition of stonewalling and how this harmful habit of stonewalling can affect both people in a relationship. Later, we'll cover some tips on how to handle stonewalling in your relationship.


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Stonewalling Definition

Someone who is a stonewall avoids engaging in discussion, problem-solving, or cooperating. They may sit sullenly and silently while you become more and more frantic 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." While you try to address concerns, a person who is stonewalling acts like you're not important or have nothing valuable to say to them.

Stonewalling Signs

Men are more commonly the ones exhibit this behavior in a relationship. Women tend to have strong reactions to stonewalls, while men usually don't. Still, this can happen between any two people. How do you know if there is a stonewall in your relationship? 

Stonewalling Towards You

Stonewalling can be obvious at times and other times it is subtle. Here are some of the symptoms of stonewalling in a relationship:

  • You start serious conversations by criticizing your partner.
  • Your partner ignores you when you speak.
  • Your partner is suddenly busy with something else whenever you want to talk seriously.
Towards Someone
If you've been a stonewall to someone else, you may not realize what you're doing to them. 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.
Relationship Effects 
Even if you know how to define stonewalling, 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. In fact, when partners rely on stonewalling to deal with relationship problems, it usually signals an impending breakup. When someone does this behavior regularly, they may begin to doubt their value as a person or feel like they're going crazy. This is a natural response because this behavior is a form of gaslighting. A relationship marked in which this happens often can have tremendous challenges until both partners learn how to communicate more productively. 
Is Stonewalling Abuse?

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

Emotional Abuse


If you want to have a healthy, happy relationship, you have all the motivation you need to stop 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 communication skills.
  • Make it a point to soften the way you present a concern.
  • Don't start a serious conversation with a complaint or criticism of your partner.


Exhibiting Stonewalling Behavior? What to Do

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.
  • 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.


You can find licensed, experienced therapists online at BetterHelp. They're licensed counselors who understand how emotional abuse can damage individuals, relationships, and families. Starting is easy, and therapy is convenient and affordable. The sooner you and your partner address this difficult problem, 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.

Counselor Reviews

"Andrea has been nothing short of wonderful since I started counseling with her. She always makes me feel heard and validated, while at the same time challenging me to question the way I think about and react to different situations. She is thoughtful, caring, and nonjudgmental. I have seen a huge difference in myself, my relationships, and my happiness since I started working with her."
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"He is a very genuine easy to talk person. He is very helpful to me and my partner. He has had a very positive impact on our relationship."


Stonewalling isn't a healthy way to communicate in any relationship. Once you've identified the signs and possible causes, you and your partner can work through your issues and learn to communicate in a positive, meaningful way. With a little work and a little commitment, you can create a truly fulfilling relationship. Take the first step today.

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