What Is Stonewalling And Is Stonewalling A Form Of Abuse?

By Sarah Cocchimiglio|Updated April 26, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Avia James, LPC

What to do when your partner starts stonewalling you emotionally. Learn about the definition of stonewalling below.

What Is Stonewalling?

Someone who is stonewalling in a relationship avoids engaging in emotional discussion, problem-solving, or emotional cooperation. They may sit sullenly and silently while you become more and more emotional 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 emotional concerns, a person who is stonewalling acts like you're not important or have nothing valuable to say to them.

Take A Closer Look At How You Communicate In Relationships

Stonewalling Signs In A Relationship

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

Stonewalling 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.

Stonewalling 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.

Stonewalling 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. 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. 

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 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.

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.
  • 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.

BetterHelp 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.

BetterHelp Therapist 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."

Take A Closer Look At How You Communicate In Relationships

"He is a very genuine easy talk person. He is very helpful to me and my partner. He has had a very positive impact on our relationship."

Final Thoughts

Stonewalling isn't a healthy way to communicate in any relationship.

Once you've identified the signs and possible causes of stonewalling, 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 free of stonewalling. Take the first step today.

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