Understanding Stonewalling in Relationships

Want to know if you're being stonewalled by your partner? Check out this article!

Stonewalling often triggers misunderstandings and conflicts, especially in the fast-moving and sometimes indirect ways we talk in many Hong Kong relationships. Explore more about stonewalling and its significance for hopeless romantics here.

What Is Stonewalling?

Stonewalling occurs when one person refuses to engage or discuss a topic. Usually, they withhold verbal and nonverbal communication cues to avoid an uncomfortable conversation or conflict. When people feel overwhelming emotions, they may perceive it as a threat. Hence, they resort to stonewalling.

couple fight

Moreover, stonewalling doesn’t involve emotion and communication altogether, unlike other forms of communication breakdowns. That’s why stonewalling is a complicated issue to address. Understanding the underlying reasons for the behaviour and communicating with the stonewaller is difficult.

Some typical scenarios where stonewalling occurs in relationships include disagreements about essential decisions, conflicts over personal values or beliefs, and sensitive topics such as sex, money, or parenting. It can also happen in a natural response to hurt feelings and criticisms.

Overall, it is crucial to note that stonewalling is unhealthy communication behaviour and can lead to long-term relationship damage.

What Is the Difference between Stonewalling and Gaslighting?

Although stonewalling and gaslighting are unhealthy communication behaviours, they are distinct in their characteristics and impact. Stonewalling involves a refusal to communicate with a conflict. It manifests when a person withdraws from the conversation, becomes unresponsive, gives the silent treatment, or uses avoidance tactics. 

On the other hand, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation. It alters the sense of the reality of the other person through deception. As a result, the person becomes invalidated and confused, which leads to self-doubt.

Not sure if you're stonewalled or gaslighted?Read this too!

Types of Stonewalling

There are two types of stonewalling: intentional and unintentional.

Intentional Stonewalling: It is a conscious choice to withdraw from the communication or conflict in the relationship. This behaviour may be the other person’s way of exerting control or power over someone. It may also be a way to avoid accountability and responsibility.

Unintentional Stonewalling: In some cases, stonewalling is unintentional. The other person may not know they are stonewalling the other person. It may be because of emotional distress. On the other hand, it may be a coping mechanism or learned behaviour from past experiences or relationships.

Signs of Stonewalling

In most cases, you can determine stonewalling immediately. But, sometimes, it's not apparent. You might engage in this stonewalling abusive behaviour without realizing it: These signs may indicate stonewalling in a relationship:

  • Refusal to engage or discuss
  • Ignoring or dismissing
  • Silent treatment or cold shoulder
  • Lack of emotional expression or responsiveness
  • Physical withdrawal or leaving
  • Defensive or closed-off body language
  • Monosyllabic responses
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Disinterest or preoccupation
  • Vague or uncommitted responses

How can I tell if my partner is stonewalling me?

There are a few signs that you may be experiencing stonewalling from your partner. First, your partner may refuse to communicate. It's also possible that they are giving you the silent treatment. They may avoid eye contact, turn away from you, or leave the room when you try to talk to them. Your partner may also be dismissive, non-responsive, or give brief answers to your questions.

Another sign of stonewalling is that your partner may change the subject or redirect the conversation when you try to address an issue. They may act defensively, blame you for the situation, or refuse to take responsibility for their behaviour. You may also notice your partner becoming emotionally distant, withdrawn, or disengaged from the relationship.

If you are experiencing any of these signs, it may be a sign that your partner is stonewalling you. Therefore, addressing this issue and communicating with your partner about how their behaviour affects you and your relationship is essential.

What if I’m stonewalling my partner?

If you recognize that you are stonewalling, the first step is acknowledging and taking responsibility for your actions. It's important to understand that stonewalling is a defence mechanism. It often results from feeling overwhelmed or flooded in a conflict.

Once you recognize that you are stonewalling, taking a break and calming down before communicating are needed. During the break, identify the underlying feelings or needs contributing to your stonewalling behaviour. Then, reflect on how to address these needs healthily without shutting down communication.

When you are ready to return to the conversation, it's crucial to communicate with your partner clearly and respectfully. Use "I" statements to express your feelings without blaming or attacking your partner. Also, listen actively to your partner and try to understand their perspective without becoming defensive. Seeking the help of a therapist can also be beneficial in addressing and overcoming stonewalling.

Causes of Stonewalling in Relationships

Stonewalling is a destructive pattern in relationships. It can lead to emotional distress, conflict, and negative communication patterns. Understanding the underlying reasons for stonewalling can help couples address the issue and create healthier communication patterns. Here are the causes of stonewalling in relationships:

  • Emotional and psychological factors

Individuals who are prone to stonewalling are those who struggle with expressing their emotions or have difficulty regulating their feelings. When emotions become overwhelming or uncomfortable, some people may shut down and disengage from communication to avoid further discomfort. It can lead to stonewalling as a coping mechanism to manage difficult emotions.

Likewise, past experiences and traumas can affect an individual's communication ability in relationships. For example, someone who has experienced a lot of criticism or rejection in the past may be more likely to withdraw and completely shut themselves down when faced with conflict in a current relationship. Stonewalling is sometimes a defence mechanism to protect oneself from further emotional pain or vulnerability. It is essential for individuals who struggle with stonewalling to seek support from a therapist to address underlying emotional and psychological factors and develop healthy communication patterns.

  • Cultural and societal influences

In some cultures, there may be an emphasis on maintaining harmony and avoiding conflict at all costs. As a result, it can lead to a preference for indirect communication and a reluctance to express emotions or disagreements openly. As a result, some individuals may be more likely to engage in stonewalling to avoid confrontations and preserve the relationship.

Moreover, gender roles and expectations can also contribute to stonewalling behaviour. Research suggests that men are more prone to stonewalling than women. It may be due to societal expectations that men should be stoic and unemotional in the face of conflict. Hence, men may be more likely to withdraw from communication and become emotionally distant to cope with difficult emotions. Individuals must recognize and challenge cultural and societal expectations that may contribute to stonewalling behaviours in their relationships.

  • Relationship dynamics

One person may tend to stonewall to dominate and gain control or power over the relationship. It is a dynamic where the one who feels powerless can do this unhealthy behaviour, making the other person feel degraded. Thus, stonewalling is a passive resistance to an imbalanced power dynamic in this scenario.

In addition, if the partners have a history of unresolved conflicts or have experienced emotional trauma, one or both partners may be more likely to engage in stonewalling. It is a way to protect themselves from further emotional pain or to avoid triggering negative emotions. Over time, this can create a cycle of stonewalling and avoidance that can be difficult to break without outside help or intervention from a relationship therapist. Therefore, partners must know their communication patterns to create a more open and balanced dynamic.

Effects of Stonewalling on Relationships

Stonewalling is a behaviour that can have severe consequences on romantic relationships. It is a passive-aggressive way of communication, which can lead to a breakdown in communication between partners. With that, here are the effects of stonewalling on relationships:

  • Emotional distress and pain for both parties

Stonewalling can create a lot of emotional distress and pain for both partners in a relationship. When one person stonewalls the other, it can make them feel ignored, invalidated, and rejected. It can leave the stonewalled partner feeling confused, frustrated, and alone in their communication attempts. As a result, they may feel resentful and angry toward their partner, leading to a breakdown in trust and emotional intimacy.

  • Increased conflict and tension

When one partner in a relationship stonewalls, it can create a deep sense of frustration and helplessness in the other. The partner may feel like they are constantly hitting a wall when communicating or resolving issues, leading to unresolved conflicts and tension. This tension can escalate into arguments or fights as the partner becomes increasingly frustrated and resentful. As the conflict and tension increase, it can create a cycle of negative partner interactions.

  • Negative impact on the relationship and communication patterns

Stonewalling can hurt relationships and communication patterns. When one partner stonewalls, the other may feel ignored, unimportant, or unheard, leading to frustration and anger. Over time, this can create a sense of distance and disconnection between partners. Consequently, resolving conflicts or working together to build a healthy and happy relationship would take a lot of work.

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Overcoming Stonewalling in Relationships

When stonewalling occurs in a relationship, it can be challenging to overcome. It often leads to emotional distress and increased conflict. Consequently, it would negatively affect communication patterns. However, with the right approach and effort from both parties, it is possible to overcome stonewalling and rebuild a healthy relationship. These are some ways to overcome stonewalling in relationships:

  • Recognizing and addressing the issue

The first step in addressing stonewalling in relationships is to recognize the indication. Some common signs include silence, withdrawal, and avoidance of difficult conversations. Once you have recognized the signs of stonewalling, it is essential to identify the triggers that cause it. Of course, these triggers can differ for different people. But they often include feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or attacked. When you feel triggered and tempted to stonewall, practising self-soothing techniques such as deep breathing, taking a break, or engaging in a calming activity can be helpful. 

  • Communication techniques to facilitate dialogue

Several communication techniques can help facilitate dialogue and overcome stonewalling in relationships. Proactive listening helps. It involves giving the speaker your full attention, repeating what you heard, and asking for clarification if needed. Moreover, instead of accusing the other person or using "you," try using "I" statements to express your feelings about the situation. Lastly, acknowledging and validating their feelings can help de-escalate the issue, even if you disagree with their perspective.

  • Improving emotional intelligence and empathy

In overcoming stonewalling in relationships, you must improve your emotional intelligence and empathy. Recognizing and understanding your emotions and how they influence your behaviour is essential. This recognition will help you identify and address triggers that lead to stonewalling behaviour. Practising active listening and empathy can also help you overcome stonewalling. 

  • Seeking professional help

Finally, seeking professional help can be beneficial in overcoming stonewalling in a relationship. It provides a neutral and safe space for both partners to address their issues and work towards improving their communication skills. A therapist or counsellor can help the couple identify the stonewalling behaviour's root causes, provide effective communication techniques, and facilitate a deeper understanding of each other's feelings and needs.

What Can We Learn from Stonewalling?

Stonewalling can teach us important lessons about communication and relationships. Firstly, it can highlight the importance of recognizing and addressing emotional and psychological issues contributing to stonewalling behaviour. By understanding the root causes of stonewalling, individuals can work on developing healthier communication patterns.

Additionally, stonewalling can underscore the importance of active listening and empathy in communication. By actively listening to your partner's perspective and empathizing with their feelings, individuals can create a more supportive and collaborative communication dynamic.

Accordingly, learning from stonewalling can help individuals build more robust and authentic relationships.

Conclusion

In conclusion, stonewalling is a destructive behaviour that can cause emotional distress and pain for both parties, increase conflict and tension, and harm the relationship and communication patterns. Various emotional, psychological, cultural, and societal factors and relationship dynamics can cause it. Recognizing the signs and understanding the causes can help individuals and couples work towards healthier communication and more fulfilling relationships. Seeking professional help, such as counselling or therapy, can also be beneficial in addressing stonewalling and other communication breakdowns in relationships. Finally, both parties need effort and commitment to overcome stonewalling and build stronger connections.

DatingsScout.hk Author Chris Pleines
Chris Pleines
Founder of Datingscout and Author of the book "Online Dating for Dummies"
Chris founded Datingscout 15 years ago, and today he is one of the leading Online Dating Experts. He is the author of the book "Online Dating for Dummies" and the author of the Internet's largest online dating study analyzing 20 Million Profile Pictures with artificial intelligence. Chris Pleines holds a master degree in media science and appeared in numerous television interviews and publications to give expert advice as well as tips about online dating.

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