Stonewalling, As a Harmful Behavior to relationships.




Some behaviors  may contribute to  problems in relationship.These behaviors undermine the bond between the couple and, if they continue, may lead to extreme frustration.

Dr. John Gottman, a leading explorer of  relationship problems is the author of  a superb series of books on improving relationships. He describes harmful behaviors  as   the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He says that  these behaviors, if not treated, predict the  harmful results. He identified four destructive communication behaviors: –Criticism; Defensiveness; Contempt; and Stonewalling.



Let me  focus on one of these: stonewalling.

Stonewalling means tunning out  from communication. The person puts up a wall and does not engage with their partner in order to talk things through. The stonewallers might leave, ignore what’s being said, give monosyllabic answers, refuse to respond, or do other things to demonstrate  emotional detachment.  He or she  might evade or change the topic in mid-conversation,– or just shift the focus towards the other person.

Stonewalling can be extremely frustrating for the other partner because it feels like he or she  is  being ignored. It also blocks all attempts at trying to resolve the situation, to talk things through, or to establish what the issue is. Stonewalling  prevents the conflict or problem from being resolved, and usually leaves other party angry and annoyed.



Why Do People Stonewall?

It’s not necessarily malicious. Some people do it because they are overwhelmed with emotions, usually anger, shame, or frustration, and want to disconnect from the conflict.

Some people may  feel they are too stressed to deal with the situation right now and prefer to disengage.

Stonewalling may just  be a way to take a time out. Sometimes it is done unintentionally, if the person fails to realize the importance of a topic and other person’s concerns.

However, stonewalling might also be a conscious choice, especially if the partner is not interested  in conflict resolution and  associated with being passive-aggressive.

The stonewallers  may protect himself or herself  from being vulnerable, since he or she  believes that their partner is not willing to understand their needs. One person refuses to engage and may use this as a tool to manipulate and make the other person feel angry until they act out, only to later blame them for being irrational or overreacting.

Stonewalling is something that anyone may engage in from time to time. But if it becomes a pattern, It may become a serious threat to the relationship. The  stonewallers may also feel disengaged, have difficulty managing his or her emotions and  do self-soothing.




So, How To Deal With Stonewalling?

It is better to start working with the idea that stonewalling is a part of someone’s overall communication pattern rather than something intentional. Sometimes this behavior was learned from family of origin. People may don’t know how to resolve a conflict differently. It’s worth calling the pattern out and encouraging a discussion on the matter. However, it is ultimately anyone’s choice whether they want to engage or not in order to resolve the problem or continue to live in misery.

The stress response ( when a partner feels threatened, hurt, and exhausted) is that we are wired to have: fight ( or pursuit); flight (avoidance); or freeze (withdraw from relationship or communication– stonewalling). This way of responding may be seen as an attempt to protect the relationship from getting worse by shutting it down. It may be not apparent, but it is a form of  protest against  the loss of connection, that may be sound like :” Or , no, please stay with me! It feels so lonely for me, respond to me, I need you to be with me right now, please! Hold me tight”.

But saying this may feel too risky. Instead, the message  sounds more like “Just leave me alone…Do whatever you want…Stop talking…Get out of my face…That’s enough…I’ve had it!…You never listen to me, why bother..I will not expect any supportive  behavior  from you.”

Even though  stonewalling can look aggressive from the outside, it feels very scary on the inside. The defensive stonewaller feels like he’s trying to protect himself. He can also think that he’s protecting his family. Stonewallers seek to  avoid feeling inadequate, but this  only proves that stonewallers  are inadequate and unlovable. According to Steven Stosny, Ph.D.,the discomfort of inadequacy motivated partners  to learn a new communication patterns to be better partners and parents.



The first step  to get out of  harmful behavior cycle is to notice it.

You likely will not be able to change the pattern to a new positive behavior easily.  But  recognizing how you impact your relationship is the initial step of  learning the tools to interrupt the cycle.



Working with a therapist will help you understand what makes these negative patterns of communication so emotionally charged and powerful, so you will begin to express yourself in  different  and constructive ways.


To schedule your appointment e-mail :



Feel free to leave your comments or questions!




1.John M. Gottman, Ph.D “The relationship Cure. A 5 Step Guide for Building Better Connection with Family, Frends, and Lovers”

2.Veronica Kallos-Lilly , Jennifer Fitzgerald, “An emotionally focused workbook for couples:the two of us”.





6 thoughts on “Stonewalling, As a Harmful Behavior to relationships.

  1. Hi Olina. Thanks for writing this. I think that many people are guilty of exhibiting this behaviour pattern at some time in their life – if I’m honest with myself, I know I have done it when I have felt betrayed or let down by someone. In doing that though, it may provide some relief at the time, but we all need to realise that it is not a sustainable model for good communication between anyone. I like the acknowledgement you have that the person doing the stonewalling is hurting too as I think it’s all too easy for people to judge others without truly understanding the problem. I firmly believe that working thought misunderstandings and miscommunication is the key to better relationships. Allow the person a soft way back to the friendship or relationship may help if they feel they cannot now ‘back down’ without losing faith.

    1. You are right, Gail. Without clear communication people may easily misunderstand a problem and have a wrong judjement. Stonewalling, as a defence mechanism, can provide short-term relief for stonewaller, giving the illusion of control over the situation. Nonetheless, this type of communication has no potential for positive resolution of a problem. So, the cycle of conflict will repeate again and again, damaging the relationship.Thank you for your input!

  2. I really like the details that you have pointed out on some of the reasons why someone may be stonewalling their partner. Not necessarily trying to be mean or instigate an issue, in their mind, this is how to avoid an uncomfortable situation. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, just as ignoring an issue is equally as bad. ‘
    I would like to know if this “stonewalling” is an immature condition that one may outgrow as the relationship evolves? I am hoping that it is only a phase people go through as they mature.Thank you very much for your insight on this personality trait.

    1. Hi Kenneth, we may consider all harmful behaviors immature. People definitely may “outgrow” maladaptive behaviors by learning what works and what does not, then practicing what works and educating themselves. However, the most people are unaware about their destructive patterns and have a tendency to blame their partners, family, co-workers, etc. It takes time to learn from one’s own mistakes. The constructive input from the outside and desire for change will give faster and better result.

  3. Great topic about stone walling. I must confess that when I am in a fight with my partner we both stone wall in the beginning. We ignore each other to give each other some space. This doesn’t take long.

    Mostly after 1 hour or so we speak again to each other and talk things out. I think most people ignore each other when they are angry. But allways talk things out when the situation calms down to keep a healthy realationship. 🙂

    1. Hi Dennis, there are some difference between stonewalling and taking brake in order to regain calmness and objectivity;) while heated arguments happen. The second one is a healthy way, since it prevents partners from saying something hurtful that they can feel sorry about later and gives time to think about the matter of arguments and about solution. Stonewalling is more ignoring all attempts of other person to communicate and find a healthy way to resolve conflict, manipulating the partner to give up on their point of view. Thanks for sharing!

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