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.
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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”.