Stonewalling is when your partner gives you the silent treatment or completely shuts down emotionally during arguments or times of tension. They may refuse to speak to you altogether or only communicate very minimally for hours, days, or even weeks at a time. Stonewalling can be very detrimental to your relationship because it shuts down communication channels and makes the other partner feel disrespected, and in some cases completely abandoned. If this is a recurring problem in your relationship, here are a few strategies to try:
Focus on Your Own Reactions
You may not be able to get your partner to communicate openly, but you can control your own reactions and behavior. Acting in a way that is calm, rational, and unemotional is often helpful in this situation because people who are prone to stonewalling are often afraid of emotional displays, so being emotional or angry just prolongs their stonewalling. When your partner disappears or refuses to talk, do what you can to detach a bit emotionally and focus on yourself and your feelings.
Do things that feel good and healthy, such as writing down your frustrations in a journal or exercising. This not only gives your partner the breathing room they need, but also helps you avoid behaving in a way that you will regret later, such as screaming or crying uncontrollably.
Seek Relationship Counseling
An experienced relationship counselor is the best line of defense against stonewalling behavior. A counselor will help your partner uncover the root issues behind their stonewalling behavior, including a fear of being vulnerable in a relationship, and dysfunctional relationship habits they saw modeled as children.
A relationship counselor will also help you process your own feelings of hurt and abandonment relating to the stonewalling behavior, and help you both work through any underlying relationship issues or dysfunction. They will also help you learn and practice new, healthy, and productive communication strategies, and ways to make each other feel heard, respected, and loved.
Stonewalling should never be an acceptable behavior in any relationship. Once your partner starts talking to you again, it's important to express your boundaries as clearly and calmly as possible. Explain that if your partner needs some space or time alone, they should simply tell you this instead of making you guess.
By proactively confronting the stonewalling behavior and following these tips, you have a better chance of creating a more communicative and healthy relationship.
Contact a counselor, like Sharon O'Connell, MA, for more help.