Stonewalling – When Silence Speaks Louder Than Words

Don’t Let Stonewalling Wreck Your Relationship – How to Break the Silence

Are you tired of feeling like you’re talking to a brick wall when trying to communicate with your partner? Do you feel ignored, dismissed, or invalidated when expressing your thoughts and feelings? If so, you may be experiencing stonewalling, a communication pattern that can wreak havoc on even the strongest relationships.

In this article, we’ll explore what stonewalling is, how to recognise it, and most importantly, how to effectively respond to it. So, buckle up and get ready to learn how to break down the stonewalling barrier and build a stronger, more fulfilling relationship.

What is Stonewalling?

Stonewalling is a type of communication breakdown that happens when one person refuses to engage in a conversation. It is a defensive mechanism that some people use when they feel overwhelmed or threatened by the conversation or the person they are talking to.

Stonewalling can manifest in different ways, including shutting down, refusing to talk, ignoring the other person, or walking away.

Why is Stonewalling Damaging?

Stonewalling can be particularly damaging in romantic relationships because it creates a barrier to open communication, which is the foundation of a healthy and successful relationship.

When one partner stonewalls, the other partner might feel ignored, dismissed, or invalidated, which can lead to feelings of frustration, anger, or resentment. If left unchecked, stonewalling can erode the trust, intimacy, and connection between partners.

Where Did the Term “Stonewalling” Come From?

The psychological term “stonewalling” was first introduced by Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute, a leading researcher in the field of relationship psychology. In his research, Dr. Gottman identified stonewalling as one of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” which are communication patterns that can predict relationship failure.

Stonewalling is a defensive communication strategy that involves withdrawing from a conversation or relationship to avoid conflict or emotional overload. Dr. Gottman’s research has shown that stonewalling can be incredibly damaging to relationships and can lead to emotional disconnection, resentment, and even divorce. As a result, stonewalling has become a recognised and studied psychological term in the field of relationship psychology.

What Are the Types of Stonewalling?

Stonewalling can take many forms, and it’s important to recognise the different types to address them effectively. Here are some common types of stonewalling:

  1. Emotional Stonewalling – When someone shuts down emotionally and refuses to show vulnerability or empathy during a conversation
  2. Verbal Stonewalling – When someone refuses to engage in the conversation by giving one-word answers, using sarcasm or humor to deflect, or remaining silent
  3. Physical Stonewalling – When someone uses their body language to shut down the conversation by avoiding eye contact, crossing their arms, or turning away
  4. Relationship Stonewalling – When someone uses stonewalling as a way to punish or manipulate their partner by withholding affection, sex, or communication

What Are the Signs of Stonewalling?

Stonewalling can be subtle or overt, and it can happen during any conversation, whether it’s a heated argument or a casual chat. Here are some common signs of stonewalling:

  • Refusing to talk or respond to the other person
  • Giving one-word answers or non-committal responses
  • Walking away from the conversation or leaving the room
  • Turning away from the other person
  • Pretending to be busy or distracted
  • Interrupting the other person or changing the subject
  • Acting defensive or dismissive

If you notice these signs in your partner or yourself during a conversation, it’s a sign that stonewalling might be happening.

A Real Life Story of Stonewalling

Samantha and Jake had been together for 3 years and had always prided themselves on their open communication. However, recently, Jake had started shutting down whenever Samantha tried to talk about an issue in their relationship. Whenever Samantha brought up something that was bothering her, Jake would give short, one-word answers and avoid eye contact. When Samantha tried to get him to engage in the conversation, he would become defensive and dismissive, telling her that she was making a big deal out of nothing.

As time went on, Samantha felt more and more frustrated by Jake’s stonewalling. She felt like he wasn’t listening to her and didn’t care about her feelings. She began to withdraw from the relationship, feeling hurt and unsupported. Jake, on the other hand, felt overwhelmed by Samantha’s emotional reactions and didn’t know how to respond. He felt like no matter what he said or did, it would only make things worse.

Eventually, Samantha and Jake sought the help of a couples therapist to address their communication issues. Through therapy, they learned that Jake’s stonewalling was a defensive mechanism he had developed in childhood to protect himself from emotional overload. Samantha learned that her communication style could be overwhelming and that using “I” statements and validating Jake’s feelings could help him feel more comfortable engaging in the conversation.

With time, patience, and the help of a therapist, Samantha and Jake were able to break down the stonewalling barrier and build a stronger, more fulfilling relationship.

The Emotional Effects of Stonewalling

Stonewalling can have severe emotional effects on both partners. For the person who is stonewalling, it can lead to increased feelings of isolation, anxiety, and guilt. For the person on the receiving end, it can lead to feelings of rejection, frustration, and sadness. Over time, stonewalling can damage the trust and intimacy between partners, leading to a breakdown in the relationship.

How to Respond to Stonewalling

If you notice stonewalling happening in your relationship, it’s important to address it before it causes further harm. Here are some ways you can respond to stonewalling:

  1. Take a break – If you or your partner are feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to take a break from the conversation. Agree on a time to resume the conversation when you both feel calmer and more collected
  2. Use “I” statements – When communicating with your partner, use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. This helps to avoid blame and defensiveness
  3. Validate your partner’s feelings – Even if you don’t agree with your partner’s perspective, it’s important to validate their feelings. This shows that you’re listening and that you care about their point of view
  4. Seek help – If you’re having trouble addressing stonewalling in your relationship, seek the help of a therapist or counsellor. They can provide you with the tools and support you need to navigate this difficult communication pattern

How Do Narcissists Use Stonewalling?

When a person with narcissistic tendencies engages in stonewalling, it can be a form of manipulation and control. They may use stonewalling as a way to punish their partner or to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. A narcissist may stonewall their partner as a way to maintain power in the relationship, to avoid admitting fault, or to keep their partner in a state of confusion and uncertainty.

Stonewalling combined with narcissism can make it difficult for the non-narcissistic partner to express their feelings and needs in the relationship. The narcissistic partner may become defensive, dismissive, or even aggressive when confronted with their stonewalling behaviour. This can lead to a breakdown in communication, trust, and intimacy in the relationship.

If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist who stonewalls, it’s important to seek professional help. A therapist or counsellor can help you navigate the complexities of the relationship and provide you with tools and strategies to communicate more effectively with your partner. It’s also important to establish healthy boundaries and prioritise your own emotional well-being.


Stonewalling can be a challenging communication pattern to navigate in any relationship. However, by recognising the signs and types of stonewalling, understanding its emotional effects, and learning how to respond to them effectively, you can improve communication and intimacy in your relationship.

Remember, open communication is the key to a healthy and successful relationship.

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