What Is Stonewalling And How To Deal With It?

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Stonewalling in a relationship is a predictor of divorce, the ultimate narcissistic behavior. IF you want to know what is stonewalling in a relationship its different characteristics, and most importantly, how to deal with it, you’re at the right place. We’re going to look at the different ways partners may be stonewalling you and how you can get through that.

Stonewalling in a relationship is a narcissist’s move wherein one partner disengages from the relationship. The withdrawal of a partner may leave you feeling incompetent and shitty about yourself and think that they must have done something for their partner to be stonewalling them. It can lead to insecurity, bitterness, and contentment, later on.

A stonewaller deliberately stops talking and disengages from any conversation that might bring up problems. Perhaps that’s the way they saw their parents deal with arguments. If they had toxic parents who meted out similar treatment to each other, chances are stonewalling is perceived as normal for such people.

Perhaps they have been brought up in that way where you ”time out” when things are getting too heated or the emotions are getting too huge to process. There can be several reasons for their behavior, but it needs to change for a healthy and happy relationship to build over time. Let’s look at the basic concept of stonewalling in a relationship first before moving on to its different features and more.

What Exactly Is Stonewalling?

What is stonewalling in a relationship? Stonewalling is exactly what it sounds like – a person builds a wall of stone around himself to cancel out the speaker’s thoughts. An otherwise emotionally available person could be stonewalling. Through their silent treatment, which is a form of abuse in itself, the partner tries to disengage from any conversation.

Why do people stonewall? Because it is in the mind of the stonewaller that whatever wrong is being done to them is wrong and the silent treatment is the punishment for that.

And I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that? Apart from everything?

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Stonewalling psychology generally entails that even though in a loving relationship, one needs to have narcissistic control over their partner by stopping any verbal or mental connection with them while things get heated or conflicted. This makes the partner feel as if they’ve done something terrible.

But that’s not true. Know that narcissists are anyway not capable to maintain relationships.

One of my friend’s girlfriends used to stonewall him for the smallest of matters. And while stonewalling, she used to busy herself with a task – like pretending to read a book or be in the process of cleaning the room. One day she went as far as to say, ”I am giving you the silent treatment because you hurt me.” When asked why would she rather not talk it out, she said (and I remember it clear as day), ”You did the crime. You have to do the time.”

Stonewalling is sort of the punishment without the rod. It is a mental torment for a partner when you stonewall them.

Is stonewalling an example of passive-aggressive behavior in relationships? Yes, totally. More importantly, this passive-aggressive treatment shows how people in a relationship deserve to stonewall and to be stonewalled. Some even consider it mental abuse. It creates a mental trauma in the person who is being stonewalled because their partner has an emotional shutdown that they have to endure.

5 Signs You Are Being Stonewalled In A Relationship

woman thinking
You are stonewalled in a relationship

It’s not always easy to understand the emotional shutdown that is part of stonewalling psychology. Your partner is suddenly there but not there and you don’t know what to do.

Rihanna and Vivien were dating for a year before they decided to get married. Vivien was the shy, introverted kind who usually chose to stay silent when arguments happened. Rihanna thought that was his way of ensuring that a quarrel didn’t take an ugly shape. But after marriage, Rihanna noticed that the solution to every problem they faced was silence from Vivien.

“It was exasperating,” said Rihanna. “If I said we needed to go and get the groceries he would behave like he hadn’t heard. If I said we needed to buy a home he wouldn’t get into a discussion and would just shrug and say, ‘someday.'”

Vivien was emotionally distant, rarely communicated with Rihanna and gradually she started feeling she was married to a wall. The silence that was earlier there during arguments, got extended to everything in life.

Now look, there can be some benefits of silent treatments as well when executed with kindness and out of necessity. The signs of stonewalling will always be there if you are stonewalled in a relationship. We list 5 signs here.

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1. Stonewallers do not open up at all

No matter how much you try to communicate with your partner you will have a feeling that they are leaving out something from the discussion. You would feel there is a part of them you don’t know at all. There are different ways to get over communication problems in relationships but it’s usually harder for people who’re used to stonewalling.

Stonewallers are never comfortable discussing feelings.  Be it feelings about you, about parents, about siblings, or even about the job or colleagues. They would talk to you but if you get into the territory of expressing feelings they would quickly shut down.

2. Quickly dismiss you

If Rihanna told Vivien that she was afraid the retrenchment drive in her company would cost her job he would just say. “Nothing like that would happen” and end it like that. It was as if her husband was completely ignoring her.

Rihanna felt terrible when her concerns were dismissed so quickly and she felt as if she didn’t exist as a person. It made her feel like a smaller person in their relationship and took a mental toll on her when it kept repeating.

3. Avoid eye contact

Stonewallers usually avoid eye contact. If you expect them to look deeply into your eyes and talk warmly then you are making a mistake. They would always look away at a distance and talk. It’s been shown that eye contact attraction is a crucial aspect of relationships and it helps in bonding better. The exact reverse happens when your partner avoids looking at you.

While they were dating, Rihanna had thought that not looking at eyes was Vivien’s philosophical look and even found it cute then. But with time she realized that was the look he used to avoid eye contact.

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4. They do not respond to questions

They could have returned late in the night from work and the next day you could be asking them at the breakfast table why they got so late. Guess that’s a perfectly normal question a spouse can ask.

But a stonewaller could just take refuge in a glass of juice and a newspaper and not answer a single question. And when you get angry, you would be rewarded with even more silence. This is an absolute sign that you are in a relationship with a stonewaller. It creates feelings of neglect and resentment within you that can take a heavy mental toll over time.

5. They always walk away

If you are thinking about how to respond to stonewalling then you could be just left thinking forever. Because as soon an argument brews, a stonewaller will always walk away and punish you for days by not talking to you.

They not only walk away from arguments, but they also walk away from issues and problems that need to be tackled. Escape is the best route for a stonewaller. These are some of the easiest tactics that can cause resentment in your marriage.

How Do You Deal With Stonewalling?

First thing first. It is easy to stonewall someone back when they are stonewalling you. Like in the case of my friend. It is also a big NO-NO.


Because stonewalling is a jerk move. Period. It proves teaching them a lesson is more important than hashing it out like adults. It is immature and effectively ruins everyone’s vibe and mood making the stonewaller a jerk.

Just because your partner is taking the narrow, bendy road to relationship town doesn’t mean you have to follow them down the unhealthy trail. It would cause further division in your relationship and it might take a route that’s impossible to come back from. What is stonewalling in a relationship if not a toxic trait? Besides, when does tackling a toxic trait with another toxic trait help? Never.

Here’s how you deal with stonewalling in a relationship.

1. Survive but don’t engage

It is easy to stonewall someone who is giving you the silent treatment. You may even double the efforts to stonewall someone because what goes around comes back around, right?

Well, no.

Survive the silent treatment but do not treat them like they are treating you. Checking out of a relationship is a no-no. Saying ”screw you, I don’t need your shit” is a big no-no. Engaging in taunts and saying hurtful things will do worse damage to the relationship. Learning to survive and not engaging might be tough but it’s the better way.

2. Don’t go down the guilt hole

When stonewalled, feelings of anger, hurt, abuse and disappointment can be too much. In moments like these, it’s important to take a step back and assess for yourself if there is anything you really did to deserve such treatment. Stonewalling in communication, if done at appropriate times, can be a non-aggressive way of showing anger at someone.

If your conscience is clear, there’s no need to feel guilty. It isn’t your fault your partner decides to go for a verbal blockade instead of communicating.

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3. Let them know about your disapproval of this matter

Your partner has chosen to stonewall you instead of talking about the reason for their verbal lockdown. Let them know what you are feeling. Something like, “It hurts me when you go quiet on me”, can work wonders. Also, “Maybe talking about it will make you feel better?” An understanding partner would consider this and work on improving the communication in your relationship.

4. Utilize your time

Instead of feeling hate, anger, pain, and disappointment (sometimes vengeful), utilize your time. This “time-out” in the relationship can dampen your spirits but follow the no-guilt pointer and use the time constructively. It can also happen that when your partner observes you not getting affected by their stonewalling, they might stop giving you the silent treatment.

Sometimes the simple answer to what to do when your partner is stonewalling is to not fall into their trap and shower them with attention and worry. At times, carrying on with your day works wonders too.

5. Work it out with your partner

Ask them how long will the stonewalling last? If you get no clear reply, let them be. Don’t let your emotions engulf you. Use the time-out by engaging with more family and friends time, visiting the places you never get to visit because your stonewaller partner doesn’t like it. Let go of any resentment in your relationship and use the time wisely as per your wishes.

It’s not like you do not care about your partner giving you the silent treatment. It’s more of a self-care treatment when you’re being stonewalled; a sort of distraction from it.

6. Check in with them

While you’re giving your partner some space, do check in with them. No need to pester, just the usual, “How are you? or “Can we please talk about it when you feel better?” will do. It is to let your partner know you’re still there. Sometimes having and giving personal space in a relationship holds it together.

It is also a push for them to break down the walls and actually start communicating. It’ll make them feel cherished and valued in the relationship and would work as an incentive for them to be kinder and more attentive.

7. Choose to engage when you’re ready

When your partner stops their verbal lockdown but you are still dealing with it proceed at your own pace, set a time. 2 hours? 2 days, 2 months? Set a time and stick to it. Tell your partner: “Give me a couple of days to process this”. An understanding partner will respect the process. And maybe will think twice before stonewalling you next time. By taking your own time to deal with the argument or fight, you won’t be reliant on your partner to decide when to talk and when to not.

Engaging at right time
Understanding partners will respect the process

8. Leave the baggage out after stonewalling ends

After the stonewalling has ended, it is important to address all the misunderstandings and differences in the relationship. You can look at it as a rising peak in your relationship. It’s important that you treat it as a chapter from the past and not bring it up in the future for no reason. Take it as a fresh breath and work towards creating a healthy and harmonious relationship.

Related Reading: How To Tell Your Partner You Need Space When You’re Upset

How does stonewalling affect relationships?

It is said there are Four Horsemen that spell the doom of a relationship. Those are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. In the presence of these four traits, it would be no time before a relationship breaks into bits and pieces.

The after-effects of stonewalling can spell doom for some relationships. Cutting down verbal communication is never a smart move for a relationship. This is why it should be worked upon and eliminated with the effort of both partners.

Stonewalling can cause reactions to it that disbalances the relationship. A desperate partner might do or say something hurtful just to hear their partner speak to them again – things that they may not take back later. And things like these can seriously harm your relationship and are some of the ways bitterness creeps into relationships.

Some people have the habit of stonewalling a partner for days on an end and this might make the partner feel unloved and uncared for. Repeated bouts of this kind of stonewalling could lead the partner to find love and affection elsewhere.

There are many people who are into stonewalling but they are not even aware that they are stonewallers and what kind of impact their behavior has on their partners. Stonewalling could be a silent killer of a relationship unless you take care of it.

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