What is stonewalling

Stonewalling is a communication tactic that involves refusing to communicate or cooperate. This can be used as a way to avoid conflict, defuse tension, or stall for time.
When someone is stonewalling, they may become unresponsive, evasive, or even hostile.
This can make it difficult to resolve disagreements or come to an agreement on something

In a relationship, stonewalling is the act of shutting down emotionally and withdrawing from interaction. It is a way of deflecting conflict and creating distance.
Basically, it is when someone is literally shutting off and they build an imaginary wall around them, to protect themselves from their partner or the person who is talking to them.

What is stonewalling in a relationship

Stonewalling in relationships is a concept promoted by Dr John Gottman. It refers to one of the 4 main horsemen, or reasons, why a relationship is bound to end.

Dr John Gottman is a psychologist from America that has done extensive research on finding out what are the main causes of divorce.

And stonewalling is one of them and the most serious one. Once this has become a habit, it needs a great deal of work to be done, to save the relationship.

Conflicts arise when people have different needs, wants, or perspectives.

When someone stonewalls during a conflict, they are effectively saying that they do not want to resolve the issue. This can be hurtful and frustrating for the other person involved.

If stonewalling becomes a habit in a relationship, it can lead to feelings of disconnection and resentment.

Whatever the reason, stonewalling is not a healthy way to deal with conflict. It will only damage the relationship and lead to further conflicts down the road.


How is stonewalling a form of manipulation?

Manipulation by nature of what it is is abusive. Intent does matter but it is a slippery slope deciding when it is morally OK to make someone act against their own self-interest without them knowing they are doing so. Manipulation is making someone act behave, act, think, or believe something they otherwise wouldn’t where doing that is in the manipulator’s self-interest and not in their own self-interest. This is done covertly (without the marks knowledge) using emotional or psychological tactics to deceive them in some way and force and distort in some way their perceptions of reality (gaslighting). As part of this process, there is inevitable damage done to the marks psychological and emotional health, although it may not be significant at ‘normal’ levels of manipulation. When most people manipulate it is not usually cold manipulation done with the intent to harm the mark more but more that everyone has a desire to act and achieve things in their own self-interest and you will see varying degrees of how far and how often an individual is willing to resort to manipulation to see that done.

Some of that is expected but as you reach the levels of pathological manipulation the effects of this on a person that has any degree of exposure longer term to this can be absolutely devastating and at this level the manipulation is done with cold intent and the harm caused to the mark is not only known but is the objective Manipulation by nature is an insidious beast that gradually increases over time. The mark usually is unaware of what is being done to them. Manipulation usually includes some combination of a positive reward combined with some fear or threat of loss of something important or avoidance of some averse condition or punishment.

Stonewalling is a form of negative reinforcement.

Negative reinforcement is removing an averse condition when the behavior you wish to see occurs. For example, giving silent treatment until the mark exhibits the behavior you do want to see. In other words, you are trying to increase a particular behavior. This differs from punishment in that punishment you are attempting to decrease a behavior you want to see less of by introducing a punishment.

The gaslighting effect can be pretty severe as well as the vague responses can distort (through blatant lies and intentional forgetting tactics or feigned confusion tactics) the perception that the mark is in fact crazy. Over time this can have very severe effects on the marks mental and emotional health.


Withholding – The abuser acts confused pretends he doesn’t understand what the victim is telling him and withholds feelings.
Why are you trying to confuse me?
You are not making any sense.
I have no idea what you want me to say
In all these cases the manipulator is lying, and they know exactly what is going on and are not confused at all. In these types of scenarios, the manipulation is cold manipulation with the intent of harming the marks mental and emotional health. These are some more unconscionable examples of stonewalling manipulation tactics.

Some of the most common signs of stonewalling

There are certain signs that can let us know if our partner, or even ourselves, are stone walling.

In order for someone to stone wall, it doesn’t mean that they have all these signs. They can have 1 or 2, or even all 8, but that is not the case for each situation.

The degrees of stonewalling differ as well, depending on the severity of the situation and how many of these, and other, stonewalling techniques they use.

Not engaging in conversation or argument, as if you’re not there.

Leaving you mid-sentence and going somewhere else.

If not leaving, then ‘zoning out’, looking through you as if you’re not there. And you can tell their mind is on something else and not even listening

Changes the topic suddenly and without warning

Starts talking about something unrelated
Refusing bluntly to talk about the subject, often times without any explanation
Giving one-word answers

Not remembering the conversation later on when reminded

Silent treatment towards their partner
Blaming their partner for everything

Using ‘I’ statements, instead of ‘WE’

If you notice any of these signs in your relationship, it’s possible that stonewalling is occurring.

Some of the most common signs of stonewalling

Why Do people Stonewall In Relationships?’

It’s common for people to use stonewalling to punish their partners. It’s a passive-aggressive response because we think our partners should already know the problem, especially if they’re originally at fault. We may stonewall because we’re incapable of expressing our feelings; we find opening up difficult or painful. We might stonewall when our feelings are jumbled. We’re afraid of overthinking things. When our partner asks how we are feeling, it’s easiest to say, “I’m fine,” and continue shutting off the discussion.


Stonewalling can happen for practical reasons as well. If we’re overwhelmed by work and taking care of children, a busy life can put us in the habit of stonewalling because we don’t want to take the time to discuss emotions. Stonewalling may be a long-standing habit. If none of our family relatives ever express how they felt or what they thought during childhood, we may have never developed the ability to discuss our feelings. The very thought of talking about our emotions may make our stomachs churn. Sometimes we have learned to stonewall because of our experiences in a prior relationship. We may have learned to avoid speaking our minds because a previous partner responded negatively when we did.

Is Stonewalling Abusive?

People sometimes stonewall to get the upper hand in a relationship, using it as a tactic to manipulate or control their partner. If stonewalling is intentional, the partner who cuts off conversation frequently draws out the situation, which prevents the other person from considering ways to address the conflict. The partner who is being stonewalled may feel helpless; their self-esteem drops, and they may experience a loss of control. Even though the stonewalling partner is seemingly doing nothing, they use the tactic to establish dominance in the relationship, frequently using threats and isolation combined with the stonewalling.

Is stonewalling a form of emotional abuse?

Stonewalling is similar to giving someone the silent treatment, and whether it should be considered abusive or not does depend on whether or not it’s intended to cause harm.

‘If the intention is to manipulate or cause emotional harm to another person, in these cases, stonewalling can be considered a form of emotional abuse,’ says Touroni.

When you choose to stonewall someone after an argument, you are intentionally punishing them by denying them communication.

‘You are behaving as if they don’t exist, and it feels hugely punitive, passive aggressive and painful for everyone involved.’

However, stonewalling is not always a manipulation tactic, rather it’s a ‘very unhealthy coping mechanism,’ used by someone who doesn’t know any better.

‘Someone might engage in stonewalling because this is the only way they know how to deal with their emotions, for example if they were not taught healthy ways of managing their emotions growing up or this way of behaving was modelled to them by parents and guardians.
‘While this behaviour is unhealthy it is not automatically abusive.’

However, whether it’s learned or not, engaging in stonewalling is intentional, and causes a lot of pain.

Even when it’s a knee jerk reaction, it can cause the other person to question their own judgement on the argument (especially if they were the wronged party), and cause a lot of anxiety.

Why Stonewalling Is Harmful in relationship

People who stonewall may be terrified of conflict and view their behavior as a better option than fighting. But staying silent can actually backfire.

“It will not solve the conflict, only prolong it. The inability to openly acknowledge a conflict will lend itself to extended resentment, which can add tension and ultimately compromise the relationship,” says Whitaker. “It is not a healthy nor an effective way to problem-solve, it’s simply avoidance. Problems do not go away if you avoid them, they grow. A relationship cannot thrive without open communication and will ultimately end if not addressed and remedied.”

Being on the receiving end of stonewalling makes your partner feel unseen and unimportant. According to Labadie, a partner sick of being stonewalled may give up on trying to repair the conflict and get their emotional needs met elsewhere.

“Furthermore, the person who is on the receiving end of being stonewalled will likely have a parent who also stonewalled the other parent. It will feel familiar and they will revert to their own childhood protection methods,” she adds.

And when both partners start to rely on the coping mechanisms they used as children, they are limiting the possibility of positive conflict resolution.


Why Stonewalling Is Harmful in relationship

Negative effects of stonewalling in relationship

1* It Triggers Sense of Hopelessness In her

When stonewalling becomes the norm, the couple loses the ability to talk and solve problems.
A sense of hopelessness about the relationship sets in, and that’s the death of the relationship.

2* It Escalates Arguments

A partner who refuses to answer can lead the other partner to see their engagement with more and more vehemence. The result is an escalation of the conflict.
And bitter feelings for both: the wife aggresses to reconnect, and he is more and more indignant by her reaction.

3* It Leads to Emotional Disconnection

With one partner fails to fully engage there can be no emotional connection. And emotional connections are the bedrock of good relationships.

4* It Leaves Problems Unsolved

Checking out prevents any possible solution to problems and, if anything, it precipitates them and snowballs problems.

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