Stonewalling: The Ultimate Destroyer Of Relationships You've Probably Never Heard Of

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What Is Stonewalling & How It Destroys Relationships

Psychological researcher and relationship expert famously described the four horsemen of relationship failure: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

What is stonewalling?

Stonewalling is the avoidance of communicating feelings or discussing problems with the other person in the relationship. It is a term used for the avoidance of communication to avoid conflict or convey feelings. It also implies that a person has emotionally shut down, leaving the other partner vulnerable, confused, and unworthy.

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As a ripple effect, physical intimacy is often halted, which can lead to decreased self-worth, self-esteem, and insecurities. 

Why do people stonewall?

When a partner becomes silent, there are many reasons why. It could be to avoid conflict, avoid discussing pertinent issues in the relationship, or avoid communication in general.

Unfortunately, the damage it causes both the silencer and the other partner can be psychologically traumatizing.  

Is stonewalling a form of abuse?

While it hasn't been labeled as a form of abuse, it can be seen as emotional or mental abuse due to the psychological trauma it causes.

There are painful emotional effects of stonewalling.

Stonewalling not only effects the person being stonewalled, but also the person doing it an ultimately the relationship as a whole. 

I can tell you that the experience of living with someone who is cold toward you, only talking about surface-level things, and avoiding any real or deep conversation haunts me every single day. 

I would ask myself on a daily basis how I could make this better and create reasons in my head that it was my fault. Why else would he not communicate with me and work on our issues? 

Well, to no surprise, he walked out on me. If I wasn't confused, hurt, angry, or frustrated among many more emotions, I most definitely was now.

I felt lost... I felt abandoned... I felt worthless.

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I spent and still spend sleepless nights trying to figure out when things started spiraling downhill and if it could have been prevented. How could he have done this without hesitation? It felt like I was being continually punched in the stomach for weeks upon weeks. I still feel it at times. 

When I ask him questions about the relationship, I am either ignored or receive very vague answers. Avoidance at its finest. I was planning to spend the rest of my life with this man who was now a stranger to me. 

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This avoidance and emotional withdrawal will never be forgotten. The feeling of being so lost and so confused will forever be a mystery as to why everything happened the way it did. The devaluation and lack of importance to someone I slept next to every night haunt me still.

The emotional investment I put forth until the day he left exhausts me to even think about. So, I think in a way, it can be a form of abuse due to the conscious effort to emotionally withdraw from the relationship while I dug myself into a deeper hole in attempts to help him and our relationship.

What to Do When Someone is Stonewalling You

According to Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist Lianne Avila, in order to cease stonewalling in a relationship, it's largely up to the person doing the stonewalling. She credits physiological self-soothing to calm yourself down and adopt healthier ways of managing conflict and emotions. 

For those being stonewalled, it's important to give the stonewaller time to calm themselves down instead of attempting to immediately address a situation. 

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Brittney Lindstrom is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Rehabilitation Counselor.

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