We will continue to explore the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the destructive communication patterns that couples employ during conflict and are consistent predictors of divorce. The four horsemen are: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. Today we’ll look at the unhealthy communication pattern of Stonewalling.
Stonewalling is exactly what it sounds like; an emotional withdrawal from interaction. The listener withdraws from the interaction, shutting down and closing themselves off from the speaker because they are feeling overwhelmed or “flooded” physiologically. Instead of confronting the issue, someone who is stonewalling will be unresponsive, making evasive behaviors such as tuning out, turning away, or acting busy. Stonewalling becomes an understandable option when the negativity of the first three horsemen becomes overwhelming. On the down side, stonewalling frequently becomes an unhealthy habit for couples.
Attempting to communicate with a partner who is acting in this manner can be frustrating, and if the stonewalling continues, downright infuriating. When you’re making efforts to address an issue, whether you’re attempting to talk about something that’s upsetting you, explain your feelings about an ongoing problem, or trying to resolve an issue, and your partner is pretending that you aren’t there, you are likely to reach a level of anger so high that you will emotionally check out as well.
The antidote to stonewalling is to stop, and then to self-soothe. When things escalate to the point where you feel yourself reaching your boiling point, it’s time to stop and take a break. Let each other know when you feel overwhelmed and say that you need a break. The break should be at least twenty minutes long, or longer if you need more time to psychologically calm down. Spend your time doing something soothing and distracting, like listening to music, reading a book, a talking a walk.
Keep in mind that even in happy, stable, and successful marriages and relationships, the four horsemen all occur, only less frequently and those couples are more effective in their repair efforts.
If you need more guidance with improving communication patterns, consider couples
therapy with a therapist trained in the Gottman Method.