How to Respond to Stonewalling- 10 Useful Responses
Relationship
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Relationship
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Effective communication is the key to a healthy relationship. The relationship begins to falter when one partner shuts down and refuses to interact with the other. It becomes difficult for the other person because they do not know how to respond to stonewalling. 

In any relationship, whether or not an intimate relationship, practical and authentic communication is critical. But when the other person uses stonewalling to avoid uncomfortable topics or struggles dealing with tough conversations, it can potentially harm a relationship. 

What is Stonewalling in a relationship?

Stonewalling in a relationship, in its true essence, is when a person shuts down during the interaction or withdraws from the discussion, creating a metaphorical wall of stone between themselves and their partner. They become unresponsive to hold any conversation for multiple reasons.  

The stonewalling person becomes physiologically and emotionally overwhelmed and resorts to withdrawing from the conversation. Subtle signs like bouncing knees, jittery hands, fidgeting with an object, looking at the phone screen, etc., show that the person is stonewalling. 

Stonewalling often comes with the individual’s incapacity to deal with tough conversations. It may be both intentional and unintentional. Intentional stonewalling may take the form of abuse, leading to severe emotional effects on the partner. 

A healthy relationship flourishes with open, healthy, and respectful communication. One must understand that taking some time off the conversation is an excellent way to maintain healthy communication. It must not be confused with stonewalling. Stonewalling doesn’t allow your partner to talk about their concerns, and not engaging in the conversation is not a mutual decision. 

How to Respond to Stonewalling

When we attempt to speak with someone refusing to engage, the objective is to be heard, understood, acknowledged, and validated. Being aggressive with that person will eventually bring us back to square one. It’s important to say how we feel, not how they make us feel. 

Using ‘I’ statements is more likely to be heard because it comes from a place of concern. The ‘you’ statements take the form of blame which renders the other person guard up or defensive. In such cases, the person will try to escape that conversation, eventually stonewalling. 

Take a look at these statements: 

  1. ‘You never listen to what I say’ – ‘I feel unheard when we are talking, and It’s not a very good feeling.’ 
  2. ‘You are so irresponsible. How often will I tell you to change the kitchen bulb?’ – ‘It gets difficult for me to work in dim lights, I would like it if you could change the bulb today.’
  3. ‘Do you even notice me? All you ever do is work!’ – You know, I have been feeling unnoticed by you these days. I would like us to spend some time without the phone and computer. I miss talking with you.’ 
  4. ‘You don’t help me around the house, don’t look after the kids when I am not here, barely do anything I say!’ – ‘I feel exhausted after a long day at work, and I would appreciate if we partnered up and did things around the house.’

If you are the one who withdraws from the discussion or interaction, then you need to express your silence and acknowledge that you are feeling overwhelmed. You can apologise for disengaging. The idea behind it is to recognise something within our behaviour that may be sabotaging our relationship and work on it. 

You can consciously address that you need some time off the conversation and suggest that you return to it when both of you have collected your thoughts. An open and honest discussion ensues, allowing both partners to be vulnerable with each other. 

10 Effective ways to respond to stonewalling

How you handle stonewalling depends majorly on how you see it. In case of toxic or abusive stonewalling, professional counselling may help better than anything, and see if taking some time apart can be useful for both of you. 

When you feel your partner is struggling with dealing with conflicts and there are no ill intentions, you can communicate to make them feel safe and comfortable expressing themself. 

You can refer to the ‘I’ statements mentioned above. In addition, you can also let them know their behaviour is not a healthy approach towards discussing uncomfortable topics. 

Look at 25 ways you can respond to your loved one’s stonewalling: 

1.  Partnership is the priority: 

In trying to understand how to respond to stonewalling, you can let your partner know that the partnership is your number one priority. You can begin your response by verbalising that it’s okay if they feel overwhelmed or emotionally flooded at the moment, we can return to the conversation when they feel ready. 

A relationship will thrive when there’s a space for both partners to address their concerns. Sure, that doesn’t mean that arguments will not happen, but when you approach any discussion with the view that the partnership is your top priority, the result will not be your or their win; it will be a win-win for the relationship. 

2.  Empathy is the way to go: 

Empathy is when you recall that you and your partner are going through a similar rough patch in the relationship and know that your responses to conflicts are different. So you approach the situation understanding their uncertainties, and support them while expressing yourself. 

3.  Conflict is Connection: 

Whether or not many will believe, conflicts are big opportunities for connection. During tough conversations, you can build, restore, and strengthen your connection with one another. Like everything that requires time, patience, and continuous efforts, responding to being stonewalled is no different. It will require your patience with yourself and efforts towards understanding your partner’s qualms. Take a moment to hold the troubling situations up and hold your partner with support. 

4.  Self-care, anytime: 

Conflicts, differences in opinions, unresolved problems- these all will come and go. What’s more important is your self-care. With negative patches come stress and tension. Your physical and psychological wellness then becomes the prime concern. Ensure that you are allowing yourself to care for yourself by employing exercise, nap, a massage, or an outing with your support group. 

5.  Forgive your partner: 

Unless you detect the signs of relationship abuse and are planning to leave them, attempt to absolve each other of your past complaints, understand that forgiving will encourage you and your partner to come closer to resolving any conflicts. 

Disclaimer: 

Stonewalling, the fourth horseman and the most dangerous of all, sucks the remaining life out of a relationship or marriage. These responses or approaches will be useful for the ones willing to save and work on their relationship. If you see your relationship as something used up and unsavable, seek professional help. It is not for the relationship but for yourself. You may need counselling to figure out your next steps in life. 

6.  Be Open and Available: 

Forgiving or apologising to your partner for past complaints will encourage them to want to talk. Maybe not about the problem or anything conflict- talk. Ensure that you hold out a space for them to speak. Be open to receiving their opinions. You don’t have to agree with their points, but you can let them know you acknowledge and validate them. 

If you feel hesitant in their behaviour, let them know that you are available to talk when they feel inclined. You must come off as a support, not as a confrontation. 

7.  Don’t point fingers: 

The conversation doesn’t go any far when our statements carry the tone of pointing out and blaming. Using ‘you’ statements in place of ‘I’ will further push your partner from the topic and put them on the spot of being blamed. It will lift the attention from the topic or their certain behaviour and sound like an attack on their character. Instead of going at it like this-

You never do the dishes, you are so irresponsible!’

Go like this- 

‘I would like you to take care of the dishes when I cook. It will be easier for both of us.’ 

8.  Trying to change your partner is a NO-GO: 

The biggest mistake while trying to react to stonewalling we do is- to try and change our partner. You can help your partner understand the need or desire to not change who they are, but a certain behaviour hinders their relationship’s improvement. 

In understanding how to respond to stonewalling, a partner must recognise that silent treatment or engaging in other tasks rather than talking is not solving the conflict. It’s most definitely not a very appropriate or respectful thing to do to each other. 

9.  Concentrate on good qualities: 

See, no one is perfect. Neither you nor your partner. Yes, it is very difficult to think of your partner’s good qualities when you are flooded or struggling with something. While you expect your partner to listen to or support you, they may feel overwhelmed. As a result, they may resort to withdrawing from the conversation altogether. And that may be triggering for you. Your attention may shift from the problem or concern to who they are and how they behave. And that’s when you work. That’s when you help yourself by regulating your reaction to their behaviour. You may help your partner understand how their reaction to difficult conversations harms their relationship. 

The key idea here is to focus on good things about your partner so you can calm yourself down while approaching them. 

10.  Don’t blame yourself and find justification for it: 

You may blame yourself for their behaviour in finding how to respond to stonewalling. You feel you deserved their reaction to some extent. To help yourself, you should avoid projecting your insecurities onto them and justify that stonewalling is excusable.

How to Respond to Stonewalling- Winding up

When you say you take time to gather your thoughts and then come back to discuss it, ensure that you do. Don’t let it go because things seem ‘okay’. It helps the stonewaller to collect their own thoughts and regulate their emotions. Both partners approach the situation with much more clarity. 

Don’t forget to appreciate when the stonewalling partner makes an effort to engage. Let them know that you see them and appreciate them for wanting to work on the problem.