Stonewalling is one of the most common yet lesser-known toxic traits in romantic as well as platonic relationships. When this act becomes consistent and continuous in a relationship, it leads to severe mental health problems and makes an individual insecure about themselves. Highlighted in a study, Dr. John Gottman, a leading relationship expert, pointed out that stonewalling is present in about 85% of relationships where couples go and seek therapy.
But what is stonewalling? It is a communication pattern that can lead to emotional distance and disconnection in relationships. It refers to the act of shutting down emotionally, withdrawing from conversation, and avoiding engagement with others. Stonewalling in a relationship is often a response to feelings of overwhelm and stress. The individual who is stonewalling may feel like they are unable to cope with the intense emotions that are being directed at them, and as a result, they shut down. This can happen at any stage of a relationship, early or long-term partnerships
A person may exhibit some common signs of stonewalling:
Withdrawing from conversation: Refusing to engage in conversation or avoiding eye contact
Emotional shutdown: Closing off emotionally and appearing distant or uninterested
Physical withdrawal: Leaving the room or turning away from the person speaking
Silence: Refusing to respond to questions or statements
Defensiveness: Becoming defensive or argumentative when approached about the issue
Stonewalling is a defense mechanism where a person might show the above-mentioned signs to protect themselves from perceived threat or stress. The cause of stonewalling depends multiple factors:
- Fear of conflict or confrontation
- Feelings of insecurity or inadequacy
- Past experiences of trauma or abuse
- Chronic stress and exhaustion
- Difficulty in regulating emotions
- Lack of skills in effective communication
Although, the effects of stonewalling can be far-reaching for an individual or partner who is at the receiving end of this act. It can be incredibly painful and can cause a person to feel like they are not being heard or valued. A person might feel rejected, isolated and abandoned, which would additionally cause them to doubt their own worth and lead to low self-esteem. Chronic and long-lasting stonewalling can lead to damaging a relationship since the trust and communication between the partners erode and can also lead to depression, as an individual feels overwhelmed with negative emotions and lack of support. As a long-term side effect, the person finds it difficult to resolve conflicts and maintain a healthy relationship with their partner.
How to respond to stonewalling?
Dealing with stonewalling in a relationship requires patience, understanding, and a willingness to work on communication and emotional connection. Some ways to address stonewalling are:
● Address underlying issues such as trauma, stress, and insecurities – The first step is to understand what your partner is feeling. Understanding the root cause can help you to approach and navigate the problem from a more compassionate perspective
●Practice active listening – By making a conscious effort to listen to others, understand their perspective, and respond in a supportive and empathetic manner. This can help to build trust and improve communication, even in difficult situations.
● Seek professional help (such as couples therapy) – A therapist or counselor can help you better understand the dynamics of your relationship and can provide you with the tools and strategies you need to improve communication and resolve conflicts
● Set clear and healthy boundaries – Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries is important for reducing stress and avoiding conflicts in the relationship. This includes discussing and agreeing on what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior
● Take breaks during conflicts to calm down and regulate emotions – Occasionally, taking a break from heated arguments can be helpful to regulate emotions and avoid further discussion. However, this approach shouldn’t be used to avoid communication
● Work on improving emotional intelligence and communication skills – This can help individuals better understand and regulate their emotions, as well as effectively express and understand others
● Avoid blame and focus on finding solutions together – Instead of placing blame, focus on finding solutions together. This approach can help create a positive and productive environment for resolving conflicts and improving the relationship
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