What’s Stonewalling? Are You Doing It?

Stonewalling is an unhealthy response to conflict. Lots of people who don’t know how to resolve conflict in a healthy way, advocate for themselves, or manage their emotions do it to stay safe from overwhelming emotions.

They take on the posture of a stone wall. They are immovable. Perhaps they stop talking, zone out, physically leave, ignore the other person, pretend they are fine, or say that they will talk about the issue, then never do.

It’s incredibly frustrating to the person who isn’t heard and leaves relationship issues unresolved. The stonewalling may calm things down, but it creates long term damage that is often hard to overcome.

What To Do Instead

Here are some suggestions for how to handle stonewalling.

When you notice yourself or your partner becoming emotionally overwhelmed (signs are a rising tone of voice, blaming, defensiveness, shutting down), declare that it’s time for a break. Using a funny code word is better than saying, “Let’s take a break.” Have an established and mutually agreed upon rule for returning to the conversation later. For instance, you could have a regular hour long meeting once a week to talk about relationship business like where to go for Thanksgiving, how to prioritize expenses, or anything else that is unresolved. Speak using with “I” statements. This can limit blaming and defensiveness.Stay calm. Allow space for each person to communicate. If one person is wordy or meandering, let them talk they way they talk. If another is abrupt and short, don’t correct or criticize. Listen for understanding. Don’t listen for ways to defeat the other person’s arguments. Get clear on what you want and stick to the topic. The more clearly you speak, the easier it will be to stay on task and resolve the issue.

People engage in stonewalling to protect themselves from emotional harm.

Taking a break when stonewalling happens is a way to set a boundary that says, “I will not speak with you until we can do so calmly.” This works far better to create safety and solve an issue than stonewalling.

So, why not give it a try?