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The Silent Slayer: Stonewalling

April 5, 2024 Paula Gurnett, C.C.C.


Stonewalling is a communication pattern where one partner becomes overwhelmed in a conversation and shuts down refusing to engage, cooperate, or respond to the other person's attempts to communicate.  This is highly detrimental to effective dialogue and problem-solving in relationships and contributes to feelings of disconnection and loneliness. Here's a deeper look into stonewalling:


1.     Withdrawal: Stonewalling typically involves one person withdrawing from the conversation both verbally and nonverbally. They may stop making eye contact, turn away, tune out, or physically leave the conversation.


2.     Silent Treatment: One common form of stonewalling is giving the silent treatment, where the person refuses to speak or respond to the other person's attempts to communicate.


3.     Refusal to Engage: Even if the other person continues to try to communicate, the stonewaller remains unresponsive and may even appear indifferent to the attempts to resolve the issue.


4.     Escalation of Conflict: Stonewalling can escalate conflict because it frustrates the other person, leading to increased tension and potentially more heated attempts to communicate.


5.     Emotional Impact: Being stonewalled can be deeply hurtful and frustrating for the person trying to communicate. It can lead to feelings of rejection, abandonment, and powerlessness.


6.     Avoidance of Responsibility: Stonewalling can be a way for individuals to avoid taking responsibility for their actions or addressing uncomfortable issues in the relationship.


7.     Breakdown of Trust: Over time, repeated instances of stonewalling can erode trust and intimacy in a relationship. It creates a barrier to open communication and can lead to feelings of resentment and distance between partners.


Stonewalling is one of the Gottman's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which are communication patterns that predict relationship failure. It's essential to address stonewalling and work on improving communication skills to foster healthy and fulfilling relationships. This may involve seeking couples therapy or learning conflict resolution strategies to break the pattern of stonewalling and to break through the barriers it creates.

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