When our emotions get too intense, one of our natural responses is to shut down.
This can manifest as our avoiding making eye contact, not giving our partner any verbal or non-verbal responses, and fleeing the room. This response, called stonewalling, is one of our body’s best attempts to cool down and to return to a place of normalcy. When we are in this state, we aren’t getting enough oxygen to the brain, so we aren’t able to think clearly, listen well, and respond thoughtfully. In other words, we no longer can be our best selves.
The problem is that stonewalling is one of the most reliable ways to lead a relationship to its end.
When you engage in stonewalling, it likely frustrates your partner. Your partner desperately wants you to listen to his/her concerns, express understanding of his/her position, and work as a team to get to some resolutions. So, when you partake in stonewalling, you’re not able to do these critical things. Furthermore, it may seem to your partner that you just don’t care about him/her and the concerns s/he is sharing. The reality, though, is often quite different.
It likely isn’t the case that you don’t care; it’s just that your emotional temperature became too great that your body unconsciously went into cool down mode (stonewalling).
How Can I Protect Myself from Stonewalling?
Work to establish an atmosphere of gentle start-ups. This tool is defined as communicating in the following way: “I feel ___ about this (situation) and I need ___ from you or us to improve it.” An example of this is: “I feel concerned when there’s drinking and driving. What I need from us is to agree to only uber when we drink.”
By doing this, we protect ourselves from criticism and contempt (statements like “You did this/you didn’t do that” or “you did this so that makes you lazy, a jerk, mean, etc.”), where we feel accused by our partner, and our natural response is to defend ourselves. When defensiveness occurs, the conversation is likely doomed and emotions are very likely in that incredibly intense place. This is a common place for us to be vulnerable to stonewalling.
Practice healthy emotion regulation techniques. When we notice our emotions on a regular basis, we can do a much better job of keeping their intensity at a much more manageable level. Furthermore, when we can normalize our feelings and use gentle, kind, positive, and evidence-based self-talk about our experiences/emotions, we also put ourselves in a much better position to manage our emotions in healthy ways.
What about When Stonewalling Still Happens?
Despite our best and consistent efforts, we are still human. There may very well be times when our emotions get the better of us and our bodies turn to that natural stonewalling place. Here’s what to do when that happens:
Take the right kind of break. The expression, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” comes to mind. Stonewalling is essentially the equivalent of having poor things to say. So, when we find we can’t stop it, we still have to keep our eyes on the prize: maintaining a healthy, intimate relationship with our partner, of which stonewalling is an obstacle.
As a result, in these moments, take a few deep breaths and let your partner know that you’re not currently your best self and you need to take a break from the conversation. You both need to agree to return to the conversation/topic, though, at a later time. Be very specific about when you will both reconnect about it. Additionally, be sure to give a timeframe that is specifically within 20 minutes to 24 hours.
You’re essentially communicating to yourself and your partner that both the two of you and this topic are so respected and important that to discuss it now, when not enough oxygen is getting to your brain and you can’t be your best self is a major disservice to you both and the topic. So, out of a stance of respect, you’re pausing it all and returning to it when you are able to be your best selves.
Reduce/Eliminate Stonewalling in Your Relationship with Online Couples Therapy in San Diego, CA
Through couples therapy online in California and Oregon, you and your partner can learn the healthiest strategies to protect yourselves from stonewalling. Therefore putting you both in a much better position to regularly hear each other and feel understood, as well as routinely reach desirable solutions. At Stress Solutions, our couples therapist can teach you all about the pesky unhealthy communication strategies, healthy tools to replace them with, and how to best achieve it all.
- Call 619-881-0593 for a free consultation.
- Start meeting with a marriage counselor
- Learn healthy emotion regulation techniques to combat stonewalling.
Other Online Therapy Services we Offer in California & Oregon
Besides support for relationships, we offer individual therapy at Stress Solutions. This includes therapy for men, stress management, and addiction recovery. As well as EMDR therapy, trauma therapy, and PTSD treatment. All of these services are available virtually throughout California and Oregon.