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7 Fail-Proof Ways to Respond to Stonewalling in a Relationship

Updated: Sep 17, 2023


If your partner responds to conflict with stonewalling, you probably find it extra difficult to have productive conversations. Stonewalling, also known as the silent treatment, can seriously jeopardize your relationship.

What is Stonewalling In A Relationship?

Stonewalling is a communication strategy whereby someone unilaterally decides to end a conversation and fails to respond. It can be incredibly frustrating for the person on the receiving end, who may feel ignored and grow increasingly angry.

If your partner withdraws from the conversation and refuses to engage any further, they are likely stonewalling you. This may or may not be a conscious manipulation tactic to control the conversation. For some, stonewalling is a defense mechanism. But for others, it can be a form of manipulation or emotional abuse.

If stonewalling is happening in your relationship, it's essential to try and address the issue head-on. Otherwise, it can lead to a breakdown in communication and trust.

What Leads to Stonewalling?

There are a few things that can lead to stonewalling in a relationship. It's helpful to understand why your partner is avoiding the conversation so you can respond to the situation appropriately.

One reason might be that the person is afraid of conflict and believes that by stonewalling, they can avoid it altogether. Conflict avoidance may be their way of preventing the situation from escalating.

Another reason might be that the person feels overwhelmed and doesn't know how to express what they're feeling. So rather than try to express their feelings with words, they shut down and hope the conflict dies down.

Lastly, stonewalling can be a way to control or manipulate the other person in the relationship.

When dealing with stonewalling, it's essential to try to communicate with your partner and understand why they might be stonewalling. Once you know the reason, you can work on finding a solution together.

7 Steps for Dealing with Stonewalling in Your Marriage

Coping with stonewalling from your spouse can be an incredibly frustrating and demoralizing experience. Being stonewalled adds insult to injury when you're in the middle of a conflict with your partner.

Your partner must overcome this unhelpful tendency to prevent further strain on your relationship. Here's a step-by-step guide for handling stonewalling from your partner.

1. Treat it as a separate issue.

If your partner is withdrawing from the conversation, wait until tensions have calmed. Then, sit down with your partner to discuss their refusal to have a conversation with you. Since stonewalling typically isn't a one-time occurrence, it deserves a discussion of its own.

2. Understand where the stonewalling is coming from.

Ask your partner to help you understand why they feel they can't engage in difficult conversations. For example, they might not know how to express themselves. Or maybe they're frustrated by your communication style. Whatever the cause, you'll need to gain insight into their thought process to mend fences.

If you believe your partner is using stonewalling to manipulate or control the situation, consider enlisting the help of a marriage counselor. Manipulation is often a sign of emotional abuse, and it's critical to address abusive patterns as soon as you notice them in your relationship.

3. Communicate how it makes you feel.

Without making accusations, express to your partner how it feels when they shut down in the middle of a conversation. Use "I" statements to describe what it's like to be on the receiving end of the silent treatment.

4. Express your desire to resolve conflict with love when it occurs.

Even in a happy relationship, it's normal to have disagreements. And when you talk about your problems openly and honestly, you strengthen your relationship and gain a deeper understanding of one another.

So communicate your desire for open and loving conversation. Let your spouse know that just because you get frustrated with them doesn't mean you love them any less. Express to them that you want to have difficult discussions because you love them.

5. Communicate that you want to hear their input.

There are two sides to every conflict. And your partner deserves the opportunity to share their input. So let your spouse know you want to hear what they have to say.

And most importantly, listen to them when they share their perspective. It's common for people to resort to the silent treatment when they don't feel listened to. While it's not appropriate to weaponize silence, you might find that your partner is less likely to resort to stonewalling if you give them the floor and listen.

6. Invite them to set boundaries.

Your partner may be shutting down because they need some time to process their feelings. If that's the case, invite them to express their need for a "time out" so they can gather their thoughts before continuing the conversation.

7. Learn healthy communication strategies.

Effective communication takes a lot of practice and a lot of work. Unfortunately, most people aren't born with great communication skills. And managing conflict with a loved one can be emotionally distressing, making it difficult to express oneself adequately.

Fortunately, you can learn to be a better communicator. If you and your partner struggle to talk through issues in your marriage, consider getting help from a neutral third party. A marriage counselor will equip you with helpful communication strategies so you and your spouse can work through anything life throws your way.

Final Thoughts

With love, honesty, and mutual respect, it's possible to overcome stonewalling in your marriage. Remember that you and your spouse are working towards the shared goal of cultivating a strong and loving partnership.

If you're feeling stuck in your relationship, it may be time to enlist the help of a marriage counselor. Stonewalling is a common problem in relationships and can be challenging to overcome on your own.

A marriage counselor can help you and your partner identify the root causes of stonewalling and develop strategies for dealing with conflict in a more productive way.

Learn more about how marriage counseling can help today.

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