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What is Stonewalling in a relationship?

In a marriage or romantic relationship, stonewalling is a form of control as it cuts off communication and cooperation. This puts obstacles in the way of overcoming issues or making decisions about the future.

Stonewalling in a relationship can have lots of different motivations.

In some cases, it is a form of punishment as one partner seeks to punish the other because of something they have done, or the stonewaller believes they have done. It is common in relationships for partners to believe their spouse to know what is wrong without it having to be said.

Stonewalling can be a learned behaviour and some people stonewall as a habit. This can be a result of the environment they were raised in, for example if their family never discussed feelings or if sensitive or emotional topics were met with negative responses. Stonewalling can be preferable for those who struggle to talk about emotions as it is a way of avoiding any conversation.

Intentional & Unintentional Stonewalling

In relationships, couples can fall out of the habit of discussing their emotions. If one partner is confused about their feelings, they can decide it is better to say nothing at all, leading to unintentional stonewalling.

Stonewalling can also be used to create distance between a couple, particularly if one or both parties feel that the relationship has reached its end.

Intentional stonewalling in a relationship can be destructive. One partner may use it to give themselves power over the other and feel a sense of domination.

Stonewalling is extremely harmful to relationships. It leads to lack of trust between the partners, prevents communication and creates an imbalance of power.

Ultimately, stonewalling can lead to the breakdown of relationships.

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How to deal with stonewalling

If both sides are willing to make changes, improvements to communication can be made by listening to one another, taking responsibility for your behaviour, and working together.

Professional help can be sought through mediation or counselling. Working with a counsellor as a couple and/or individually can make positive changes and rebuild self-esteem and communication skills.

Within your everyday lives, a simple way to diffuse stonewalling behaviour that can be effective is starting your sentences with ‘I’ instead of ‘you’, which alleviates the focus from the stonewaller and helps prevent them getting defensive.

It is important to remember that stonewalling can be part of a larger emotional abuse problem within your relationship. If this is the case, then it is vital you seek professional help, or contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

If you or someone you know is in danger, please call the police immediately.

Is stonewalling a form of gaslighting?

Stonewalling is commonly considered a form of gaslighting. It makes the victim question their judgements and feelings and leads to them feeling like they are ‘crazy’ or overreacting.

Confronting stonewallers about their behaviour can be difficult and they are likely to refuse to discuss the matter or deny their responsibility, making the victim feel hopeless and like they are constantly in the wrong.

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