How to Deal with Stonewalling in Your Marriage

How to Deal with Stonewalling in Your Marriage


The Marriage and Family Clinic

Do you notice that you become easily overwhelmed during conflict?

Is it common for you to withdraw emotionally or physically when conflict becomes escalated?

Do you walk away, keep yourself busy, or even leave your home in order to avoid your partner when they are upset?

If so, you may be stonewalling.

Stonewalling occurs when you withdraw or shut down during an interaction because you are emotionally flooded. Becoming overwhelmed during conflict is relatively common. But keep in mind that ongoing patterns of stonewalling are correlated with divorce and relationship dissolution. When a couple enters our office and reports “communication issues”, one of the first things we look at is conflict style. It is relatively common for one couple to seek immediate resolution while the other looks for a way out. Your spouse often perceives stonewalling as you “giving up” or abandoning them.

Here are some tips to help combat stonewalling within your marriage.

Take a Break

Yes, taking a break during conflict can be beneficial! However, it is important to have parameters around breaks, taking into consideration both partners’ conflict styles. Try to set a time limit for the break, typically between twenty minutes to one hour. Then, commit to coming back together after the break and working towards repair.

 Don’t Create Your Battle Plan

It is common for couples to use breaks to continue thinking about the argument and build their battle plan against their partner. This defeats the purpose of taking a break because it results in increased anger and emotional flooding. Instead, try to engage in distracting behaviors that help you “cool down” and communicate more effectively when you return to the argument.

Engage in Self-Soothing Activities

Self-soothing activities can help distract you from the argument and calm down your nervous system. During breaks, you may choose to listen to music, read a book, or watch a television show to distract your mind. If you wish to be even more intentional during breaks, you may choose to meditate, focus on your breathing, or engage in physical activity.


The silent treatment

The cold shoulder


Regardless of what you call it, ignoring or shutting down during an argument leaves your partner feeling abandoned and frustrated.

Figure out your conflict style. Does one of you tend to shut down when things get uncomfortable? Sometimes the partner that shuts down does it from an overload of emotions, not necessarily to get a point across, although the way it makes the other partner feel is the same.

If you notice a pattern of stonewalling in your relationship, try to stop it by following our tips above. It won’t be perfect at first, but little by little you can confront the uncomfortable and start working through conflict in a healthier way.


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