STONEWALLING RUINS ROMANTIC BONDS AND INTIMATE TRUST
In Virginia Woolf’s book A Room of One’s Own, she wrote, ” I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in.”
The quote above describes stonewalling, the shutting down of emotional connection and conversation, perfectly.
Stonewalling is often done with positive intent as the stonewaller believes that if they say anything at all, they’ll just make it worse. So they shut down.
Unfortunately, like all avoidant strategies, stonewalling reinforces the belief of not being enough and unlovable. It’s like shackles around our ankles. It imprisons us in a world of isolation that reinforces the beliefs we hold about ourselves.
Since stonewalling appears aggressive and mean to your partner, it often causes anxiety and insecurity. This leads them to become angry and critical.
When this happens, both your partner and you are reinforcing each other’s deep wounds. Thus leading to more stonewalling and more attacking.
The way out is to share your inner world with your partner. To say, “This conflict is overwhelming and I am shutting down.” Then help your partner calm down by saying, “Can we take a 20-minute break and then try this again. I really want to understand you and right now I can’t because I am overwhelmed. You are important to me.”
Those words will soothe your partner and allow them to understand that you actually do need a break. So they’ll stop the attack
After the 20-minute break, go and find them and start the conversation again. This is the most important part. If you do not, you are avoiding the conflict and never giving yourself a chance to have a new experience that could forever alter the way you feel about yourself in close relationships.
Imagine having a relationship where you actually felt understood, respected, and whole. Often avoidants feel consumed and controlled, so they avoid. But what if that’s not what your partner actually wants or needs. What if all their fighting and arguing is really trying to say, “be with me! Let’s create something amazing together. That’s what I’m fighting for.”
This is not to say that the avoidant partner is to blame for this pattern. Stonewalling is often a byproduct of repeated interactions that shut down one partner and create anxiety in the other. There is a shared responsibility in all of this.
The anxious partner will have to grow in their ability to trust the avoidant to show up and not stonewall like they have in the past. This is why the avoidant must return to the conflict conversation that shut them down in the first place. As the anxious partner, you can help your avoidant partner by using I statements and expressing your feelings about specific events.
Breaking out of your own jail requires courage and a willingness to risk new experiences. It will not be easy, but when you begin to have successful conflict and reach resolutions that improve your relationship, then you will not only feel loved and enough, but you’ll also have a much deeper bond than before.