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How to Deal With Stonewalling

by Melody Causewell

Stonewalling usually occurs during arguments when one partner shuts down. This may take the form of ignoring the other partner, walking away or simply not responding. By calming yourself, focusing on connection, understanding the benefits, and deciding whether it is a trait you can live with, you can deal with stonewalling.

Calm Yourself First

Stonewalling is often used as a tactic to calm down when emotions get too high. While few things are as aggravating as feeling ignored, especially in the midst of an argument, give yourself time to cool off from the fight and the stonewalling behavior. Take a few deep breaths, inhaling for the count of four, holding for the count of four and exhaling for the count of eight. Take a walk or watch television until your heart rate slows. Journal about the issue at hand or how the stonewalling itself makes you feel. If it seems like it will be well received, discuss your feelings about stonewalling with your partner once you are both relaxed. By the time you feel calm and ready to talk, your stonewalling partner may be ready to bring down those walls and hash it out as well.

Focus on 'We'

The choice of words during an argument has a big impact on stress in individuals, according to research published in Psychology and Aging in 2009. In this study, words that focused on the couple, such as “us” and “we” were met with lower levels of stress, as measured by heart rate and emotional acting-out behaviors. In contrast, blaming or separation words, such as “you” and “me,” triggered more stress and more emotional behaviors such as anger and stonewalling. To deal with stonewalling, try switching your pronouns to focus on the two of you together instead of using condescending or blaming tactics that make the issue worse.

Understand the Good Points

Some negative behaviors might actually be good for relationships in the long term, reports one study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2010. While blaming, commanding and rejection behaviors such as stonewalling did increase difficulties in couples going through minor arguments, those who used these behaviors in major arguments had higher marital satisfaction in the long term. This study also noted that some couples benefit more from avoiding certain negative behaviors (such as yelling). You can deal with stonewalling by acknowledging that your partner is attempting to reign in his temper through shutdown, and resolve to pick up the conversation when he is calm.

Decide Whether It’s Worth It

Not everyone can handle the conflict resolution styles of their partners and some couples end up particularly volatile when those styles are mismatched, notes research published in Family Processes in 2009. While some couples handle stonewalling behaviors well, for instance if they both have a tendency to need a cool-down period when upset, couples that are mismatched may end up with less relationship satisfaction over time. If your partner stonewalls as a tactic to cool off and you spend your time suffering or not sleeping while she snoozes away in another room, decide how much the stonewalling is affecting you and whether you are willing to put up with these behaviors long term. If you feel that you cannot handle being ignored, you may change how you see the behaviors -- for instance, calling it “cool down” instead of “ignoring.” You can talk to your partner about how the stonewalling is affecting you and try to come up with a compromise. And if all else fails, seek professional assistance in an attempt to find common ground, or find someone more compatible.

About the Author

Melody Causewell has been a writer in the mental health field since 2001. She written training manuals and clinical programs for mental health organizations. She has published feature articles "Leaven" magazine and has been published in "Natural Awakenings." She has a degree in psychology, a Masters degree in social work and is a La Leche League leader.

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