Breaking Down The Four Horsemen: Stonewalling

Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S

February 22, 2024

In the exploration of relationship dynamics, certain behaviors have been identified as particularly detrimental to the health and longevity of partnerships. Among these, Stonewalling is a critical factor that can lead to significant distress and disconnection between partners. Originating from Dr. John Gottman's research on marital stability, Stonewalling is one of the "Four Horsemen" behaviors known to predict relationship decline. This blog post aims to shed light on Stonewalling, and its impact on relationships and offers pathways toward healing and reconnection through couples counseling

What is Stonewalling?

Stonewalling occurs when one partner withdraws from an interaction, shutting down dialogue and essentially "building a wall" of silence. This behavior often responds to feeling overwhelmed or emotionally flooded, leading to a refusal to engage in conflict resolution or constructive conversation.

Signs of Stonewalling

  • Refusing to answer questions or contribute to a discussion.
  • Physically leaving the room or disengaging during an argument.
  • Exhibiting a lack of responsiveness through body language or minimal verbal feedback.

The Impact of Stonewalling on Relationships

Stonewalling can create a profound sense of isolation and loneliness within a relationship. The partner on the receiving end of Stonewalling may feel ignored, dismissed, and emotionally abandoned, which can erode trust and intimacy over time. This dynamic often leads to a vicious cycle where one partner's withdrawal triggers increased frustration and criticism from the other, further entrenching the pattern of disconnection.

Strategies to Overcome Stonewalling

Overcoming Stonewalling requires effort from both partners — one to manage emotional flooding and the other to foster an environment where open communication can thrive.

Recognizing Emotional Flooding

The first step is for the Stonewalling partner to recognize signs of emotional flooding and take responsibility for calming themselves down. This might involve taking a short break to breathe, practice mindfulness, or engage in a soothing activity.

Creating a Safe Space for Dialogue

Couples can work together to create a safe, non-judgmental space for conversation. This includes agreeing on times to talk that work for both partners and setting ground rules for respectful communication.

Practicing Active Listening

Active listening involves giving full attention to the speaker, reflecting on what you've heard, and showing empathy. This practice can help break through the wall of Stonewalling by making the partner feel heard and understood.

Expressing Needs Clearly

Clearly expressing needs and desires, without blame or criticism, can help prevent the shutdown that leads to Stonewalling. Using "I" statements is a helpful strategy to communicate feelings without triggering defensive reactions.

The Role of Therapy in Addressing Stonewalling

Couples therapy provides an invaluable resource for addressing Stonewalling. A skilled therapist can help identify the underlying issues leading to emotional withdrawal, teach effective communication strategies, and guide couples in practicing these techniques in a supportive environment. At Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S & Associates, we are committed to helping couples navigate through these challenging dynamics, fostering a renewed sense of connection and understanding. Contact us today to receive marriage counseling on your schedule. 

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