Stonewalling – The Ultimate Weapon of Destruction For Couples

Have you ever heard yourself saying, “I feel like I’m talking to a wall?” or “I might as well be talking to myself!” Has anyone been saying these statements to you lately?

If so, you might have Stonewalling as part of the Destructive Dance to your relationship.

Turning your back on the relationship
Turning your back on the relationship

But, wait. It can get worse. –If both of you have begun to practice Stonewalling, there is a strong probability the relationship is circling the drain. The results of Dr. John Gottman’s research showed Stonewalling to be one of the most destructive behaviors in a relationship. It’s one of the 4 Horsemen we began discussing in the Marriage Relationship Saga.

Stonewalling is often defined as the silent treatment. At times, it is a deliberate refusal to discuss the issues with your partner. A deliberate disregard for the partner. A complete emotional cut-off. It is giving up on the relationship.

But at other times, Stonewalling is filled with hopelessness and despair. It is an involuntary survival mechanism. Filled with an unhealthy sense of powerlessness. It isn’t punishing your partner. It is giving up on your ability to speak to your partner. It is giving up on yourself. It is giving up on your partner. It is giving up on the relationship.

Notice how the above paragraphs ended with “giving up on the relationship.” This is why Bob and Kate decided to refer to Stonewalling as LEAVING THE RELATIONSHIP. They both wanted the severity of the behavior to be recognized, embraced and corrected. -We’ll talk about that next time, though.

And guess what? -If you’re both not fighting, and you once were? If you’re both not even engaging in issues you used to disagree about that are still unresolved because you refuse to argue? -Things may not be as good as you’re thinking they are. NOT DISAGREEING often means a relationship has died.

There is a vast difference between Stonewalling and choosing your battles. Stonewalling isn’t choosing battles. It is refusing to battle. Stonewalling is refusing to have “iron sharpens iron” as a part of your relationship.

Remember the ratio of 5 to 1? The couple who has 5 to 1 positive versus negative interactions is often a happily married couple. In a couple where both individuals are Stonewalling – there is no positive – there is only loneliness and emptiness for the couple. They both are choosing to LEAVE THE RELATIONSHIP.

The reasons why people leave the relationship can be either or both Involuntary and Deliberate. Not complicated at all, is it?

The Involuntary Reasons Why We Leave

  • Flooding – The person’s heart rate is up, perspiration has begun and flooding has occurred. The shut down for their mind has happened. They are literally frozen – nothing to say.
  • Thoughts – Thoughts of panic and helplessness are constant. “What can I say?” “I don’t know anything to say?” “Am I stuck in this relationship forever?”
  • Past Hurts – An individual who has grown up in a highly volatile childhood may get triggered and not have any skills to say, “I’m scared. I don’t know what to say.”

    couples stonewalling
    Losing their way in the relationship and life
  • Depression – The individual may have lost perspective on life and their relationship due to a clinical depression. Withdrawal may be a part of their symptoms of depression.

The Voluntary Reasons Why We Leave

  • Thoughts of “righteous victimization” – The person may be thinking, “I didn’t do anything to deserve this.” “He/She’s crazy.” “I’m not staying in a relationship with someone like this.”
  • Entitlement of non-negotiating – The person may be so angry at their partner, they are determined to give the silent treatment until they see the white flag from their partner.
  • A Dismissive Attitude – The person may have no intention of being influenced by the other person. They refuse to discuss what they disagree about simply because there is no longer any desire to respect their partner’s opinion.

Regardless of the reasons why Stonewalling is happening in your relationship – the outcome for your partner is abandonment. There is a sense of “I’m not even worth talking to.”

The relationship is at a stalemate. No business will be done until the Stonewalling is ceased and all parties return from LEAVING THE RELATIONSHIP.

Bob and Kate reached the point in their relationship where LEAVING THE RELATIONSHIP was no longer an option for them. They had to decide what each of them could do instead of Stonewalling.

We’re going to talk about what they both did instead. -How they both learned to stay present in the relationship.

It took a Change of Heart for both of them. -And remember – they’re nobody special. If they can do it, so can you.


 What about you? Are you experiencing Stonewalling in your relationship? Have you practiced Stonewalling? Are you feeling stuck?


The above isn’t professional counseling. If you are interested in meeting with me, I work in the Auburn and Grass Valley, California area. Give me a call at 530-268-3558 or email me at kate@katepieperlmft.com. We’ll talk. We’ll decide if I’m a good fit for you – or if I can refer you to some wonderful colleagues of mine.

2 thoughts on “Stonewalling – The Ultimate Weapon of Destruction For Couples

  1. And for the one who just CAN’T stay silent when she is scared or hurt…well, it is so hard to stop criticizing so the just as scared/hurt stonewaller can get the courage to speak! Yeesh!! And I am totally not talking about myself! (Ha!) It is most definitely a dance worth digging into–and– knowing how to stop doing these things makes for a trusting, fun, and alive marriage, something I’m pretty sure we all want! ❤️

    1. Exactly! -Not perfect, because that would be boring! -But- A trusting, fun and fully alive marriage!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *