Stop With the Stonewalling in Marriage

Stonewalling is a classic technique used often in negotiations. It’s usually fairly effective, too! You can Stonewall your opponent into believing you’re going to raise the ante in a lawsuit or court battle.

However, when Stonewalling is used in a marriage, a couple can easily become stuck in a frozen tundra of a dying relationship. Dr. John Gottman, psychologist and researcher, has done 40 years of research on marriages. He reports Stonewalling to be one of the most destructive of the 4 Horsemen of Marriage Disasters.

marriage couples
Needing Space

What do you do instead of Stonewalling? How do you start breaking down the walls? How do you have a relationship together where trust and commitment are holding the walls up around a loving relationship?

Building Blocks for the Stonewaller

Let Your Partner Know

Tell your partner you need some space. Walking out without saying anything leaves the other person feeling abandoned. And – usually causes your partner’s anxiety to go even higher. Thus, creating more of a problem for you both. Instead, say something loving. “I love you. I want to talk about this, but I’m feeling flooded.” “I think I need to stop this conversation for now.”

Set a time Limit for Yourself

Let you and your partner know approximately how long of a break you’ll be taking. You’re going to find the more you and your partner practice this skill, you’ll need less and less time to re-engage. Some disagreements may need 10 minutes – some disagreements may need 2 hours. Try to get back to your partner within a 2-3 hour period of time. If you’re still not ready after the set time, simply establish another time. But talk about needing time and when you’ll check in.

Calm Down

It can be so freeing to realize when you are upset your heart rate goes up and communication breaks down. This is normal. It’s OK. Don’t shame yourself for being human. Instead, notice how you’re feeling and take some time to bring your heart rate down. Breathe – Listen to soothing music – Do yoga – Stretch – Pray.

Speak Hope to Yourself

Listen to your self-talk. Tell yourself hopeful messages of truth. “I love him/her and we’re going to get through this.” “Couples disagree. We’re a couple and this will pass.” These messages will be much more productive than “I can’t stand him/her.” “This is never going to get better.” -Speak truth and hope to yourself.

couples marriageApologize When You’ve Come Back

If you have left your partner for a time in an unhealthy way because you were upset in an argument – Apologize. Take ownership for LEAVING THE RELATIONSHIP for whatever time you did. Apologizing for LEAVING THE RELATIONSHIP helps your partner to heal. The apology also helps you to acknowledge the truth of what you’re doing and change the behavior.

Building Blocks For The Stonewalled

 Calm Yourself

It is normal when one person is Stonewalling for the other person to feel anxiety. This is why the method is so effective in negotiating. Be prepared to give your partner time to “take a break.” Do yoga. Pray. Listen to soothing music. Treat yourself.

Detach With Love in Your Thoughts

You may have feelings of “I guess I’m just not that important.” Or “He/she must not love me.” Change those thoughts into soothing truths. “Her/His need to take a break has nothing to do with my value or worth.” “I know I am lovable even when they need a break.”

Check in – Don’t Check Out

It is sometimes tempting to do the “tit for tat” dance. A word to the wise – Don’t! When couples try to outlast each other’s “Leaving the Relationship” by Stonewalling – They Both Lose. Instead, lovingly check in with your partner and ask them about how much time they believe they will need. “I’m here when you’re ready to talk. I love you.” These messages will be soothing for someone who is Stonewalling.

Encouragement For You Both

marriage couple
Plant Love and Admiration in Your Pasture

Remember – All couples argue. All couples have unresolvable issues. Your goal is to have the 5 to 1 ratio. (5 positives versus negative interactions) Your goal is to build a relationship FULL of Love and Admiration – So FULL that if when one of you needs a break, the break can happen without harm to the relationship.

Bob and Kate struggled with Stonewalling. One of them sometimes would not speak for days to the other one. Through acknowledging the effects on the other partner, Bob and Kate got that Stonewalling habit under control.

You might say, they each got off their High Horses and began to build bridges through the walls! (Oy! The metaphors!)

There is now a mutual respect of flooding. There is now a mutual respect of taking healthy breaks when needed. There is now a whole lot of Love and Admiration.

And – Let me tell you! -It’s much sexier to have a disagreement full of respect, love and admiration!


The above isn’t professional counseling. -If you’re interested in professional counseling with me – call me at 530-268-3558 or email me at kate@katepieperlmft.com. My offices are located conveniently between Auburn and Grass Valley, California. If I’m not the fit for you – I have some wonderful colleagues I can refer you to!

8 thoughts on “Stop With the Stonewalling in Marriage

  1. When someone writes an article he/she maintains the idea of a user in his/her mind that how a user can be aware of it. Therefore that’s why this post is amazing. Thanks!

  2. What if your partner stonewalls for weeks, or months?
    I am the stonewalled over here. And every time I try to talk, it ends up a fight. I am full of anxiety, and when I finally do have his ear, it’s because I’ve bubbled over, and emotional. Then I start “throwing rocks” at the wall to break it down. Yeah, that doesn’t ever work.

    1. Alissa- First of all, I am so sorry you and your husband are going through this difficult time. What I recommend my clients or friends do when they are in this situation is seek help from a counselor or a very trained paraprofessional. There are things we can do individually when our husbands or wives stonewall. One thing we do have to do is learn how to emotionally regulate. If you read articles on contempt or criticism, you will find some helpful information. I absolutely wish you the best. Never give up “staying in your hula hoop” and changing so much that your husband sees the change and wants the change for himself also.

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