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Stonewalling Advice

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  • #939366 Reply
    avatarSarah G

    Would love some tips on how to deal with a partner who stonewalls me. Im talking the complete silent treatment. When we aren’t fighting and we discuss our problems, he has agreed to say “let’s talk about this tomorrow” and let time calm us down. It’s what I need to hear. But when the time comes and I’m trying to calming convey something he said/did that really hurt me, he continues looking at his phone and gives me the silent treatment.
    I’ve even tried coaching him a little by saying “if you need space can you please say let’s talk about this tomorrow” but he doesn’t and continues the silent treatment.
    This provokes me so much and I get so angry and then he points his finger at me and says look at you. You’re having a tantrum.
    What do I do? If I drop the conversation when he starts stonewalling, then I feel like he is in control and learns if he doesn’t want to acknowledge my hurt feelings he can avoid it by stonewalling me.


    #939753 Reply

    so, he does something which upsets you, you have an agreement to give yourselves time to calm down and discuss it later, but when you try to, he ignores you until you are really really upset, quietly continuing to provoke you by staring at his phone, until you are utterly wound up, then actually points his finger at you and mocks you? I can’t see any way of dealing with that, I’d just leave. Unless he agrees to totally cut that out, and never ever do this again, there are several ways it could eventually go and none of them are good.

    #939853 Reply

    This is very bad. You’ve got stonewalling and contempt here, which I think are two of Gottman’s “4 Horsemen” predictors of divorce. The other two are criticism and defensiveness, btw. Google “John Gottman 4 Horsemen.”

    This isn’t a simple fix. Things are deeply wrong in your relationship and it’s probably best if it just ends. You’re fighting a lot and you’re just so far gone with how you’re dealing with it, I doubt this could be salvaged.

    #939854 Reply

    How often are you having these talks? Constantly needing to talk about emotions and feelings can be exhausting.

    #939906 Reply

    The good news is that there are ways to mitigate stonewalling. The bad news is that even in the best case scenario, stonewalling tends to be a symptom of underlying stuff that may not be worth your time and could potentially crop up in other areas of your relationship even outside of conflict. That being said, here’s some advice that has helped me personally deal with stonewalling.

    1.) Recognize that the stonewalling may not be coming from a place of ill-intent. [If you are dealing with someone who is maliciously using this technique with the goal to hurt, frustrate, manipulate, or otherwise make you feel bad, that is a whole other issue. Please leave them.] It’s easy to label the stonewaller as immature, inconsiderate, rude, etc. – and rightly so. It’s one thing to need space, it’s another entirely to just check out mid-convo with no warning. But consider that it may be less about shutting you out, and more about shutting down entirely due to an emotional short-circuit. This can be a pretty deeply ingrained reaction to feeling any strong emotion or vulnerability, particularly for some men (three cheers for gender norms and being socialized to avoid feelings). It’s not an excuse, but I think it helps to take a step back and see that this likely isn’t personal (or even realize that you may ultimately need a partner with more emotional tools in their metaphorical belt). Not everyone knows how to use their words when they are overwhelmed; even if he has agreed to do so beforehand, it might not be possible in the heat of the moment.

    2.) Consider reframing your approach. It may not be enough to calmly state your feelings. People who stonewall tend to have a high sensitivity to criticism, or anything that could resemble criticism; they may have deeply rooted issues with needing to be “right” (or at the very least, to avoid being “wrong” at all costs). You may not think you are being confrontational or critical, and maybe you aren’t. If you said to me personally, “I felt some type of way when you did/said this thing,” I’d be glad you were direct. But to a stonewaller, this is an accusation. In your brain, your words might sound reasonable, but in his they could sound like judgment or blame. That doesn’t mean you need to dance around the issue, but it does mean that taking a really hard look at your phrasing could help a lot. Emphasize that you are sharing your perspective, rather than labeling behavior itself as bad or wrong.

    3.) When he stonewalls, walk away. Once he goes into his shell, he isn’t coming back out until he’s good and ready, not even to give you the courtesy of, “Yeah, let’s cool down a bit.” Don’t coach, don’t poke, don’t prod. I get that you don’t want to “reward” undesirable behavior so to speak, but at this point the stonewalling has already occurred. This isn’t a teachable moment. For your own sake if not the sake of your relationship, you have to disengage, even if it feels impossible to you, because the alternative is more arguing. You said you don’t want to give him control but this is not a power struggle. Worse, when you continue to engage and ultimately lose your cool due to feeling provoked, you’re handing your control right to him and giving him further justification to disregard your feelings and avoid his share of ownership. Don’t try to stonewall him back because he probably won’t be affected by it, but do focus on yourself. Try not to stew or fixate (easier said than done, but again, consider the alternative). Use whatever self-soothing techniques you have in your arsenal – go for a walk, take a bath, drink some tea, meditate, journal. Take care of your feelings, because right at the moment, he sure isn’t going to.

    If this sounds like a ton of emotional labor, that’s because it is. Especially when the alternative of him just using his words seems so much simpler. Whether this level of effort and patience is worthwhile or possible for you is something only you can say. You are definitely allowed to decide this is not for you and to move on to someone who takes a more mature approach to communicating and meeting your emotional needs rather than stonewalling.

    #940255 Reply

    A guy who points at me and says: “look at you, you are having a tantrum”, would be gone by the evening. He patronises you! Don’t let him treat you like a little girl.
    Frankly, I would just end the relationship. Can you imagine having the charge of a family and deal with problems with a man who acts like this? I don’t think so.
    Anyway, when facing silence treatment, the best is to stop all interaction yourself. Don’t speak, don’t give info about your whereabouts, go outside, do your things, don’t cook, don’t do anything that is couple’s like. Say, “when we can have a discussion, let’s be in a relationship again”.
    And walk.

    #940295 Reply

    Yeah, I agree with the others. Unfortunately there aren’t any tips we can share that will stop your boyfriend from emotionally abusing you. The incentive for him to keep stonewalling is huge: he gets to keep treating you badly with zero consequences, never has to acknowledge what he’s done or make any changes, and in fact he gets to turn it around and have the satisfaction of YOU being the bad guy (likely reinforcing that you “deserved” whatever crap he pulled to upset you in the first place). I know from experience that stonewalling and contempt are usually deeply ingrained and there are a host of other emotional and behavioral problems that come with them and they are not easily fixed.

    Take Kate’s advice and research the Four Horsemen. This article has the tips your looking for, but if I were you I’d cut and run

    #940321 Reply

    That thing about pointing at you and saying you’re having a tantrum, that’s not something a partner does if they’re just simply tired of talking about emotions. It’s something you do if you’re a messed-up asshole in a relationship that’s not functioning. It’s emotionally abusive to promise to discuss something, then not discuss it, instead stonewall, and then sit there and watch your partner get upset, then point and say they’re having a tantrum. It’s not healthy for you to sit there and get so angry either. This is a whole destructive pattern that’s a symptom of the fact that your relationship isn’t functioning.

    #940463 Reply

    Eh..l I think you have all misunderstood this letter.

    I think he forgets to say, “Let’s talk about this tomorrow.” And instead just shuts down and so she — bizarrely — insists on lecturing him them and there and he simply doesn’t respond well to that.

    Surprise, surprise.

    Just shut up already — or at least stick to the agreement of talking tomorrow that you fucking decided on anyway. 🙄. Admittedly this letter is awfully hard to judge as you pointedly gave ZERO examples of what he does to “hurt you” which rather implies that you don’t have any compelling instances.

    But by all means, LA. Feel free to prove me wrong.

    #940577 Reply

    I don’t think he forgets to say that, especially when she reminds him to.

    #940579 Reply

    Agree with Mark. Why are y’all fighting so much? Why be with someone who supposedly does stuff that hurts you so much on the regular? I mean, it could be that he is just sick of these conversations all the time, and that they frequently turn into yelling when he doesn’t say the exact magic words you “need” to hear?

    #940585 Reply

    I mean, basically you’re asking — how do I control my boyfriend? You don’t. You can’t. If you don’t get along with him, then leave.

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