Have you ever tried to communicate with someone who seemed emotionally absent, as if they'd built a wall around themselves?
It's frustrating and disheartening when you're met with silence or indifference, and this behavior can seriously harm a relationship. In this article, we'll delve into the toxic dynamic of stonewalling, exploring how it affects relationships and offering strategies to overcome it.
The Cry for Connection
Imagine a child desperately seeking attention from a parent:
"Pay attention to me." "Look at me." "Mommy! Daddy! Watch me."
Now, consider what happens when that child's attachment figure remains unresponsive and emotionally distant. The child becomes distressed and hurt. This need for connection isn't limited to children; it persists throughout our lives.
As adults, we have two primary responses when our romantic partners become emotionally unavailable or unresponsive:
Protest: We react by becoming critical or making excessive, frantic efforts to restore the connection. We desperately seek their attention and engagement.
Despair: When our partner consistently turns away from emotional connection, we may eventually give up on the relationship. We withdraw, emotionally disconnect, and resign ourselves to a state of hopelessness.
Stonewalling is a severe form of emotional withdrawal that can deeply damage relationships. It occurs when one partner consistently responds to conflict or emotional stress by becoming emotionally distant, unresponsive, and uncommunicative.
This behavior is akin to building a silent wall between partners, which isolates and alienates both individuals.
While stonewalling may seem like a defense mechanism to avoid making things worse, it sends a message of disapproval and emotional detachment to the other partner. It's crucial to recognize that stonewallers often employ this tactic to self-soothe because they feel overwhelmed by negative emotions.
Research by Dr. John Gottman reveals that about 85% of stonewallers are men. Men may be more susceptible to stonewalling because they tend to be flooded with emotions more easily than women and recover less quickly. Additionally, individuals with avoidant attachment styles are more prone to stonewalling, as it aligns with their tendency to emotionally distance themselves from situations that trigger negative emotions.
The Toxic Cycle of Criticism and Stonewalling
Stonewalling is often part of a toxic cycle in relationships. It frequently pairs with criticism, creating a destructive pattern that can lead to separation or divorce. Here's how this cycle typically unfolds:
Criticism: One partner feels criticized and attacked by the other, leading to emotional distress.
Stonewalling: In response to feeling overwhelmed by negativity and fearing that any words spoken will exacerbate the situation, one partner becomes emotionally distant and unresponsive.
Escalation: The emotional distance of the stonewaller amplifies the emotional distress of the criticized partner. This intensifies the conflict, leading to further criticism.
Despair: The stonewalling partner continues to shut down, creating a sense of helplessness in the other partner, who feels abandoned and even more critical.
The Impact of Stonewalling on the Partner
When you experience stonewalling from your partner, it's common to feel judged, unimportant, and emotionally abandoned.
Your partner's unresponsiveness may lead you to believe they don't care about your needs or feelings, even if they're physically present in the same room.
This emotional detachment can drive you to become even more critical and demanding in your pursuit of emotional connection, further pushing your partner away.
Remedies for Stonewalling
Addressing stonewalling is essential for maintaining a healthy and thriving relationship. Here are some strategies to combat stonewalling:
Take a Break During Conflict: Recognize when you or your partner are becoming overwhelmed during a conflict. Agree on a signal or phrase that indicates a break is needed. Allow each other a minimum of 20 minutes to calm down before resuming the conversation. Make it clear that you will return to resolve the issue together.
Ask for What You Need: When restarting a conflict conversation, focus on expressing your positive needs. Avoid criticism and blaming language. Ask your partner what they need as well, so you can work together to find mutually satisfying solutions.
Express Appreciation: During conflict conversations, express appreciation for your partner's efforts to listen and respond. This positivity can help keep the conversation constructive and prevent stonewalling.
Remember, consistent stonewalling is a sign that your relationship needs attention and intervention. Ignoring it can lead to a gradual deterioration of the connection between you and your partner.
Instead, confront stonewalling together, using these strategies to break down the silent wall that may have built up between you.
Your relationship deserves the effort and care required to overcome this destructive pattern and thrive once again.
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