Marriage Killer Stonewalling

Stonewalling Marriage Killer

When I work with couples and the conversation in the session begins with a harsh startup, in which both criticism and contempt are present, often one or both spouses will become defensive. One or both spouses will shut down, tune out, and detach from the session. Tuning out each other represents the fourth marriage killer and is called, “stonewalling.” Often repetitive stonewalling brings couples into marriage counseling because of the feeling of hopelessness.

What Does Stonewalling Look Like?

Visualize a wife sharing with her husband how she accidentally broke something of his that he values, and he begins to flood her with criticisms for not being careful with “his” stuff and that she is “always so clumsy.” In the middle of his criticism, she turns around, walks into the bedroom, and slams the bedroom door. Rather than standing up for herself, she leaves the room, and detaches into the bedroom to escape or tune out. In turning away from him, she is avoiding conflict but is also avoiding the marriage. She is stonewalling. Research shows that stonewalling is more common for the husband than the wife.

Stonewalling Conversations

In healthier conversations, the person that is listening will provide indicators that he/she is understanding the other’s point of view. There is often eye contact, head nodding, and affirming words such as “uh-huh” or “Okay.” The person that stonewalls doesn’t do these things. He or she may look up or away without any head nodding or words affirming the other person’s point of view. He or she may sit with arms crossed and looks as if he/she doesn’t care or is board.

Stonewalling Comes After Contempt, Criticism, & Defensiveness

Gottman’s research finds that Stonewalling often shows up later in a marriage than in the beginning. It takes time for the negativity to be formed by the first three marriage killers (criticism, contempt, and defensiveness). Stonewalling indicates that the relationship has already experienced its capacity for criticism, contempt, and defensiveness. Now Stonewalling becomes a way for one or both partners to escape.

Start Marriage Counseling

If you recognize in your marriage that your partner, yourself, or both of you are at the point of stonewalling during conflicts or arguments, please contact our counseling center to setup an appointment with a marriage counselor.  Our marriage and relationship therapists are trained in providing guidance and tools to help you and your spouse develop healthier ways to communicate and connect.