If you’ve been reading this blog for a length of time, you’ve certainly read the posts dedicated to my girlfriend and her PTSD.
I have a problem in our relationship which I haven’t talked about.
It’s a problem with me.
It’s not a mental illness, though it can be much more toxic.
It’s not cheating.
It’s not drugs.
And she’s taken care of the alcohol part when she dumped a newly bought fifth of 80 proof vodka into my kitchen sink.
My issue is stonewalling. And it’s a dangerous obstruction to a healthy relationship.
If you’re familiar with the writing of John Gottman, you know that this is one of the Four Horsemen that destroys relationships.
The Four Horsemen being the riders named Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.
I actually have another that I struggle with, and that is defensiveness. But for now I’ll just focus on the Fourth Horseman.
What is Stonewalling?
Gottman explains stonewalling as
disengaging…not just refusing to give forms of acknowledgement, but flat out looking away or down without uttering a sound. The stonewaller acts as though he couldn’t care less about what you’re saying, if he even hears it.
Thought it has a place in politics, the definition of stonewalling is a verb that means to “delay or block (a request, process, or person) by refusing to answer questions or by giving evasive replies”.
Gottman’s definition is a little more extreme because he insinuates that the stonewaller doesn’t even give verbal or visual cues that they are paying attention.
When Do I Stonewall?
I am usually a good listener until I feel that I am being attacked or unjustly accused. This is one of the hardest things for my Type 1 personality to hear because my own inner critic (the superego) berates me incessantly all day.
It is then that I switch to a self-righteous mode of defensiveness, choosing not to listen to the other person’s words, but defending my innocence while shooting down the other person’s misconstrued version of a laughable reality.
What that means is that if I feel I am being attacked unjustly, or I feel my girlfriend’s voice is a couple clicks harsher, I get defensive.
Because I don’t feel like I deserve it.
Harsh tone = accusations. That’s the way my brain thinks-
“I can control my tone of voice and maintain my composure when I talk to her, she should be able to do the same with me. It’s common sense.Why don’t people understand that my way is the right way?!?!?!?!”
This is not good.
It is not healthy.
It is bigotry.
It is detrimental because it is a step short of shutting down and stonewalling.
Once I am exasperated with hearing the repeated “accusations” like I’m a little child I reach a point where I just shut down.
If I were to make a breadcrumb of this cycle it might look like this-
My girlfriend and I are talking about a problem > I feel her tone of voice change > A panic alarm is triggered in my brain > I get defensive and start to become aggravated > I hear repeated “attacks” and become more defensive > I reach a point where I feel I can no longer keep my composure and talk calmly > I disengage > I stonewall
If this were an actual computer breadcrumb, I would be able to go back to any of the previous “links” easy peasy. No problemo.
Not so in reality.
In fact I find that once I go to the next “crumb” in the trail, the door to the previous one closes.
And the handle is on the other side of the door.
Why Do I Stonewall?
I stonewall because it’s safe, I guess.
If I’m really being honest, I do it out of lack of emotional control. Or rather, not being able to command my emotions and put them in their place.
I know that once I reach the point of defensiveness, that’s my Rubicon – my point of no return, and at that point I realize stonewalling is next.
It’s the hardest thing in the world for me to pull back and gain control of my emotions and feelings, and I know I need to master this in my growth as a man.
It only happens with the Spirit’s help.
I need to call on Him more to get me through these times.