What is Stonewalling?

03 Aug

image showing a sign that says

Danger! Obstruction!

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.

image showing Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The Four Horsemen – 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.

Not happenin’.

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.

Do you have a particular “horseman” in YOUR relationship? Would you care to share in the Comments section? Thank you for taking your time to read this post.


Posted by on 08/03/2015 in relationships


Tags: ,

12 responses to “What is Stonewalling?

  1. KatieComeBack

    08/06/2015 at 08:48

    Interesting. I suppose I do a form of stonewalling….it’s more “F this, I don’t need you or anyone else” and I completely shut down and pretend to move on….Which really helps no one. BUT YET I PERSIST. Sometimes I just need to mentally recharge before continuing a discussion, I guess?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Surviving the Specter

      08/06/2015 at 11:14

      I can empathize exactly, Katie. I don’t like to get like this but it’s in my genes. I am determined to break this chain and exercise more empathy and gentleness when I can. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, my friend. X

      Liked by 1 person

      • KatieComeBack

        08/06/2015 at 16:12

        Funny…just reading your reply it suddenly dawned on me how much of this I may have inherited… (scratching head)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Tessa

    08/04/2015 at 00:57

    I think I tend to defensiveness and then stonewalling. I don’t hear what I want from my kids I shut down and finally the silence gets to them and I hear what is wrong. Oh nothing. (I don’t want to talk about it) I do that to anyone who says things I dont’ want to hear.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. sassafrassthefeisty

    08/03/2015 at 15:54

    Recognizing and admitting and accepting this helps in the learning and growing process. You’ll be amazed at what you can do once you admit something to yourself-out loud or in words. You have a lovely girlfriend that supports you and you support her. Let Him give you a little guidance too. 🙂 *And don’t question it all the time! Sometimes we just gotta be silent.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. morgueticiaatoms

    08/03/2015 at 14:24

    The Donor was an uber sensitive when it came to anything he perceived as criticism and he’d get nasty rather than stonewall. I suggested if tone was the issue and I wasn’t doing well enough regulating, how about I write my feelings down so there’s no tone. That wasn’t good enough either because the problem was with HIM constantly feeling critiqued due to things in his past. “Will you please give the baby a bath?”, so innocent a question for others, became an all out assault for him, I tried to understand but instead, the more he got nasty, the more nasty I got.
    In hindsight, it was just a case of non meshing personalities but I think a lot of what more I could have done to not be part of the problem. Except, him blaming me for his own feelings of being criticized would be akin to me blaming my bipolar on him.
    Relationships don’t come with operating manuals. You do your best. From all I can tell, your girlfriend is well worth tweaking your responses so you don’t shut her out and maybe you can, together, figure out why you always feel so criticized.
    For me, it is well, critical parents, whom I can never do right by. Now that I know that…I don’t take everything as personally. My scars are mine, and others shouldn’t pay for them.

    My best to you both, you rock the casbah for being a good dad and boyfriend.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Surviving the Specter

      08/03/2015 at 16:02

      “Relationships don’t come with operating manuals. You do your best. From all I can tell, your girlfriend is well worth tweaking your responses so you don’t shut her out and maybe you can, together, figure out why you always feel so criticized.” – I will hold onto this and try my derndest to put it into practice, my good friend. Thank you so much for the wise thoughts and reminder to step outside my own “crummy brain”. Love you dearly, XXXXX

      Liked by 2 people

      • morgueticiaatoms

        08/03/2015 at 16:06

        We all need that reminder to defy scumbag brain when it tells lies and hinders us from having good things in our lives ❤

        Liked by 2 people


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