How to Deal with Stonewalling in a Relationship

Every relationship has its ups and downs. It goes through phases of being at beautiful highs to the rock-bottom lows. But rock bottom is where you can begin from to build something even more concrete. Here's how you can deal with stonewalling in your relationship, and make it stronger against the spiteful winds of change that bring out the worst in the two of you.
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Tip to deal with stonewalling in a relationship
If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.
― Daniel Goleman
In a very famous song by the rock band Coldplay, a line goes, "When she was just a girl, she expected the world" and from there on the song repeatedly tells you how that world never came to materialize for the little girl. This world in question only takes form in her dreams, which she then believes could be paradise. Something similar happens to the idea of love and companionship for the young who venture into it. A relationship that once seemed the world to them, a partner with whom their passions converged, and a commitment which once came with an assured companionship, seems to be lost as the partner turns into a total stranger.

What once seemed like a story with a happy ending, now becomes a nightmare that depicts a huge wall you ought to climb before the hounds tear you apart. The wall in question is in the form of emotional abandonment that one creates in a relationship in various ways. Stonewalling in a relationship is defined as dismissal of any kind of communication and cooperation by your partner. It is, in many cases, the starting point of a dysfunctional marriage in the long run. The act of stonewalling stems from myriad emotions. It could be because the partner wants to avoid an argument, inherent passive-aggressive traits in the personality, a genuine disinterest in dialog, or even boredom. However, prolonged stonewalling in a relationship turns into a camouflaged abuse, making it difficult for the victim to make a corroborative case and stunting the progress of the individuals, psychologically.

A classic example of stonewalling in a relationship goes like this: It begins with an emotional abandonment, an act that is driven by a need to find your space away from your partner. It is a process that is marked either by a slow decay of your equation or a sudden snapping of the emotional cord. In a circumstance which is sudden, there is always a precipitating incident that can be recalled in the retrospective wisdom for an analysis to solve the problem. However, in the former situation, as there isn't a point outlining the problem area, it becomes difficult for the victim to climb the wall that the perpetrator builds. This furthers the problem, making it even more complex, and thus frustrating for the one in it and even for those surrounding it.

If your relationship is suffering under the pressures of stonewalling, here are a few ways in which you can salvage it.

Dealing with Stonewalling in a Relationship

Be Empathetic Than Emphatic

A general rule of physics is, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. And by the same logic, stonewalling too is a reaction. It is an outcome of a certain situation that has probably hurt or upset your partner. Trace back to situations to know when was the first time you noticed a negative change in your partner's behavior. Your partner's attempt at stonewalling could have been a attempt to shut out criticism, contempt, condescension, and nagging. Oftentimes when we are hurt, we try to shut out people psychologically by not reacting to them anymore. The anger within turns to rage, prompting us to shun those who have hurt us. It is a natural reaction and a defense mechanism to deal with anger and hurt.

However, if we do not learn to forgive or strike a civil dialog to solve the matter at hand, this can lead to a conscious effort at stonewalling. If your partner cannot forgive, then you have to understand the source and the nature of their anger. Begin with doing things together as a couple to break the ice, and seek communication in different setups. This will give the two of you a chance to deal in different scenarios, which momentarily will distract you from domestic conflicts. Despite the hurt that you maybe feeling, be the bigger person, take a step back, and be understanding of your partner's needs.

With the stretch of your imagination, delve into your partner's thoughts. Gauge what must have been so hurtful for him/her to react this way. This will give you a change to be more empathetic than emphatic in your reactions. Breaking the negative chain of action-reaction is the first step towards breaking the mammoth wall.

Accept Your Change

Just as stonewalling is a reaction, the said action also sets in motion another reaction. This means that person at the receiving end is also likely to react in a certain way. The very obvious way, and a very detrimental way, in which the victim deals with stonewalling is by getting aggressive to make a point. After all, as the numerous attempts to communicate with the partner seem all in vain, it only adds to the vexation. This creates a helplessness, which leads to using every means possible to get through to the partner. Oftentimes, it results in screaming, threatening, gathering an audience, and so on. However, at this point, the purpose is no longer communication, but more so, an ego that wants to prove itself.

On the other hand, if you intend to deal with stonewalling in your relationship, you need to understand the effect it has on you. Many a time, stonewalling puts the victim in self-doubt, making him wonder what went wrong, making him question his actions, and thus pushing in a venomous blame-game within themselves. The frustration it causes, the guilt it creates, and the helplessness it makes the victim feel, becomes so overwhelming that the victim is left with no choice but to act with certain haste to set things right. This haste becomes the birth of desperate aggressive attempts to mend things. However, all this while, as the perpetrator keeps cool and remains confined to certain quietness, it makes the victim's behavior seem aggressive. Obviously, in comparison, the victim is only being aggressive out of a desperate need to get the partner's attention. Thus, stonewalling changes the victim's behavior, and the problems worsens, making the wall between the two seem even greater and stronger. After all, what the victim could not have changed, changed the victim instead. As it is fair to only accept the truth to live more honestly, understand that you have changed in a way that will not solve your issue. The problem of stonewalling has to be approached in a different way for a solution.

Causes of Stress

Here comes the most important part in dealing with stonewalling in a relationship. Identifying the causes of stress in your individual lives, which naturally percolates into your relationship, is like disentangling wool, to begin knitting afresh. Careers, finances, kids, social pressures, and the list can go on and on that denotes stress triggers in a relationship.

In a stereotypical situation, amidst the insecurity of jobs and rising cost of living, a man finds himself reeling under the pressure of carving his niche and providing for his family. As the pressure increases, he creates a tunnel vision, shutting everyone out to purely focus on his career. His inability and his disinterest in the domestic affairs draws criticism from his partner, leading the man to build a stonewall. Initially, the conversation attempts made by the partner are met with crossed arms, rolling eyes, a stone face, snide remarks, and every other way in which a body can project disinterest through its own language. As this continues, that problem aggravates.

Instead of criticizing your partner, try to be more patient. Tune into your partner's fears, insecurities, anger, hurt, and confusion. So overwhelming are these emotions that they cannot be dealt with alone, and so gripping are they, that they suppress the person's ability to express them also. If you truly understand your partner, keep aside your own anger and ego to let him know that you are on his side. To build a healthy relationship is to build a healthy ego. However, at the same time, it is to develop a part that forever remains a stranger to that ego. Only when this is learned, the art of forgiving can be inculcated and causes of stonewalling be eliminated.

Seek Re-connections

When you first fell in love, what were you doing? How did you meet? What transpired? How did you come so far? The answers to all these questions are your solutions to prevent this relationship from falling apart. Take a walk down memory lane, look at old photographs, revisit the places you used to go to in happier times, make a conscious effort to focus on the positive aspects of your relationships, and seek re-connections with each other.

In a relationship which has a miasma of anger and doubt looming over it, it is difficult to see the love that once existed. But then again, all the great love stories have one thing in common; you have to fight the odds to make it happen. Allow the anger to dissipate so that the void can be filled in with new feelings towards each other. Letting go of the past is never a sign of weakness. There is power in letting go too, both in bidding the last goodbye and making an effort to move on for a better tomorrow with each other. When the undercurrent of a relationship is still love and respect, no wall can make two individuals stand apart.

For What It's Worth

Every equation bears witness to hopes raised and dashed. It goes through its own attempts at saving and sharing. Each individual in a relationship seeks companionship, togetherness, a profound sense of fulfillment, and most importantly, an honest and a non-judgmental friendship. But if your arduous attempts at saving your marriage are met with equally arduous attempts at stonewalling, you need to reassess your investment. If you partner is taking away everything from the relationship by being an apparent victim, you need to decide what it's truly worth. Stonewalling, for some people, becomes a matter of habit, rather than an isolated method of defense. The inability to distinguish between the two makes this fight against stonewalling a complete lost cause. Breaking down the stonewall is a two-way street. The one who builds it must open it to get out and let the other person in. Only this way can the two individuals walk the same path, once again, and let their beliefs and ideas converge for a successful togetherness for many years to come.

Replacing The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling with three simple words of love, is indeed a lesser effort, and one that yields far more successful results. Unless this happens, only little repair can be hoped for. In odd cases, a person may also start stonewalling for no apparent reason. It could be an outcome of a deep-rooted psychological problem or simply because they are no longer in love. Irrespective of the case, stonewalling can be dealt with if both individuals put in the effort. Finding a way back into each other's heart, and picking up the pen to begin writing the love story you once intended to write, is the only way of breaching that wall, together.
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Published: May 28, 2014
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