Stonewalling and Unhappy Relationships

Within two minutes of earlier conversation, the man had stopped responding. He was sending a clear message to his wife that the argument had escalated too quickly and too destructively. He was done and he wanted to disengage and withdraw from the conversation.

This is called stonewalling, according to Gottman, the fourth horseman in the negative communication pattern cycle.

Examples of stonewalling include:

1)      Silence not due to taking time to think about a response

2)     Changing the subject without a resolution

3)     Physically leaving the conversation without an agreement to take a break from it

In relationships, eighty-five percent of the time, stonewallers are men. That also means that quite a few women engage in it as well. It happens when the criticism-contempt-defensiveness cycle has become relentless, when it feels like there’s no way of changing it and when the person is tired of fighting.

Many people mistake it as resolving the argument, but in fact, stonewalling is a clear message that the person is no longer listening and is not engaging in resolving the problem.

In general, when one or both members of a relationship refuse to address conflict, a problem arises. However, when stonewalling becomes a habitual manner in which conflict is addressed, that is a clear sign that the relationship has become extremely fragile and is probably on its last legs, meaning the relationship is on the path towards breakup or divorce.

While divorce is not condoned within the South Asian culture, a relationship on its last legs means it is headed towards a state of seemingly permanent unhappiness. This can look like the couple becoming more like roommates than being friends, partners and lovers.

At this point, couples counseling can be a very strong and powerful tool that can help mend the relationship if both parties wish to change. An article of what couples counseling is will be coming soon, but generally a couples counselor is trained to identify negative and harmful patterns in the relationship that couples don’t or can’t see because they are are too close to the situation. By retraining the couple on how to communicate effectively, relationships can regain their health and strength and couples can be happy together again.

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