What Is Stonewalling in a Relationship?

Relationships can be complex, and it’s important to know what signs to look out for that something may not be right. One of these signs is stonewalling – a term used to describe when one partner in the relationship shuts down and withdraws emotionally from the other.

If you’re wondering what stonewalling in a relationship looks like, we will provide an explanation of what it is and why it is so damaging. In addition, we will also explore why it occurs and how it can be avoided in order to protect your relationship.

Definition of Stonewalling

If you’ve ever experienced silent treatment or seen your partner shut down and refuse to communicate, then you may already know what stonewalling is. Stonewalling occurs when one person in a relationship withdraws from communication and shuts down emotionally. It can be a frustrating experience for both parties involved, as it creates an atmosphere of tension and distance.

According to Gottman, In a communication or debate, the listener will drift away, closing themselves and closing themselves off from the speaker because they are restless or overwhelmed by their condition. Metaphorically, they construct a barrier between them and their partner.

Stonewalling often happens when one person feels overwhelmed by their emotions or feels like they are not being heard. They may become defensive or feel attacked, leading them to disengage from the conversation altogether. This can lead to feelings of resentment, frustration, and loneliness for both partners. If left unchecked, stonewalling can be incredibly damaging to a relationship.

If you suspect that stonewalling is happening in your relationship, it’s important to address it as soon as possible.

Difference Between Stonewalling and Silence

Silence and stonewalling may appear to be similar, but they have distinct differences. While silence can be a healthy way to take a break and calm down during an argument, stonewalling is an unhealthy way to avoid communication altogether.

Stonewalling includes shutting down emotionally and physically which prevents any constructive communication. In contrast, taking time for silence can allow individuals to process their thoughts and feelings before continuing the discussion in a more productive manner.

It’s important to recognize the difference between the two as addressing stonewalling can prevent further damage to the relationship. With its long-term negative effects, stonewalling can lead to conflict and emotional distance between partners, whereas silence offers introspection that can enhance communication. By identifying the underlying cause of stonewalling, couples can work together toward building healthier communication patterns in their relationships.

The Negative Impact of Stonewalling on Relationships

The negative impact of stonewalling on relationships is significant. It can lead to resentment and frustration on both sides, as well as a breakdown of trust between partners. When one person refuses to engage with the other, it’s easy for misunderstandings and miscommunications to occur, which can create further tension in the relationship.

Stonewalling also prevents couples from finding solutions to their problems. Without open communication, conflicts tend to linger unresolved rather than being addressed head-on.

Signs of Stonewalling in Relationships

Communication is vital for building and maintaining healthy relationships, but stonewalling can severely hinder that. This behavior manifests in several ways, such as

  • Refusing to engage in conversation or shutting down communication
  • Physically leaving the room or avoiding eye contact
  • Ignoring or dismissing the other person’s feelings and thoughts
  • Using one-word responses or giving the silent treatment, and 
  • Withholding affection, intimacy, or emotional support.

These signs of stonewalling can leave the other partner feeling ignored, rejected, and helpless. It is essential to take prompt action to address this behavior to prevent further damage to the relationship.

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects on Individuals

Stonewalling can have both short-term and long-term effects on individuals in a relationship. In the short term, stonewalling can cause an increase in tension and frustration, as well as feelings of neglect within the relationship. The partner who is being shut out may feel like their needs are not being heard or validated, leading to resentment and disconnection.

In the long term, stonewalling can be even more damaging. It can result in emotional detachment, decreased intimacy, potential relationship breakdowns, and even divorce. Additionally, stonewalling can have negative impacts on individuals’ mental health, leading to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

How to Respond to Stonewalling in a Relationship

How to Respond to Stonewalling in a Relationship

Many relationships suffer from a lack of communication or stonewalling. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with stonewalling in a relationship. Below, we will also provide practical tips for navigating conversations with your partner and building emotional safety.

1. Asking for a Break

Asking for a break is not about giving up on the relationship or avoiding difficult conversations. Rather, it’s about taking the time and space needed to cool off and approach the conversation with a clear head. When emotions are running high, it’s easy to get defensive and say things we don’t mean.

By taking a break, you give yourself the chance to calm down and approach the conversation from a place of understanding.

When asking for a break, be clear about what you need.

2. Use ‘I’ Statements in Conversations

Another effective way to deal with stonewalling in a relationship is to use “I” statements in conversations. Rather than saying “you always do that” or “you never listen to me,” try saying “I feel ignored or upset when this occurs” or “I need you to hear me out.” If you make this type of approach, you remove your focus from the other person and place it on you, which can help you handle the situation.

For example, say “I feel ignored when you don’t talk about important issues.” This approach can help your partner understand how their actions affect you without feeling attacked or defensive.

3. Seek Couples Therapy

In situations where stonewalling has become a pervasive issue in a relationship, consulting with a professional counselor or therapist can be an effective option. Relationship counselors can help couples identify the root causes of stonewalling and provide tools to improve communication and emotional connection.

It’s important to find a therapist who specializes in relationships and has experience working with stonewalling specifically. Many practitioners offer online or virtual sessions for added convenience, making it easier than ever to get the support you need. Seeking help from a licensed professional can provide valuable insights, guidance, and support as you work towards building a healthier relationship.

4. Support Groups and Forums

Support groups and forums can be valuable resources for individuals dealing with the effects of stonewalling in relationships. These platforms offer a safe space for people to share their experiences, seek advice, and receive emotional support from others facing similar challenges.

Online forums such as Reddit, Quora, or Facebook Groups connect individuals from all over the world who are struggling with stonewalling or other relationship issues. In-person support groups can also provide a sense of community and support, where individuals can connect face-to-face with others who understand their struggles.

Recommended reading and articles can also provide valuable insights and practical tips for dealing with stonewalling in relationships.


Is stonewalling the end of a relationship?

While stonewalling is not always the end of a relationship, it can certainly be damaging if left unchecked and sometimes lead to divorce. Stonewalling can prevent effective communication and problem-solving, leading to unresolved conflicts and resentment.

If you or your partner is habitually stonewalling during arguments or disagreements, it may be helpful to seek the assistance of a couples therapist or counselor who can help you work through the underlying issues and develop healthy communication strategies. With effort and commitment, it is possible to overcome stonewalling and improve the overall health and happiness of your relationship.


Stonewalling is a relationship issue that can have severe negative impacts on both individuals and the relationship itself. It is essential to recognize the signs of stonewalling and take action to prevent it from happening. Communication plays a vital role in overcoming stonewalling, and seeking professional help may be necessary in some cases.

There are many resources available, including relationship counselors, therapists, support groups, and recommended reading materials. Remember that acknowledging the issue and taking steps toward resolving it is the first step in healing your relationship.

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