"Stonewalling" in relationships??

Does your partner shut down and seemingly emotionally punish you during arguments or disagreements?

Do you feel helpless about the value you have in this relationship and if it will/can last?

Withdrawing one's love or affection can feel hostile, abusive (to some), and overall uncomfortable.

Lets take a look at stonewalling in relationships.

Journal your reflections once you are complete reading.



According to the Gottman Method, masters of relationships maintain a 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity during conflict discussions.

Positive interactions include displays of interest, affection, humor, empathy, and affirming body language (like eye contact and head nodding).

While it may be intuitive that negative exchanges outweighing the positive is a sign of relationship trouble, the 5:1 ratio also suggests that negativity is healthy as long as the ratio is maintained and the four horsemen are not present.


Cycles of non-constructive arguing and a lack of positive affect are major predictors of stonewalling, particularly predictive of stonewalling being used as an attempt to self-soothe or de-escalate, but backfiring and resulting in relationship deterioration. When these cycles grow more and more intense, physiological arousal begins to skyrocket, and the following dynamics emerge:

  • For both partners, there is:

  • A decrease in the ability to process information (reduced hearing, reduced peripheral vision, problems with shifting attention away from a defensive posture).

  • An increase in defensiveness.

  • A reduction in the ability for creative problem solving.

  • A reduction in the ability to listen and empathize.

  • Men are consistently more likely to stonewall than women. They will withdraw emotionally from conflict discussions while women remain emotionally engaged.

  • When women stonewall, it is quite predictive of divorce.

  • Men are more likely to rehearse distress-maintaining thoughts than women, which may prolong their physiological arousal and hyper-vigilance, often causing their partners to flare up in response, until both are brought to a point of emotional detachment and avoidance.

  • Male stonewalling is very upsetting for women, increasing their physiological arousal (things like increased heart rates, etc.) and intensifying their pursuit of the issue.


Stonewalling inevitably can be seen as bad, but here is a rule to follow:

When the two of you are in conflict, and someone checks out, check in with them and take a break.

In other words, when stonewalling starts, STOP. Attempts to continue will not make productive headway for either of you, but rather will intensify your shared conflict and emotional distress.

Soothing self makes couples better able to work on their conflicts as a team rather than as adversaries.

Your and your partner’s mental health play a large role in determining the health of your relationship.

Don’t forget to take care of yourselves! Self-soothing is a very useful and effective act of self-care, and if you each devote enough time and energy to self-care (getting enough sleep, nutrition, exercise, time for pursuit of your passions), you may see the frequency and intensity of fights between the two of you drop dramatically.

Remember: the ability to self-soothe is one of the most important skills you can learn. Practicing it can help you not only in romantic relationships, but in all other areas of your life.


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