What is stonewalling in a relationship?

Stonewalling in the more literal sense would be building or creating a stonewall, but that is not the definition we are looking for here. Concerning relationships with people, “stonewalling” would be the act of shutting out one’s partner by being unresponsive or emotionally inaccessible. This could be in the form of refusing to talk to or respond to one’s partner and closing oneself off due to strong emotions.

Stonewalling also involves the withdrawal from communication and the refusal to respond during conversations. This creates space between an individual and their partner. In a more popular context, stonewalling could be viewed as giving the “silent treatment” by intentionally shutting down communications during or after an argument with one’s partner.

Stonewalling has negative effects on a relationship and can be really annoying, frustrating, and hurtful. It could also harm relationships. The situation most times feels impossible because one party would not be accessible during an argument or uncomfortable topic, and this could be noticed from their body language and refusal to answer questions or by changing the topic.


Conflicts in relationships are inevitable, but the manner in which they are resolved and dealt with would indicate if there would be progress in a relationship or not. It is quite natural to have a few arguments here and there, but it becomes detrimental when we employ destructive conflict systems. While stonewalling may be viewed as a harmless tactic, it has several negative effects and can ruin a relationship.

Stonewalling itself is a form of emotional abuse, and any party could employ it in a relationship. It often leads to conflicts and dissatisfaction in relationships. Stonewalling abuse is employed as a form of control, but we cannot control how people react to certain situations. Stonewalling can be used intentionally as a way to punish one’s partner for acting in a certain manner. Oftentimes, it could be learned by observing one’s parents and then applying it to personal relationships.

Stonewalling with the intention of causing emotional distress or harm can be seen as abuse; when you choose to stonewall, you punish your partner by denying them communication, and conflicts have to be resolved by communicating feelings. Sometimes, stonewalling can be viewed as an unhealthy coping mechanism when it’s employed unintentionally.

Examples of stonewalling

Stonewalling may be intentional or unintentional, but it ultimately leads to harm and can be very frustrating. For a relationship to progress, stonewalling needs to be checked. A few examples of stonewalling include:

  • Walking away during an argument
  • Giving one- or two-word replies
  • Not responding during conversations
  • Not showing interest in resolving conflicts
  • Silent treatment
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Refusal to respond to questions
  • Pretending not to notice or hear someone
  • Minimizing communication or abruptly changing tasks
  • Strong and aggressive body language

These are a couple of examples of stonewalling a partner may employ to completely shut out the other partner. It would be accurate to view a stonewaller as a more literal stonewall because you won’t be able to get through to them.

Is stonewalling abuse?

As already discussed, stonewalling could be intentional, and sometimes it may not be, but the results of stonewalling are usually emotionally detrimental to the partner on the receiving end and, if not checked properly, could lead to limited satisfaction in relationships.

Stonewalling has negative effects on the person at the receiving end, and abuse can be defined as something or an action that has a bad effect. Abusive behaviors involve the manipulation of victims into compliance with one’s will, which naturally allows one to take advantage of another’s emotions.

Relationships can run smoothly without the interference of stonewalling. Stonewalling has no emotional benefit whatsoever, so avoiding it entirely is beneficial to every relationship. In cases where it is employed with the intention of manipulation, punishment, or simply trying to force one’s partner into doing their bidding, it can be seen as emotional abuse. As a coping mechanism learned or cultivated, even though it may not be the intention of the individual to hurt the partner, it is still a form of emotional abuse to the partner on the receiving end.

Effects of Stonewalling

The emotional effects of stonewalling are quite negative; it leaves the recipient feeling frustrated, unhappy, annoyed, angry, and hurt, even when they try to resolve the problem. Conflicts cannot be resolved when communication is blocked, so it is understandable that it would be frustrating when one is trying to communicate and understand another but is met with a brick wall in the face.

It is a sad story for the recipient of stonewalling because they end up feeling worthless and useless when they can’t properly reach their partners. How effective would it be to communicate with a wall? Yes, very ineffective; that’s the same feeling observed when receiving the silent treatment from your partner. For the stonewaller, they also lose in the sense that they deny themselves emotional intimacy with their partners. A few emotional effects of stonewalling include

  • A feeling of isolation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling frustrated
  • Developing resentment
  • Feeling angry
  • Trust issues and decreased intimacy

These negative effects, if left unchecked, would render the relationship hopeless. The “stonewaller” personality is the behavior of an individual who tends to shut down during an argument and refuses to communicate or even cooperate. This person is emotionally closed off, and at times it could be extremely hard to reach them.

How to deal with stonewalling?

We have to understand that stonewalling has negative effects and bears terrible consequences if left unchecked, but does that mean that there is no hope? No, it does not; in fact, there is hope for both parties involved. When looking to deal with stonewalling, we have to consider the methods used in dealing with them. These methods include how to respond to stonewalling and how to stop stonewalling.

There are a couple of methods that come to mind when thinking of how to respond to stonewalling, but it is important to understand that stonewalling should not be met with aggression. Just as friction occurs with two rough surfaces, if stonewalling is met with aggression, it would catapult the solution down a black hole.

It would not solve the problem to get aggressive with one’s partner due to stonewalling; rather, one of the best methods to respond to stonewalling is to be compassionate and calm. Responding with empathy and understanding allows one’s partner to become comfortable enough to discuss and communicate with them. Showing empathy and compassion allows an individual to break through stubbornness and refusal to communicate, which allows for progress. Instead of accusing one’s partner for stonewalling, when the recipient displays understanding and communicates it with the stonewaller, they create a safe space for the stonewaller to respond. Communication in these cases cannot be overemphasized. This is because the first step towards resolving conflict is communication. Note that, reaching out in a calm, collected manner and expressing oneself politely goes a long way. Focusing and managing stress helps.

Conversely, we also need to know how to stop stonewalling. The best way to tackle a problem is to avoid creating it in the first place, but that is easier said than done. When a person notices that they are stonewalling and they are ready to make changes and improve on them, there are ways to go about it.

One of them is asking for breaks during conflicts. It may be hard for one to stop stonewalling all at once, but when making an active effort to change this behavior, it is important for one to understand that they do not individually fix a relationship and do not have control over their partners. Therefore, if one party is feeling emotionally overwhelmed and cannot address the current situation, it would be best to speak up and say things like, “I understand, but I don’t think I can talk about this now; how about over dinner?” This way, one’s partner can understand where they are coming from and can respect them enough to give them a chance to open up. One of the best ways to stop stonewalling in severe cases is to seek professional help. Seeing a therapist can solve much more than one would think, and relationship counseling can help create that much-needed bridge to boost communication in a relationship.


Comparatively, breathing in oxygen and having conflicts in relationships are as natural as they get. The manner in which these conflicts are handled would determine how much breathing space one would get in a relationship. It is important to understand that stonewalling can be fixed, but it would require both parties to possess a bit of understanding and empathy.