Stonewalling in a Relationship: Emotional Effects And How to Deal With it 

Last Update on August 8, 2023 : Published on March 29, 2023
Stonewalling in a Relationship

In relationships, communication is a challenge at times, so much so that it can either cause one partner to withdraw from the other or make the relationship a battleground, albeit a silent one. If you’ve ever been the recipient of the dreaded, “Silent Treatment”, then you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

Now, this silent treatment is one of the most common emotional manipulation tactics that many people might unintentionally find themselves engaging in. This silent treatment is better known as “stonewalling” in a relationship.

Stonewalling is an emotional manipulation technique that happens when one partner or spouse is unable to express their emotions – mostly negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, and frustration – properly to the other partner or spouse. It can be said that stonewalling is a very small emotional abuse technique, nevertheless, it can leave long-lasting wounds in the relationship.

Today, we’re exploring the emotional effects of stonewalling and how you can deal with stonewalling in a relationship with a partner or spouse.

What is Stonewalling? (With Examples)

Stonewalling can be described as “to delay or obstruct by refusing to answer questions or by being evasive”. This kind of treatment in a relationship can be negative and can harm the harmony of the relationship. Did you know that Dr. John Gottman, a renowned couples counselor, calls stonewalling one of the “Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse”? Well, in relationship terms, at least.

Stonewalling normally happens in a relationship when one partner refuses to see the other’s perspective and if confronted with it, the former withdraws into themselves and shuts down. They become unresponsive to the other partner’s arguments and begin to give silent treatment.

Here are some examples of stonewalling to help you understand this term better;

  • Your partner keeps quiet by giving you the silent treatment and refuses to respond to your queries.
  • Your partner tunes you out and pretends to not listen.
  • Your partner walks away from you when you’re speaking or pretends that you’re invisible.
  • Your partner acts busy to engage in a conversation, avoids eye contact, and withdraws from being intimate.
  • Your partner decidedly changes the topic of conversation when the topic of the argument comes around.

Emotional Effects of Stonewalling

If you are a victim of stonewalling in a relationship, then you might be going through a really heavy rollercoaster ride. This kind of manipulative tactic can make you question your self-worth and feel helpless. While it can be difficult to understand, stonewalling can have this effect. While the emotional effects of stonewalling might differ from relationship to relationship, there are some common effects that you should be aware of;

If you’re being stonewalled, then you might;

  • Experience feelings of abandonment and unloved
  • You might struggle with a lack of satisfaction when it comes to conflict resolution
  • You may struggle with a lack of intimacy – emotional, mental, and physical
  • You may struggle more with feelings of depression and anxiety because of the “bottling up” of emotions
  • A higher risk of substance abuse as a coping mechanism
  • A higher risk of a breakup, divorce, or separation because of one partner’s unwillingness to express their emotions

While it can be good to take a step back and think about the argument, constantly doing this, or engaging in stonewalling as a manipulation tactic can have negative effects on the relationship.

Below listed are some ways you can deal with stonewalling in a relationship.

How to Deal with Stonewalling in a Relationship?

1. Understand that you’re not the problem

The first thing you need to do is to understand that you’re not the problem. Your partner may be overwhelmed because of the intensity of their emotions but you’re not at fault. Make sure you don’t engage them further in the conversation that makes them behave uncharacteristically.

However, keep yourself available for a conversation when they feel like talking again.

2. Be empathetic with your partner

There could be a chance that you’re a part of the problem your partner is struggling with. If that seems to be the case, check in with yourself. Being stonewalled can cause you to engage in defensive actions and words and instead of making things right, they can escalate things.

Try to be as empathetic as you can with your partner. Consider their point of view too.

3. Openly communicate with your partner

When you’re being stonewalled, it can make you question your feelings and sometimes, this behavior can make you think, “If they aren’t bothering with this, why should I?” However, this kind of thinking may only fuel the fire.

No one wants to back down and surrender after all. Instead of it all, make sure you keep the channels of communication open. Let your partner know that you’re there for them if they feel like talking. Don’t close yourself out too.

4. Avoid pointing fingers or blaming each other

One of the most common defensive actions we partake in is the “Blame Game”. It seems easier to point fingers at others when arguments escalate, but doing this will only make things worse.

To avoid this and help your partner, try to take accountability for your part in the argument. Let them know that you’re willing to listen to them if they are willing to open up.

5. Practice some self-soothing techniques

Relationships are not easy and take a lot of work and effort. However, we often forget that even in a relationship, there’s always time for self-care. When things begin to get out of hand, take some time off to cool down. Feeling too emotional can activate your flight-or-fight response and make things worse.

Taking some time for self-soothing can help your mind take a break and calm down. This way, you can think logically and come up with a solution to whatever’s plaguing your partner’s mind.

6. Focus on the good qualities of your partner

Stonewalling in a relationship can also be dealt with when you focus on the good qualities of your partner instead of the negative ones. When you’re being stonewalled, take some time to see and reflect on your partner’s best qualities and why you are in the relationship with them.

Listing these things might not solve everything but might give you a reprieve from all the emotions. Once you do this, try to convey this list to your partner too. This will help them heal too.

7. Seek couples counseling

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your partner and your relationship is to seek couples counseling. An outsider’s perspective can help when emotions become too heavy to deal with. A couples counselor is proficient in understanding the creases in the relationship and how to smooth them out.

Your partner might not be in the favor of counseling, but reassure them that you will be there for them and that you’ll also be going through the counseling process. Couples counseling isn’t the place to point fingers but to smooth anything that’s causing the relationship to crumble.


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What Next?

According to Dr. John Gottman, a renowned couples counselor, stonewalling is one of the “Four Horsemen” among the other three; criticism, defensiveness, and contempt. Stonewalling is a common (and sometimes unintentional) emotional manipulation tactic that partners use when they are unable or unwilling to answer or respond to a conversation/argument.

If you are struggling with being stonewalled in a relationship by your partner or spouse, you can take the above-listed techniques to break the cycle or you can consult a couples counselor for a resolution. Someone needs to take the first step and if your partner fails to do so, you can!

I hope this article helped you understand the emotional effects of stonewalling and how to deal with stonewalling in a relationship. For more, you can write to us at or DM us on social media. You can also share your thoughts and tips in the comments below.

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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