By Julie-Ann Sherlock

Blanking someone, giving them the silent treatment, and sending them to Coventry, are all different ways of doing the same thing: stonewalling. Acting like a wall of stone and refusing to answer or engage with someone is a tactic often used by politicians or celebrities when asked questions they want to avoid. But it also comes into play in our lives.

Some people use it as a coercive or manipulation tool in toxic situations, while others may feel it is the only way to deal with someone they do not want to talk to. But whichever side of the stonewall you are on, the result is not good.

Recognising Stonewalling

It usually is quite evident when you are the victim. You are trying to get a reply from someone, perhaps on something as simple as which restaurant to go to for lunch or maybe a complex issue in a big business deal, yet answers are not forthcoming. 

Stonewalling is a way to delay answering or distract from an issue and is a passive-aggressive way of pushing people away without getting into conflict. Avoiding conflict may seem positive, but by not facing the problems or discussing what needs to be addressed, things never get resolved or are slow to move on. 

So, if someone is being evasive or dodging you, they are likely stonewalling you. Other signs include:

  • Giving one-word or terse answers when pressed on the issue
  • Tuning out of the conversation or pretending not to hear you when you ask something.
  • Blatant gestures such as walking away or holding their hand up to stop you talking or acting like you are not there
  • Keeps moving and active to avoid eye contact or engaging in the conversation
  • Quickly changing the topic if they feel they are being criticised or turning the criticism on you or another person

Tactics like these stall communications and block progress, leaving the victim frustrated and likely to either capitulate to the will of the stonewaller or walk away. 

Stonewalling In Intimate Relationships

One of the most common places to come up against stonewalling is in the relationships we often cherish most; our personal ones. Couples communicate in many different ways. According to relationship expert Gary Chapman, we all have our “love language“, ranging from physical touch to acts of service for those we love. These can dictate how we communicate with our partners and help us to understand each other and better meet the other’s needs. 

It can be devastating when someone we love does not interact as they usually would or withhold their affection. Bring in the “silent treatment” or constant subject-changing when trying to broach an issue, and the relationship may be in real trouble. 

In fact, stonewalling can be seen as emotional abuse. It often occurs in tandem with gaslighting, manipulation and controlling behaviours, all extremely serious issues in a relationship. If someone is constantly shutting down and not answering questions, engaging in the daily chit-chat that is often part of a healthy relationship or communicating their needs, this can be a significant red flag. 

Stonewalling usually happens in a relationship either because a person is unable to healthily process and express their emotions—a big problem—or they are using it as a way to control the other person, inducing fear and feelings of insecurity by not communicating what they think or want—an even bigger problem. They may be using their lack of interaction to punish for a perceived or actual slight by the other person. 

Dealing With Stonewalling

It is not all doom and gloom, however. It is sometimes possible to move beyond the “all picture, no sound” of stonewalling and reclaim a healthy relationship. 

Stonewalling is considered one of the “Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse” in the Gottman Couples Therapy counselling style. So while that can sound the knell for some relationships, it can be overcome with counselling or by implementing better communication strategies.

If you are being stonewalled, one of the first things you must do is realise it is not entirely your fault and most of the problem lies with the other person. Stop self-blaming, but look at what you said or did and see if something may have contributed to the issue, even if it was unintentional. If you did add fuel to the fire, own it, apologise for your behaviour and request that your partner discusses it so that you can both learn and move on. 

Unfortunately, sometimes, there is no way to solve an issue such as stonewalling. You may just have to wave the white flag and leave the relationship. While this is heartbreaking, you deserve a healthy relationship that allows you to discuss problems calmly and maturely and to have true happiness. 

Don’t let a big stone wall of silence block your light from shining in this world.