Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction. In other words, stonewalling is when one person shuts down and closes himself/herself off from the other. It is a lack of responsiveness to your partner and the interaction between the two of you. Rather than confronting the issues (which tend to accumulate!) with our partner, we make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable ‘out,’ but when it does, it frequently becomes a habit. – Ellie Lisitsa
Eric often says people fit into one of three conflict styles: There are fighters – these folks will duke it out until the end. There are fearers – fearers are paralyzed from conflict. And, finally, there are flee-ers – those who run away from conflict. Naturally, I fall into the flee-er category. It is not like me to back down from conflict if I believe I am right, but I get emotionally tired easily and fighting wears me down; so, the defense I jump to after going around the argument merry-go-round a few times is to walk away and say, “Forget this!”
When our relationship was new, it took longer for me to reach the point of conflict exhaustion. Now, I am sometimes ready to throw in the towel after only five minutes. The four divorce-predicting horsemen (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling) do not start riding up on relationships after the first argument, or even the second. These stealth demons of destruction slowly approach as the baggage piles up and the tally of unresolved conflicts grows longer.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been pondering one horseman, in particular, more than others, but not because it is more dangerous than the others. In fact, Dr. Gottman cites contempt as the worst of the horseman and the number one predictor of divorce. However, stonewalling has been on my mind lately. Through a series of events, I have gotten up close and personal with the horrendous affects emotional abandonment has on relationships. Before one marriage partner (or both marriage partners) physically jumps ship and leaves the relationship, there is almost always emotional abandonment in play.
I am the first to admit that it is easier to leave a conflict than to resolve it. As a flee-er, I prefer to remove myself from the negativity, lock myself away, regroup, and then move on with my life hoping (in vain) that the problem will melt away and disappear. However, just as toilets and trashcans overflow if crammed with too much garbage, relationships erupt if the “small” issues are not dealt with promptly and properly.
And, the best place for all of us to start the conflict resolution process is… in front of the mirror.
I Am My Biggest Relationship Problem.
Paul David Tripp encourages married couples to admit, “I am my biggest marriage problem,” because we can get nowhere in our relationships if we ignore our contribution to the problems and focus entirely (or significantly more) on our partner’s downfalls. And, couples do not have to be married for this temptation to rise. Couples who date long enough for the rose-colored glasses to fade will almost always encounter the desire to point fingers.
Well, if you had not done __________ to me, I would have reacted differently!
Seriously?! You are going to confront me about my behavior when you do __________ all the time?
When in the heat of battle:
- Breathe and collect yourself.
- Own your mistakes.
- Apologize for your mistakes.
- Calmly and respectfully explain your concerns. If your significant other is not in the right frame of mind to receive your comments, agree on a time and place to come back together and talk. If the man or woman you are dating is never ready to talk about your concerns, discredits your concerns, or maintains that nothing is ever his or her fault, Eric and I recommend dissolving your dating relationship. This same dynamic in marriage will drive you to despair. If you are married and experiencing this, seek Biblical marriage counseling immediately. If your spouse refuses to attend counseling with you, go to counseling alone.
Refusing to talk is never the answer. Emotional abandonment does not lead to relationship satisfaction. Only after a couple cleanses the space between them can they live together in contented unity. In our fallen world, we get dirty. Our clothes and dishes need washing, our bathrooms need scrubbing, and our floors need mopping. Relationships get dusty and dirty too; every so often, they too need a thorough cleaning. Working through disagreements, though more unpleasant than scrubbing the grout in the shower, gives couples opportunity to clean their connection. When they do, their “home” remains fresh and welcoming. When they choose to ignore the need, their “home” eventually becomes condemned and unlivable. It is easier to leave a room stacked floor to ceiling with garbage than it is to purify it.
Stonewalling is the most instinctual move for a flee-er such as myself to make, but as the quote above says, when we choose the path of stonewalling, it frequently becomes a habit. If in the heat of battle we need a quick break from our partners, by all means, we should take one; but, we should always establish a promise of return.
Babe, I am feeling extremely worked up right now and I think continuing this conversation in our current state of mind would not lead anywhere good. I am going for a walk. We can meet back here on the porch in 30 minutes and try to talk again. Does that work for you?
Stonewalling vs. Cooling Down
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27, ESV)
Taking time apart to think, process, pray, repent (if need be), and expel negativity is extremely wise. Allowing a fight to escalate from a twister to an F5 tornado is not advisable when it is in your power to stop it. The key difference between stonewalling and cooling down is the follow-up. Stonewalling creates a chasm between couples; whereas, cooling down neutralizes the environment so couples can work through their problems more effectively and efficiently. Stonewalling says, “Forget this. I am done. This conversation is closed.” Stonewalling is emotionally abandoning your partner. Cooling down says, “How I handle this situation will affect my significant other’s heart and the health of our relationship. I need to think before I speak.” Cooling down is choosing to respect your partner – and yourself.
Habitual stonewalling makes it easier to leave your partner by eroding the ties which keep relationships strong. Frequent, healthy communication fortifies the bonds of any relationship – romantic, friendship, family, church family, and coworker – just as careless disregard weakens them. Would you remain friends with someone who frequently ignored your texts or would not speak to you in the grocery store?
It Is Not About Us
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV, emphasis mine)
What we often forget, especially when we feel gypped or wronged, is that everything is not about us. In fact, Biblically speaking, nothing is about us. Our purpose is to honor and glorify our creator God. In everything we do, including how we communicate with our loved ones, we are told to bring glory to God (cf. I Corinthians 10:31). We do not get a free pass from the Lord when we are angry with our sweetheart or spouse. We are under the law of love (cf. Galatians 5:14) and there is nothing loving about abandonment.
If you struggle with temptation in this area, I am right there with you. I truly understand. As a teenager, I often fantasized about going on a long trip until whatever relationship issue I was dealing with passed. Facing problems head-on is not my strong suit, but I have seen what ignoring problems (and each other) does to couples. It is ugly. It is gut-wrenching. It is nasty. It is not worth it.
Not talking is never the answer. Sometimes, we need to speak to our loved one from a distance. Sometimes, we need to talk after a hot bath or a good cry. Sometimes, we need to dialogue on a counselor’s couch. But, stonewalling is never a healthy option. Should you ever decide to break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, please do so with honest words instead of a cowardly vanishing act. It is unpleasant, but so much more respectable than disappearing.
Men, several of you will be husbands someday and your relationship will be blessed beyond measure if you simply decide and declare that no matter how bad it gets, I will not emotionally abandon my wife. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I will keep the lines of communication open in my dating relationship, and in my future marriage.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (I Peter 3:7, ESV, emphasis mine)
Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:19, ESV, emphasis mine)
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:25-30, ESV)
Ladies, a good majority of you will be wives someday, and you can save yourself, your future husband, and even your children a lot of grief if you decide and declare that no matter how emotionally wounded I feel, I will not give in to the temptation to ice out my husband. With the Lord’s help, I will choose to communicate with maturity and dignity in my dating relationship and in my future marriage.
However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:33, ESV, emphasis mine)
An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. (Proverbs 31:11-12, ESV, emphasis mine)
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (I Peter 3:1-4, ESV, emphasis mine)
The best way to keep stonewalling out of your relationship is to never open the door to it (cf. Ephesians 4:27). If you never smoke, you will not become a smoker. If you never drink, you will never risk a DUI. If you never gamble, you will not lose all your money at a poker table. If you never actively ignore your sweetheart, you will never risk the stonewalling horseman riding roughshod over your relationship.
While your relationship is still young and you are finding your path, set up safeguards. Pour in the good and keep out the bad. Many older couples would give their last dime to have the chance to go back and do it right. You have an opportunity to make it great and we are excited for you!
So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 19:6, ESV)
Is stonewalling present in your relationship?