Stonewalling is when one partner abruptly leaves a conversation or argument. The leaving of the conversation can be physical or forcing a change of topics. Emotions are usually high and can be filled with anger or discontent. Husbands are the usual culprits of stonewalling in a marriage. There is good news. With a few simple skills, either partner can stop stonewalling from ever happening.
Stonewalling does massive damage to a marriage. When a partner physically leaves the room or tries to change topics or dismiss the topic, it leaves both partners frustrated and with no resolution to the issues.
Coaches and counselors realize that the topic of gender differences is a hot potato these days. I don't run away from the truth or hot topics when the issue is so clearly defined by science.
When I talk about gender differences I am not saying that every man or every woman behaves in a particular way. Gender differences point to behaviors or thought patterns "typical" of the sexes.
There are differences in how men and women behave, think, and process information.
Men, for example, tend to be more singularly focused. They work on one thing at a time. Their thoughts are on that one thing. Women, on the other hand, can do some multitasking. The female brain is wired differently and allows for women to think about multiple things at the same time, to some degree.
This fact comes into play in many stonewalling situations.
Check out this video from Mark Gungor. It's a short clip from his famous talk called "The Tale of Two Brains." It's a humorous take on the realities of gender differences.
Common Cause and Effect of Stonewalling
Stonewalling doesn't happen all by itself. Earlier I mentioned that husbands are typically the ones who stonewall. There is a reason why. Men like to work on one task or topic at a time. Women can process multiple topics at a time. When wives flood their husbands with a lot of topics too quickly, they can put their husbands into an emotional state of overwhelm.
When a man slips into overwhelm, or flooded with emotions, he can shut down. That shutdown is seen as stonewalling.
Dr. John Gottman, the leading researcher of marriage relationships, coined the term "stonewalling." He also coined the term "harsh startup." A harsh start-up is a discussion that starts very harshly, introducing multiple issues at the same time, and often associated with strong emotions.
Women are often the ones who do the harsh start-ups.
When a woman starts a discussion talking about many issues, and adds anger or frustration into the mix, a harsh start-up, she can quickly put her husband into a state of overwhelm.
Men want to be the ones that make their wives happy. Men want to fix what's wrong in the life of their wives. A man will lose confidence in himself if he feels he cannot fix what's wrong or make his wife happy. When he reaches that point, he often stops communicating and distances himself from the marriage. He stops putting effort into relationships where he cannot be successful.
Combine those two factors and you have a recipe for stonewalling.
Harsh start-ups are a quick way to get your partner to stonewall. Both parties are involved. Both the husband and the wife are responsible for the condition of the marriage. He may be the one who leaves the room or shuts down some topics of discussion, but both parties contributed to the situation, and both are responsible for the remedy.
Emotional Intelligence and Stonewalling
Now that you know what triggers stonewalling, how do you fix it?
An important part of the marriage foundation is Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI is just a fancy term for understanding your own emotions, understanding the emotions of your partner, and controlling your emotions.
You cannot control your partner's emotions. You can develop skills of using your emotions with communications skills to guide your partner.
Developing Emotional Intelligence skills is the answer for overcoming stonewalling.
Each partner has a job to do. Both partners have to be cognizant of the efforts of their partner.
For the Wife
You have to be aware of two things. First, don't do harsh start-ups. Don't blind-side your husband with a long litany of issues. It's OK to have more conversations, or a long one, but organized so you're discussing one topic at a time.
Second, watch your husband for signs he is becoming flooded. You'll need to watch his breathing pattern, vocal pattern, and physical body motions. You need to pick up on the signs when he is approaching overwhelm. YOU have the power to stop stonewalling when you can pick up on his patterns. When you see signs of trouble, call for a break.
For the Husband
You have to be aware of your own emotional state. If your wife does a harsh start-up, recognize it, and suggest the two of you discuss the issues one at a time. Take notice of your breathing, vocal pattern, and bodily movements. When you find yourself getting too agitated, call for a break.
For BOTH of You
The two of you need to be on the same page. Both of you need to become familiar with a technique called a pattern interrupt. A pattern interrupt is an effective way of helping a person out of a harmful situation. When one partner is getting angry, the other partner needs to pick up on it, and interrupt the anger pattern.
Humor can work very well. Making an odd sound or body motion can work. This is something the two of you need to work out. The goal is to take a break and regroup again later.
Often the best pattern interrupt is simply telling your partner something like "You know what. I need a break. I need to think about what we've talked about. How about we stop for now and talk again in 20 minutes?"
Developing Emotional Intelligence Skills
I teach Emotional Intelligence (EI) skills in all of my coaching programs. Whether it is private one-on-one coaching or the Reignite the Love programs, EI is a fundamental set of skills couples need to learn to have a happy marriage.
Join one of my programs today to learn more about how you can avoid stonewalling in your marriage.