This post was updated on Apr 3, 2023
Conflicts in their many forms have been and will be an integral part of human experience. From night-time stories to history books to current events, our existence is littered with major disputes and minor disagreements, petty squabbles and serious differences of opinion.
Therefore, it is only natural for conflict to be a part of relationships, too. And, it is. In fact, it is an integral and necessary part, as every successfully resolved dispute makes a relationship stronger, more stable, and ultimately worth fighting for. This last bit is of paramount importance, as it is what drives us to continuously look for ways to make our relationships better.
However, an old idiom states that “it takes two to tango” which means that both individuals involved in a situation (i.e. conflict) are equally responsible for its outcome. The question here is what stonewalling does to your partner if one side doesn’t want to “tango” and, instead of actively looking for a solution to the problem, shuts down completely? This is stonewalling.
What Does Stonewalling Mean?
Stonewalling is a communication tactic where one person (“stonewaller”) completely withdraws from a situation or a conversation, creating a metaphorical “stone wall” between them and the person trying to communicate. This type of behavior isn’t exclusive to romantic partnerships alone. Rather, it can occur in friendships, as well as professional and parent-child relationships, too.
While it may seem like a simple coping mechanism, aimed at avoiding conflict and difficult feelings, stonewalling can have severe emotional consequences for the recipient, leading to the question of if stonewalling is gaslighting. Over time, it can erode mutual trust and destroy the emotional bond that holds the relationship together.
Finally, it is important to note that stonewalling can be a form of emotional abuse if it is employed consciously to manipulate, belittle, or humiliate the recipient. For this reason, and the fact that stonewalling is detrimental to everyone involved, it is important to understand its implications, as well as to seek support and help, preferably from a professional relationship coach or counselor, or trusted friends and family members.
What Are The Negative Effects Of Stonewalling In A Relationship?
Without exaggeration, we can say that the emotional consequences of stonewalling can be devastating, both for the recipient and the relationship as a whole. It can make the person on the receiving end feel like their thoughts and feelings simply don’t matter. Like the effort and dedication they put in to connect with their partner and better the relationship is worth nothing.
Needless to say, this type of treatment can leave a person feeling lonely, rejected, and invalidated. Over time, these feelings can lead to a full breakdown of trust and emotional intimacy which, in turn, can cause feelings of resentment and disconnection toward the stonewaller.
Additionally, when one person withdraws from a conversation, it does nothing to help resolve the issue. Instead, it leaves the other feeling frustrated and unheard, which only causes increased tension and leads to more arguments, therefore escalating the conflict.
This causes communication breakdowns where both individuals struggle to effectively express themselves, their needs, and their emotions, yet aren’t able to find any common ground. Ultimately, pent-up anger and frustration may lead to dissatisfaction with the relationship which can (and often does) end up in a breakup, especially if the issue is left unattended.
Is Stonewalling A Part Of Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where one person (“gaslighter”) psychologically manipulates the other person to make them doubt their own sanity. It is a different communication tactic than stonewalling, but both can have catastrophic repercussions for the recipient and the relationship.
While essentially different, stonewalling can be a part of gaslighting, as a way for a gaslighter to avoid accountability, further confuse the other person, and make future manipulation attempts easier.
When employed regularly, this tactic can leave the recipient feeling confused, doubting their own memories and perceptions, ultimately leading to the loss of trust in oneself and the relationship as a whole.
It is crucial to note that gaslighting can leave devastating lasting consequences to the recipient, including persistent self-doubt and crippled self-esteem, as well as cause mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
What Are The Emotional Effects Of Stonewalling?
The emotional effects of stonewalling can be profound and long-lasting, affecting different types of relationships in various ways:
- In romantic relationships, stonewalling can cause feelings of isolation and disconnection. It can erode the trust and emotional bond between partners, creating a sense of emotional distance and dissatisfaction, which can ultimately lead to a breakup.
- In parent-child relationships, stonewalling can create a sense of confusion and insecurity in the child. They may feel unheard, invalidated, unloved, and even insignificant. This can leave lasting emotional scars on the child’s psyche, which can make it difficult for them to form healthy relationships in the future.
- In friendships, stonewalling can create a sense of rejection and hurt, leaving the other person feeling excluded and unimportant. It can also trigger past traumas and emotional wounds, leading to further distress and emotional pain.
- In professional relationships, stonewalling can lead to communication breakdowns, misunderstandings, and a lack of trust among colleagues, which can create a toxic work environment that cripples productivity and morale. Additionally, it can also prevent the resolution of conflicts and hinder problem-solving, leading to negative impacts on job performance and career advancement opportunities.
It is crucial to note that stonewalling can leave lasting consequences to the recipient’s mental health, including persistent self-doubt and low self-esteem. In addition, it can exacerbate existing mental health conditions and, in some cases, cause the formation of various psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Choose PIVOT As A Way Toward Healthier Communication And Happier Relationships
While highly toxic, stonewalling is still a behavioral issue that can be successfully addressed and, in a lot of cases, rooted out entirely. Whether it is you or someone you know who is experiencing this problem in their relationships, struggles with commitment issues, or various detrimental coping strategies, know that help is close and all you need to do is reach out to PIVOT. And, keep in mind that people who are typically demonstrating this behaviors, don’t even know it – they just don’t know how to manage and tolerate their own feelings. Our couples intensives are so helpful to show individuals WHY they do what they do and give them tools to change this.
Our Glass House retreat provides a peaceful and soothing setting, allowing you to forget about the stressors in your life and focus solely on your personal and relationship goals. In addition, we offer one-on-one counseling, group counseling, and a variety of workshops.
Conducted by skilled and experienced coaches, each of our programs can help you identify and address harmful patterns of communication. We’ll work with you every step of the way and assist you in acquiring skills and tools essential for achieving your goal of healthy and fulfilled relationships. Reach out to us today!