Serving Granbury and Greater Texas

Willow Mark Therapy PLLC

Willow Mark Therapy PLLC

Serving Granbury and Greater Texas


The Stonewalling Response

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We specialize in providing support for adults and teens that are struggling through self-esteem, anxiety and relationships issues.

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Marriage is hard. It is two separate people with their own personalities, approaches, and stories trying to come together as a team and a unit. And we don’t know about you, but sometimes we forget when in conflict that our spouse is our teammate and not our opponent. We know that each marriage is unique with its own set of communication needs, but sometimes the research really can provide insight for ourselves and our partner. Statistics have shown us that 85% of the time when stonewalling takes place it is done so by men as opposed to only 15% from their female counterparts (The Gottman Institute). In order to gain a full understanding of what this is and how we can combat these moments in marital conflict, we must first understand what stonewalling is and what it is not. We tend to interpret it as an intentional shutdown or even worse, a shut-out, response of our partner because of a lack of caring. Signs of stonewalling often present as a lack of verbal or listening response, a turning away from. We tend to believe this is a conscious and intentional decision. 

What stonewalling really is, is a response to an emotional flooding. Either the topic has triggered something within the partner’s experience or the escalation of the discussion has become too much and so the partner’s survival response takes over. Think of it this way — I am terribly afraid of snakes, if I am out on a hike and I encounter a rattlesnake, my brain is not analyzing the color of its scales, I am not planning a seven-step escape routine, my brain instantaneously processes danger and reacts in a fight, flight, or freeze response. The critical thinking part of my brain is not online, it can’t be, because it gets in the way of my survival. The issue is, is that our previous traumas, current life stressors, and patterns of emotional avoidance/engagement will dictate how quickly our brain goes into that survival mode and it will also misread some circumstances (ie. an emotionally charged argument with our partner) as requiring a fight/flight/freeze response. When understood in this way, we can better understand that the stonewalling partner is not intentionally doing so. This also speaks to the difference between “stonewalling” and a “cold shoulder”. Stonewalling is a survival response due to the brain’s perceived lack of safety at that moment. 

Now that we have defined what stonewalling is and what it is not, what can we do about it? And the best answer when in the midst of the discussion is to stop completely. When you notice your partner displaying the signs of stonewalling or begin to notice your own experience of it, (zoning out, shutting down, lack of attentiveness to the conversation) the best thing to do is to halt the conversation. Or as Elizabeth Earnshaw breaks it down in her book “I want this to Work”, utilize the acronym HARD.

  Halting the conversation

Attending to safety needs



Halting the conversation allows time for both partners to attune to themselves and self-soothe. Nothing can be resolved when one or both partners have gone into survival mode. It is important to reframe this from an avoidance of the conflict to a halt or pause so that each partner has the opportunity to bring their best selves, understanding, and problem-solving to the conversation. 

Attending to safety needs requires us to walk away from the conversation and engage in an activity that will help our body to come down from our fight/flight/freeze response. Such activities include deep breathing, going for a walk, getting a glass of cold water, journaling, or creating something with our hands (ie, woodworking, art). 

  Repairing- not to be confused with jumping straight back into the conversation which created the conflict. Repairing is a moment for connection and grounding ourselves within the friendship and closeness of the relationship. This can look like an inside joke, a helpful task, or an activity together. Then the conversation can be eased into through the use of an apology, curiosity, or a calming restart. 

Debriefing involves discussing what happened between the two individuals in the argument more so than the topic which began it. This is an opportunity to connect back with the posturing and meta-emotions discussed in last week’s conflict resolution’s blog. The goal here is for connection and a deeper understanding and curiosity of each partner. 

 It is important to know your partner and to recognize their signs of overwhelm, as well as your own. We want to meet our partner and ourselves in these moments with a gentleness and a curiosity in order to bring a deeper potential for healing into these conversations. Remember, these reactions and survival instincts predated the relationship that you are currently in and can become a catalyst for self-awareness and growth for each partner. Dr. John Gottman “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” Elizabeth Earnshaw LMFT, CGT “I want this to Work”

Jennifer caudle, lpc
founder of willow mark therapy pllc

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