When Marriage Sends You Running for Cover: Stonewalling
Pulling again from Dr. Gottman’s excellent book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, I’ll be concluding my “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” series. These are four behaviors that can really harm a marriage: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.
Stonewalling is shutting down completely, especially during an emotionally charged moment. Interestingly, Dr. Gottman’s research shows that men are more prone to stonewall than women, a statistic that I’m sure some of you are nodding in agreement with. But there’s a reason why men shut down faster than women, and it’s a physical one.
Dr. Gottman talks about emotional flooding, which is when the argument activates a physical response in a person: increased heart rate, blood pressure, sweaty hands, etc. And men reach emotional flood points much more quickly than women. So while you may still be just warming up, your husband may be completely flooded with physical symptoms that are reducing his ability to think or engage. As a protection measure, he shuts down and stonewalls the argument, allowing his body to return to a state of rest.
Now, just because stonewalling can be a protective technique does not mean it is a beneficial one. If one partner is emotionally overwhelmed, the best way to handle it is to simply say, “I’m overwhelmed and upset. I need 5 minutes by myself to cool off.” If your partner says this to you, agree! Both of you will get a chance to cool off and evaluated the argument.
Stonewalling is extremely detrimental to your partnership because it eliminates any possibility of resolution if one partner simply stops talking or physical leaves the room. If you are a stonewaller, you may believe that you’re simply being neutral, or showing self-control, but unless you are communicating, you are stonewalling. You need to explicitly say: “I’m not talking because I’m trying to control my temper,” or, “If you make me reply right now I might say something I’ll regret.” Then ask for a break to calm down physically before resuming the argument.
If your partner is stonewalling you, then stop the argument. I suggest saying something like, “Hey, I don’t think we’re making any progress. Why don’t we both take a 10 minute break to calm down and then pick up the conversation?” Then, when you’re not arguing, talk to him/her about the stonewalling behavior and ask how the two of you can avoid it in the future.
Not sure if you use stonewalling? Schedule a chat with me and we’ll figure it out!