Stonewalling – Couples Counseling by Nadine Greer, Therapist
Too often I hear:
“We just shut down.”
“They leave the room.”
“It’s like I’m talking to a wall.”
Communication is an art form. Being able to share your point of view or thoughts in a way that others can receive, connects you to them, while simultaneously gives the other person space to process their own thoughts and feelings is a skill that may not always come naturally in relationships. Relationships tend to be filled with “speakers.” We want to be heard and understood and so we tend to be quick to give our thoughts and opinions sometimes in lieu of listening to what others have to say. The struggle comes when we no longer have “listeners” in the dynamic and are not genuinely and intently listening to fully understand others points or feelings. We many times find ourselves only waiting for the moment we can give our thoughts or beliefs on the matter.
One of the most crucial parts to communication is the importance of being curious and genuine in our interactions with our partner, meaning; listening with intent to understand their views and feelings to fully hear and understand their perceptions and truths.
We cannot fully hear what the other person is saying if we are already thinking of what we want to say back to them. What usually then occurs is partners will feel blamed, criticized, or shamed resulting in a gridlocked conversation.
Queue, stonewalling; the act of refusing to communicate with another person either intentionally or habitually.
Stonewalling is seen when two partners are engaging in a discussion or “fight” and find themselves feeling hurt, frustrated, or angry and either “shut down” or walk away. Ultimately, we feel unheard and stuck and we shut down because we become “flooded” with various emotions and it triggers our “flight or fight” response. When we feel attacked the last thing, we will be able to do is sit and listen genuinely and openly. The silent treatment is part of a larger, ineffective cycle of communication that unfortunately only ignites more disconnection.
The “antidote” involves multiple tools. Expressing your needs, rather than blaming, taking accountability for our parts rather than being defensive, and validating their experience while not criticizing their perspectives. This takes awareness but this also takes practice and patience. Learning how to be more attuned to our needs and feelings, being accountable to our own truths while validating the truths and perceptions of our partners is no easy feat however, when we want to be heard we have to develop and nourish a safe space to be able to be vulnerable with our partners.