In the realm of interpersonal relationships, few behaviors have as much potential for damage as stonewalling. Often characterized by silence, withdrawal, or shutting down, stonewalling is a refusal to communicate or cooperate. While it can occur among friends or colleagues, it’s especially concerning in intimate relationships. It’s essential for men, as with anyone, to understand this behavior, the harm it can cause, and how to address it constructively.
What is Stonewalling?
At its core, stonewalling is an avoidance strategy. It can manifest as silence, changing the topic, or even physically leaving the scene of a conversation. It’s a defensive maneuver that one uses, consciously or unconsciously, to protect oneself from perceived emotional harm or confrontation.
However, while the individual who stonewalls might feel a temporary sense of relief from avoiding a potentially unpleasant situation, the receiving party often feels rejected, unheard, or invalidated.
Why Do People Stonewall?
Fear of Conflict: Many men are raised with the societal expectation of being stoic or emotionally invulnerable. They might stonewall to avoid showing vulnerability or because they fear the confrontation might escalate into something they can’t handle.
Overwhelm: Emotional flooding, a term coined by relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, describes the physiological reaction that happens when someone is overwhelmed by a situation. When flooded, an individual might stonewall because they genuinely can’t process or respond in the moment.
Learned Behavior: If a man grew up in an environment where communication wasn’t valued or where emotional expression was frowned upon, stonewalling might be a learned response to challenging situations.
Understanding the Consequences
It’s crucial to recognize that frequent stonewalling can erode the foundation of trust in a relationship. The partner on the receiving end may feel:
Isolated and Alone: Stonewalling sends a message that their feelings, concerns, or perspectives aren’t valuable.
Frustrated: Repeated attempts to communicate without a response can lead to increased frustration and anger.
Distrustful: Over time, if someone consistently refuses to engage in open communication, trust can be damaged, sometimes irreparably.
Steps Men Can Take to Address Stonewalling
Self-awareness: Before addressing the behavior, one must recognize it. Men can start by reflecting on their communication patterns. Do they shut down during conflicts? Do they avoid certain topics or deflect when uncomfortable subjects arise? Recognizing the pattern is the first step.
Understand the Why: Delving into the reasons behind the behavior can help in addressing it. Is it fear of conflict? A learned behavior from childhood? Emotional overwhelm? By understanding the root cause, one can develop strategies to counteract it.
Take a Break: If overwhelmed during a discussion, it’s okay to request a timeout. However, it’s crucial to specify a time to return to the conversation. This action shows respect for the other person’s feelings and ensures the issue won’t be perpetually avoided.
Seek Therapy or Counseling: A professional can provide tools and techniques to improve communication and address the reasons behind stonewalling. Couples therapy, in particular, can be instrumental in creating a safe space for both parties to express themselves.
Practice Active Listening: Active listening involves fully concentrating, understanding, responding, and remembering what the other person is saying. By practicing this, men can show their partners that they are genuinely engaged in the conversation.
Express Feelings: Vulnerability can be powerful. By expressing feelings, even if it’s to say, “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now,” men can shift from stonewalling to open communication.
Educate Oneself: There are numerous books, courses, and workshops dedicated to improving communication in relationships. Investing time in such resources can provide new perspectives and strategies.
Feedback Loop: Encourage open feedback from partners or friends about communication habits. They can offer valuable insights and hold one accountable for change.
Stonewalling, while a common defense mechanism, can be damaging to relationships if left unaddressed. For men, societal pressures and upbringing can sometimes contribute to this behavior, but it’s essential to recognize and take proactive steps towards change. By promoting self-awareness, seeking help, practicing active listening, and fostering open communication, men can move from avoidance to engagement, ensuring healthier, more fulfilling relationships.