Stonewalling in a relationship is bad news for everyone involved. According to the Gottman Institute, stonewalling is the fourth stage of a relationship in trouble, after criticism, contempt, and defensiveness. Stonewalling is an indicator that you or your partner feel uncomfortable discussing difficult topics and are struggling to handle conflict effectively.

What is Stonewalling?

Stonewalling is when a person in a relationship withdraws from an interaction, shuts down, and simply stops responding to their partner. Rather than confronting the issue, people who stonewall resort to evasive maneuvers. They might tune their partner out, turn away, make themselves busy, or engage in distracting behaviors. Once someone starts stonewalling their partner, it can become a habit – one that is difficult to stop. 

How Stonewalling Damages Relationships

People who stonewall damage their realtionship because their partner ends up resenting them. There is only so many times that an issue can remain unresolved before the other person becomes fed up. Conflict resolution is a critical part of a healthy relationship. Without it, even relationships that are otherwise perfect will eventually break down. Stonewalling results in:

  • Unresolved issues (kicking the can down the road)
  • Mutual disrespect that is unchecked
  • Loneliness, experienced by one or both partners
  • Anger and resentment

Stonewalling Maybe Rooted In Trauma

Any time someone in the relationship has difficulty expressing their feelings, they may resort to stonewalling. People stonewall to avoid conflict, and to calm themselves. In some cases, stonewalling is a trauma response. Those who experienced trauma, perhaps as a child or in previous relationship, will sometimes develop stonewalling as a coping mechanisism. It is a form of self preservation, like someone who passes out under extreme stress. The person stonewalling may actually feel like they are in a life-threatening situation, and is trying to survive by keeping still or removing themselves from the situation.

What to Do About Stonewalling in a Relationship

If you are the stonewaller, do some self reflection. Why is it that you stonewall your partner, and what situations do you do it in? Try to detect a pattern. When they said or do this, you respond with stonewalling. You may be able to identify how the conflict is triggering to you, or what you are struggling to express.

If your partner is the stonewaller, approch your partner gently about this issue at a time when you’re not fighting. Point out some observations you’ve made when the stonewalling happens. Is it around a particular subject, or always after a certain event or behavior? Try to make them understand that this behavior isn’t helping the relationship, and you want to help them find the words to express what they are feeling.

If you feel like you have tried everything, consider couples counseling. A counselor can help you determine where the break down in communication is happening. A counselor that is trained in trauma-informed therapy can be a critial ally for the health of your relationship. You will learn effective communication patterns, as well as conflict resolution. These are tools you will need to maintain a healthy relationship.


Stonewalling is when one or both partner shuts down and refuses to respond whenever there is conflict. This leaves many unresolved issues, which can spell disaster in a relationship. Understand that stonewalling is likely rooted in trauma, and you may need professional help to overcome this damaging habit. Consider a couples counselor if you are unable to resolve the issue on your own, as stonewalling will end the realationship for you sooner or later.

Family Strategies Counseling & Mediation is a family-focused therapy office located in Homewood, IL. We specialize in a holistic method of family support. Our services include child-focused play therapycouples and marital counseling, and divorce support therapy. Take a look at our staff page, and contact us at (708) 798-5433 or info@Family-Strategy for information to book online or in person.