Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

How to Not Make Things Worse: Stonewalling

A few years ago, we did a “Barriers to Communication” Survey. We were overwhelmed by the response, leaving us with scads of information for future articles and program development. The #1 barrier to communication identified by couples impacted by infidelity was stonewalling, followed by anger.

How to Not Make Things Worse Stonewalling

While anger comes as no surprise given the devastation created by betrayal, I didn’t expect stonewalling to come in first (and by quite a majority too).

Stonewalling is a total refusal to listen to, respond to or accept influence from your mate. If ever there was a time communication is critical, it’s during the crisis of infidelity.

Stonewalling doesn’t necessarily end at refusal to speak or listen to your mate; it can also be listening with contempt or total distain.

If you’re dealing with a ‘Stonewaller,’ you’ve probably heard statements like the following:  

  1. “Leave me alone”
  2. “I don’t want to hear it”
  3. “I don’t want to hear what you think/feel anymore”
  4. “Go talk to someone who cares”
  5. “Do whatever you want”
  6. “We’ve talked about this enough already, I’m done talking”

At Affair Recovery we stress the need to have rational conversations verses emotional conversations. For that to occur, safety in communication is essential. The subjective realities and opinions of both parties are necessary if shared meaning is ever to be developed. As humans we all want to feel we matter to our mate, that they care about us and that they are going to be there for us.

Stonewalling shuts off the critical conversations necessary to reestablish the foundations of relationship.

As I write this I can only imagine how some might say that they don’t care about their mate’s perspective, but that attitude only shows contempt. According to Gottman’s research​1, contempt is the number one indicator of couples heading toward divorce. Gottman talks about this in the video at the end of the article. For couples to reconnect they have to feel they matter to their mate. Good decisions require both parties contribute to the collective pool of meaning. Failure to do so smothers recovery. That being said, it’s easy to see why stonewalling generates such a barrier to communication.

If stonewalling is a problem in your relationship, see if you can identify the root of your response from the following list:

1.  Emotional flooding:

When conversations become unsafe our fight or flight response is triggered. For those who tend to flee, stonewalling is the response of choice. In these situations stonewalling becomes a method of self-soothing as the person floods. It’s almost as if they stick their fingers in their ears, shutting the other person out in hopes of calming down. These individuals tend to be like turtles who withdraw into their shells. If however they’re married to a partner who also floods but whose natural response is to fight, then the couple become a bit like a turtle and a shark. The turtle withdraws into its shell while the shark is on the outside screaming “come out of there!” Both are deprived of what they need to heal.

2.  Keeping the peace:

Sometimes people stonewall because they feel it’s just not worth the conflict if they speak up. It’s easier to remain silent than to speak up and add their perspective to the pool of knowledge. While this approach might promote short-term peace, it is a death knell in the coffin of marriage. Intimacy is the ability to be naked and not ashamed. It’s a willingness to speak up and share your perspective. Without your contribution to the conversation the best decision can never be reached. Two thirds of the time intimacy in marriage creates short-term instability rather than peace, but in the long run it creates a powerful bond. You can never be loved unconditionally as long as you only conditionally allow your mate to know you.

3.  Aggression:

Pain that is not transformed will be transmitted and at times stonewalling is the vehicle for transmitting that pain. Either spouse can use stonewalling as a way to deny their mate another chance. This is especially effective if their mate is remorseful for what they’ve done and is asking for a second chance. The most effective way to inflict pain in this situation is to deny their attempts at reconciliation. Aggression can also be played out through stonewalling by refusing to even respond to your spouse’s anger or pain. It’s a destructive approach to attempt to rush restoration efforts through aggressive tactics or by attempting to hurry a spouse into forgiveness or trusting them again. Sadly, this is where many a bridge is burned through aggressive comments like “you just need to get over it.”

4.  Defensiveness:

At times the conflict seems so overwhelming that the only solution seems to be responding with anger or shutting it out through stonewalling. They fail to see that there are other responses such as assertiveness or emotional regulation. It’s absolutely vital to have some diffusing mechanisms in place to help prevent each potentially fragile discussion from turning into a slug fest of rage.

5.  Shame/humiliation:

The pain generated by shame or humiliation can also be a catalyst for stonewalling. Talking about the subject is far too painful so they respond with silence in hopes of shutting down the conversation. For the unfaithful, shame not only grows, but flourishes in dark places and its only medicine is to bring it to the light in a redemptive way. When shame is discussed in a way that is restorative, it paves the way to disarm its momentum which can then foster not only open communication, but also healing for both spouses.

6.  Frustration:

Frequently frustration drives stonewalling. While it may block their goal of resolution it seems preferable to speaking without being heard or believed. Feeling misunderstood and unheard leaves people feeling unloved with little motivation for speaking up and sharing their reality. This situation is frequently created when the hurt spouse continually asks the same questions over and over. The unfaithful spouse must understand that the reason their mate continually asks the same questions is because they want to believe you, but it just doesn’t make sense. They keep asking the same question in hopes that they can understand.

For the hurt spouse, stonewalling creates fear. If our survey repealed anything, it was that stonewalling on the part of the unfaithful spouse continues to generate suspicion in the hurt spouse that there’s more going on that they still don’t know everything. Stonewalling in the betrayed spouse creates hopelessness and a belief that things can never be worked out, so why try anyway.

If stonewalling is a problem in your communication, begin by first identifying why you or your mate stonewall. Next week we’ll discuss ways to remove the barrier of stonewalling. At our EMS Weekend, we start the entire weekend with a session entitled “Barriers to Recovery.” Stonewalling doesn’t have to be the end of your communication, marriage or restoration process. It’s not as hopeless as it seems my friends.

 

 

1Gottman PhD, John. Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…and How You Can Make Yours Last. New York: First Fireside Edition registered trademark of Simon & Schuster Inc., 1995. Print.

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Comments

Stonewalling because everything else is lies

I get it. I get stonewalling does not help in communication. I have learned, in my situation, that thisvis my only choice. I have had the open communication, therapy only to have him cheat again and again. My spouse slept with 6 women that I know of two years ago. My husband has many addictions binge alcohol abuse, gambling and I belueve sex addictions. If he drinks he goes to a casino and never comes home without a phone number on his phone. It is a pattern. I am tired. People think it is so easy to just leave but believe me I WOULD IF I COULD. I get to be betrayed over and over again. I honestly think my spouse is bipolar. Can anyone relate. I feel so hopeless.

HI TR...

i'm sorry you're in such pain.  i guess the obvious question is why can't you leave or why can't you file for divorce and stop the cycle?  i'm sorry it feels so hopeless.  there is a way through and out, but it will (in your situation specifically) take a strategy.  either way i'm glad you're on the site and here.  

Relate? Yes!

Yes! I can relate to all of it! I realized my husbands addiction to gambling a few years after we were married. I never saw him, didn’t come home at night, let me wondering why he didn’t show up when he just told me he was in his way home. He didn’t care about me in any way, only himself and addiction. Then, I was away in another state for three months with my mom while she died. I came home in October 2014 devasted from the loss of my mom. Skip to 2/14/2017, I get a knock on my door from a prostitute, she tells me she is my husband hooker and has been in an affair with him for almost 3 years, she then informed me that he hired her when my mom was dying and she was in MY bed in MY room in MY private space while I was gone. She then proceeded to tell me he is now using meth! This 56 yo man started using street drugs that she brought into his life. Oh, did I mention she told me I need to get to the doctor and get tested for STDs immediately, then asked me for money for her telling me.

At that moment my life was shattered! Drugs and prostitutes! I immediately drove over to his office and kicked him out of house., I changed locked, out all his stuff in garage.

I hated this man more than anything in my life. I didn’t see him for three months. I went to counseling and she told me he was a sick man, I needed to look at home with compassion, not hate. Why? His childhood was so abusive, something snapped in him.

Fast forward to today. He went through rehab and we started again, until last week when he moved back home. Found out he has been with two prostitutes again in last month and relapsed into meth. He said it was because we were not living as man and wife even though we have been talking about moving home and starting over for months, we weren’t, so it is ok??? No, it is not ok. I am completely shattered again by this addict and he doesn’t care about anybody, but himself and addictions. I am an emotional mess and a fool for thinking he really wanted this marriage to work. I am still trying to understand what he did last year and he has just added to that devastation.

You are not alone, I feel and understand everything you are going through. My marriage is pretty much over, I don’t think I will ever be able to believe him again. I can’t imagine even kissing this man again, it makes me sick. This just happened two days ago, so I need to figure it out. I am such an emotional mess, I right now can’t even talk to him... too fresh.

I am hoping to join the next harboring hope class, I really need that right now, I hope you consider joining it too.

Good luck to you... we don’t deserve this crap!

I can certainly relate TR and

I can certainly relate TR and I feel your pain. Whether a symptom or cause of the sex addiction, the presence bipolar disorder plays a major role. It certainly did with our marriage. There are certain indicators to the AP suffering from bipolar disorder, some evident, some rather subtle and unfortunately, unless you’ve done the research, most put them down to personality traits. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the problem go away, however it may help your pain a little knowing that although what they did was certainly wrong, and the disorder takes nothing away from your hurt; they did what they did because they were sick, not evil

Stonewalling

We both stonewall. I do not believe a word he says because it has so far turned out to not be the truth. Every week for the last 18 months it's been a different story when I ask questions. He is stonewalling because he is ashamed to tell me the whole truth. He wants to hide and not even admit to himself the horrible things that he has done. He wants to just say he won't ever do it again and it only makes it worse to talk about it he wants for me to say that is OK. It's not OK I want to know what the relationship was. Not the gory sexting on phone. He usually has to tell me that when he is mad. I want to know what was going on emotionally. Why he would tell her he loved her why he would call her on phone for hours in middle of night. I know he didn't have sex all the hours. He has never fully disclosed what it was all about. Just says it was real life porn. That is not explantain. I just can't seem to get past it. The why will never be answered. Sorry for rant

Editorial comment (sorry, but I am being a critic)

"If our survey repealed anything...." should probably read "If our survey revealed anything....".

What type of affair was it?

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