Stonewalling is the fourth but not the least of the four horsemen. Stonewalling is occurring when a person in a conflict is so flooded with feelings that they become unresponsive, and withdraw into saying nothing, turning away, or otherwise avoiding interacting with their partner due to the intense feelings they’re experiencing. The trouble is when a partner is subjected to stonewalling, they usually intensify their efforts to be heard, rather than allow the stonewaller to take a break or self-sooth. Being on the receiving end of stonewalling can be maddening and it always makes things worse.
Dr. Gottmans research shows that 85% of stonewallers are men. And usually when a man is stonewalling, he’s trying to not make things worse by saying anything, in the hopes that the wife or partner will simply run out of gas and stop the argument.
The antidote to stonewalling I mentioned above.
The first step is to stop the conversation. When one person is stonewalling, it’s imperative that the couple agree that the conflict is not getting resolved and the person stonewalling, if not both persons, need to take a break.
Then the next step is to take a break, and self sooth, agreeing to return to the discussion once the flooded feelings have subsided. I work with couples to teach them the best ways to self sooth, and to be able to wait until the feelings subside before resuming the discussion. And self soothing does not include going off to another room and thinking a lot about the sarcastic, biting things you’re going to say when you come back. The way to self sooth is to go off and meditate, listen to music, go for a walk, do something that gets more emotional gas in your tank, and NOT think about the argument, if you can help it.
These antidotes to the four horsemen are all easier said than done. But this is the hard work of couples counseling, and it pays off if you can reduce or eliminate these negative communication patterns.
Couples Counseling Mountainside
Chuck Beardsley, LCSW is a level-3 Gottman couples counselor, and is a level 3 Relational Life Counselor. Chuck utilizes Mindfulness, ACT, and other contemplative practices in his work with individuals and couples.
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