Stonewalling in relationships

Elaine is a Counselling Psychologist with 20 years experience.

stonewalling in relationships

We’ve all heard the expression ‘it’s good to talk,’ but what happens when your partner shuts down communication?

I want to talk about

  • What stonewalling is
  • What are the reasons that someone does not talk
  • What you can do about it
  • When it’s time to walk away

What is Stonewalling?

Stonewalling is when one person does not allow communication when you are trying to talk about something or discuss or argue.


They might;

  • Not listen to what you are saying.
  • Talk over the top of you, and in doing so; you do not get a chance to speak
  • Walk away when you are talking – saying that they are getting offside, leave the room or house
  • Dismiss your feelings as trivial and not allow a discussion.

What does it feel like to be stonewalled?

The best way to explain this is to discuss what it feels like at the beginning of a relationship and what it feels like after regular stonewalling. This explanation is not written in stone and will not be true for everyone, but it might give you some perspective for many of you reading this.

Being stonewalled at the beginning of your relationship

The first few times this happens, it might lead to

  • An argument
  • Confusion
  • Anger

In the beginning, it won’t make sense to you if you want to talk about an issue, and the person you are trying to talk to ignores you by either leaving or doing something else that stops the communication.

They might talk over the top of you. Even though they are talking, they are not communicating. By talking louder or faster, you are not able to speak.

Being stonewalled in your well established relationship

If you have been in a relationship long enough with someone who stonewalls you, you might have noticed that your own behaviours have changed. You already know you won’t be heard and might begin to think, what’s the point.

You might have noticed that you no longer follow the person when they leave the room or try to get a word in when they talk you down. Rather, you get offside.

This can save an argument, or you may have learnt that it stops you from feeling even worse, but unfortunately, it means that you never get heard.

What are the reasons that someone might stonewall you?

If you have already read about stonewalling on the internet, you will already have come across the more negative reasons for stonewalling, such as;

  • It is passive-aggressive
  • It’s controlling
  • It’s abusive

I want to put forward some other possible reasons that your partner might be stonewalling you to help your relationship.

If you are being stonewalled, your partner may

  • Not be able to express some emotions.
  • Be overwhelmed with the emotion they are experiencing
  • Lack communication skills

When to leave

You can try to talk to your partner, explain how you feel and that you need to be heard, but you can run into some difficulties.

If your partner stonewalls you because they cannot deal with difficult emotions, even though you have picked the right time to talk and choose your words carefully, if your partner feels a negative emotion that is difficult for them, they may stonewall you again.

Ultimately you cannot fix another person. You can state how you feel, explain what you would like to happen, but the other person needs first to decide that it is a problem and, secondly, to do something about it.

If they do not take action, you are left with two choices; leave or stay with the person, knowing that they may continue to stonewall you. If you decide to stay (and I am not condoning or saying this is what you should do), to make it easier on yourself, if you can find a way to accept that your partner stonewalls you, you will not expect them to be different, and this may lessen the hurt. Still, in doing so, you really need to decide if your relationship, as it is right now, is worth it.