What is Stonewalling? In essence, stonewalling is when one person shuts down and closes himself/herself off from the other during interaction…

what is stonewalling

By Sarah P.

Not all negative communication patterns are alike. Sorting through the most harmful of these patterns has been one of the main areas of research for Drs. John and Julie Gottman. They have narrowed the four most harmful communication patterns down and refer to these patterns as The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.

In this blog post, I will address the fourth harmful communication pattern: stonewalling. I will admit that before doing in depth research on stonewalling, I had only partial knowledge of this phenomenon.

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Here’s why: I pictured stonewalling as a husband or wife pouting alone in the corner and giving the silent treatment. I had assumed that stonewalling was only about the silent treatment. But, after reading more about it, I also learned something surprising that is a lesser-known side of stonewalling. Though the proverbial silent treatment is the most common form of stonewalling, stonewalling can also be a very active process where the person who is stonewalling can use verbal bullying to accomplish the same task.

However, the most commonly understood definition of stonewalling has to do with the emotional closing down against another. For the purposes of clarity, I will be exploring the understanding the Gottman’s have of stonewalling. But, in the later part of the article, I will also explore the lesser known form of stonewalling: the common filibuster.

What is Stonewalling?

In essence, stonewalling is most commonly defined this way:

Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction. In other words, stonewalling is when one person shuts down and closes himself/herself off from the other. It is a lack of responsiveness to your partner and the interaction between the two of you.  Rather than confronting the issues (which tend to accumulate!) with our partner, we make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors.” (1)

Stonewalling is a type of turning away from your partner by withdrawing and/or not addressing the issue at hand.

The Difference Between Stonewalling and Time to Think

Sometimes stonewalling can look like someone is taking time to think. But, taking time to think and stonewalling are different. The motive and timing behind each one is there differentiator.

One aspect of stonewalling is that it can be used as part of defensive behavior; defensiveness feeds it. Stonewalling is withdrawal from communication while at the same time putting up psychological defenses and refusing to look at one’s part. On the other hand, stonewalling can be an unhealthy protective measure that some use when they are feeling flooded. They shut down and withdraw into themselves.

Here is another take on stonewalling:

“Stonewalling is defined as a. To engage in delaying tactics; stall: b. To refuse to answer or cooperate. The best description I’ve read of stonewalling comes from, Jeffrey J. Pipe, PsyD.”In relationships, stonewalling is the emotional equivalent to cutting off someone’s oxygen. The emotional detachment inherent to stonewalling is a form of abandonment and the effect that it has on a spouse is dramatic.  The initial feelings of terror which are usually below the water line of awareness are typically followed by secondary feelings of anger and, then, aggressive efforts to get some emotional reaction any emotional reaction even a negative one.  And when these efforts fail, the internal response for your spouse is predictable. He doesn’t care.  He doesn’t love me.  He’s left me.”  What exactly does stonewalling look like in a marriage? From the description above, emotional detachment and feelings of abandonment leave the victim spouse reeling with doubt, anger, and doubt of an emotional connection with their spouse.” (2)

Thus, the essence of stonewalling is that it leaves the recipient feeling abandoned and unsure of their spouse’s love. Stonewalling also often leaves the recipient feeling misunderstood, disregarded, and invisible.

Still, there are many people who need to take time to think during the heat of the argument, especially if they feel flooded.

So how is taking time to think different?

To differentiate the two, there is both intention and the process. When someone wants time to think, it because they need to consider the message and take time to reflect on their part of it. The intent is to grow personally and also to improve communication.

Then, there is the process. When someone is flooded or when a couple has reached a stalemate, they need to calmly acknowledge it and then ask for a short “time out” to gather their thoughts separately. These time out sessions should not last more than 30 minutes and both people need to use this time to reflect and regroup.

See also  Can You Ever Recover From Infidelity?

Taking time to think is not about avoiding difficult topics– taking time to think is not about stopping a conversation in the hopes that the other partner will drop the subject.

Taking time to think = self-reflection and subsequent personal growth

Ironically, taking time to think can be a hallmark of excellent communication, whereas stonewalling assures broken communication. Even though both involve time apart and a break from discussing an issue, the two are different and create dissimilar outcomes.

Two Types of Stonewalling

Up until now, we have examined the most common aspect of stonewalling: giving someone the silent treatment. But, if we look at the intent behind stonewalling, we soon find that stonewalling does not necessarily have to involve the silent treatment. The foundational problem with stonewalling is that it severs communication and thus the relationship. Consider this:

“While one party is stonewalling, there is no relationship—thus causing marriage problems. A tendency to stonewall can arise from something as simple as parental modeling—that’s the way dad was. Sometimes it is a means of control. Sometimes people resort to stonewalling out of a fear of conflict; they must keep the peace at all costs… It is a tool of the bully, the international terrorist or…the marital terrorist. If it is the more-verbal partner who ‘knows she is right,’ her attempts at discussion are thinly veiled attempts to convince her partner of something. He withdraws emotionally and refuses to talk, because he believes she will go on and on until he concedes. In this case, both parties are stonewalling. He is stonewalling because it helps him maintain a sense of self while being bullied; she is stonewalling because she believes hers is the only right way and it is her right and duty to bring him around to the truth. Let me be clear about something. Stonewalling through emotional withdrawal or verbal bullying is not the exclusive domain of either men or women. Both are vulnerable to slipping into the mode of refusing to relate. We have all been there at some time or other. The important thing is to recognize stonewalling puts your marriage at risk. So break out of it as soon as you become aware of it.” (3)

When I first came across this thought, a major light bulb went on. I had never thought of verbal bullying as a type of stonewalling. But, verbal bullying accomplishes the same thing as giving a partner the silent treatment. Both acts sever the relationship in that moment and both acts cause communication breakdown, which leaves the other partner feeling misunderstood and abandoned.

If you have ever watched debates in the US Senate on C-SPAN, you will have witnessed different politicians using filibuster tactics to delay or to block a vote. The politician’s intent is an aggressive verbal attempt to prevent the point (or vote) from being addressed.  Verbal stonewalling is similar to this tactic because it shuts down any real dialogue, problem solving, and refuses to acknowledge any validity in the issue at hand.

When seen in this light, stonewalling can be both an aggressive and passive-aggressive act. Aggressive stonewalling can be seen in verbal bullying behaviors while passive-aggressive stonewalling can be seen when one partner gives the other the silent treatment.

Is it Abuse?

Stonewalling can very much feel like emotional abuse to the recipient. In fact, the stonewaller often uses stonewalling to control a situation or to punish the other partner.

On the other hand, stonewalling may not have a nefarious intent. It could have been a pattern modeled in childhood by parents. The stonewaller could simply be modeling his or her own parent’s behavior. Since the stonewaller never saw an alternative to stonewalling, it became a standard pattern of relating, albeit a strongly dysfunctional pattern. Thus, stonewalling must be examined both in context and in intent.

“Stonewalling is a widely-used strategy in most unsatisfying relationships. Stonewalling alone without any other more coercive tactics probably does not limit the partner so much that a relationship can be termed abusive. That is because someone on the receiving side of stonewalling still has options to end the relationship, or get needs met elsewhere. In a business relationship, stonewalling makes no sense because the other party would just take their business elsewhere.

A clear and definite “no” may be part of non-cooperation but it is not stonewalling. Part of the deliberate intention of stonewalling is to keep the survivor ‘on the hook’ and not really able to pursue alternatives because the issue is still ‘open’ in some technical sense. However, in an abusive relationship, isolation and threats are usually present, and the survivor has no safe options to pursue needs except through the primary aggressor.” (4)

Thus, stonewalling is one of the many tactics abusive people use to meet an agenda of power and control over a victim. However, stonewalling as a tactic outside of an emotionally abusive atmosphere is better described as one of the Four Horsemen. I will provide a couple of scenarios to illustrate in a more concrete way the two types of stonewalling.

See also  Signs You Are Being Emotionally Abused

Abusive Stonewalling

The first thing that differentiates abusive stonewalling from standard stonewalling has to do with the recipient’s options and whether or not the recipient is completely isolated. Abusers always first isolate their victims and often ensure that their victims have limited to no contact with friends and/or family. An abuser uses stonewalling as one of many tactics that controls the victim. Stonewalling (either the verbal or silent kind) is meant to overtly control the victim through punishing the victim with stonewalling behaviors. Still, stonewalling on its own does not mean that someone is in an abusive relationship since stonewalling must be only one tactic of many abuse tactics used to control. 

Here is a fictional scenario that involves abusive stonewalling:

Adam and Rose have been married for 10 years. Over the course of their marriage, Adam has ensured that Rose lose contact with the outside world. She is punished if she wants to start a new volunteer activity, have lunch with her sister, or call her mother. Adam often tells Rose she is not good enough and complains about everything she does and says.

One day, Rose asked Adam if she could take up tennis lessons to get in shape. Adam walked away and locked himself in the bedroom. Rose had to sleep on the couch. The next morning, Adam pretended Rose was not there as he got ready for work. Finally, he left for work without even acknowledging her. When Rose tried to call him, all of her calls went to voicemail. This continued for several days until Rose apologized to Adam for wanting to take tennis lessons.

In this example, Adam is using the silent kind of stonewalling to punish Rose. But, the relationship itself is also abusive and stonewalling is one of the many tactics used to accomplish emotional abuse. This is abusive stonewalling.

Stonewalling as One of the Four Horsemen

Stonewalling can also appear in non-abusive contexts. Stonewalling in non-abusive contexts is one of the Four Horsemen since stonewalling is used to shut down uncomfortable communication. It is a favorite tactic of those who wish to sweep their bad actions under the rug. It can also be used as a way to force the recipient to stop talking about a topic that the stonewaller wishes to ignore.

Stonewalling is a favorite tactic of wayward spouses and is often used to shut down any talk about the affair. For example, a betrayed spouse could be triggered by something that makes him or her think about the affair. After being triggered, a betrayed spouse will often ask a wayward spouse about a detail of the affair. If the wayward spouse “just wants it to go away” and carry on life as before, he or she will often use a stonewalling behavior to ensure that the betrayed spouse drops it.

Here is a scenario that involves stonewalling as one of the Four Horsemen:

Harry and Mary are recovering from Mary’s physical affair with a coworker. Ever since the affair was discovered, Mary has done everything possible to hide the details from Harry. Mary believes that because she broke it off with the coworker, the details are not important. Plus, Mary does not want to feel ashamed of her behavior so she suppresses any uncomfortable reminders of her affair.

One day, Harry is triggered when he picks up Mary for lunch. As Harry waits for Mary, he sees Mary’s coworker walking alone through the parking lot. Harry becomes anxious and all kinds of scenarios flood into his mind. When Mary gets into the car, Harry is in a cold sweat. Harry immediately says, “I just need to know if you two did anything at our house. Since you won’t tell me anything, my imagination is getting the best of me and it is driving me nuts! Please tell me something…”

Mary stares coldly at Harry and then says in an icy voice, “I told you it is over and you cannot bring this up again.” Mary stays silent on the way to the restaurant and plays with her phone during lunch. She treats Harry like a non-entity until Harry apologizes for bringing it up.

In this scenario, Mary is a rug sweeper and is using stonewalling to shut down any communication about the affair. Stonewalling is definitely a manipulation tactic, but it is not necessarily emotional abuse.

Still there is a very fine line. Stonewalling can easily become abusive if the wayward spouse decides to use it for power and control (and not merely for rug sweeping.)

How Stonewalling Makes Betrayed Spouses Feel

Living with someone who engages in stonewalling behaviors can make a betrayed spouse feel as if they are sometimes coming unhinged. After all, a betrayed spouse needs answers.

Betrayed spouses need to understand what happened, why it happened, and they need to be reassured that it will never happen again. Most of all, betrayed spouses need wayward spouses to take ownership for their actions.

See also  Affair Trauma Part 3: What I Learned at the Gottman Affair Trauma Seminar

The main way a wayward spouse takes ownership is by talking with a wayward spouse about the affair and giving up the need to hide details, to change the subject, or to give the silent treatment. (In my mind, changing the subject is a subtle form of stonewalling. I do not know if others will agree.)

Yet, wayward spouses love to use stonewalling as a way to avoid talking about the affair and in so doing avoid taking responsibility.

Stonewalling is never okay. In affair situations, stonewalling becomes even more corrosive.

Transitioning to a Survivor After Your Partner’s Infidelity

Antidote to Stonewalling 

As we know, the only person we can change is ourselves. Still, it is necessary to communicate to the stonewaller that a communication breakdown is occurring. It is likely that the person stonewalling is flooded. Ellie Lisitsa recommends: 

The antidote is to practice physiological self-soothing. The first step of physiological self-soothing is to stop the conflict discussion…The only reasonable strategy, therefore, is to let your partner know that you’re feeling flooded and need to take a break. That break should last at least twenty minutes, since it will be that long before your body physiologically calms down. It’s crucial that during this time you avoid thoughts of righteous indignation (“I don’t have to take this anymore”) and innocent victimhood (“Why is he always picking on me?”). Spend your time doing something soothing and distracting, like listening to music or exercising.” (5) 

In other words, the antidote to stonewalling is taking a planned break with the intention that both parties self-soothe and reflect. It is best not to name the stonewaller as the bad guy.

Personally, I like to speak about things in behavioral terms. When my husband and I are at an impasse and he is flooding and then stonewalling, I generally say something to the effect of: “I know both of us want to have a good marriage and be happy in our marriage. I would like for us to communicate in ways that allow both of us to be happy and be heard. Shutting down interrupts that, so let’s find a way to address this topic in a way where neither of us feel attacked. What can I do to make this conversation more comfortable?”

At that point, I ask my husband what I can do and I follow it up with specific behaviors that he does that make me feel shut out. I make it clear that our marriage is not the conflict and that we love each other and have the same goals. Then I bring it back to the topic at hand.

There is no one size fits all, so this won’t work for everyone. Still, when dealing with someone who is stonewalling, it is best to verbalize that you understand where they are at (flooded) and reiterate that a happy marriage is the goal. 

Obviously, this only works if your spouse wants to have an even playing field. If your spouse is set on using stonewalling to cover up something he will never discuss, then you have a much larger problem. In this case, your spouse is withholding important information and refusing to give you what you need. This is like putting an herbicide on the garden of a relationship—it kills the love that would have kept blooming. The heart of successful relationships is good communication.

But, good relationships are also about taking ownership. The person who refuses to talk about something at all costs is shutting down communication and in so doing refusing to take ownership. This behavior is costly to marriages because it is impossible to have a good marriage while serious transgressions are blatantly ignored.

In Summary

Stonewalling is the last of the Four Horsemen. Although some might use the proverbial silent treatment as a way to prevent bringing up painful topics, this type of censorship is highly corrosive to marriages.

Stonewalling in marriage becomes even more serious in situations where there has been an affair. Betrayed spouses need answers and they need a wayward spouse to take ownership. Stonewalling prevents these two things from happening. Worst of all, it leaves a betrayed spouse feeling anxious, undermined, unloved, and abandoned.

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Lisitsa, Ellie. The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. From https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/

Meyer, Cathy. Stonewalling in Marital Relationships. From http://divorcesupport.about.com/od/isdivorcethesolution/a/Stonewalling-In-Marriage-Relationships.htm

Neill, Neil, PhD. Is Stonewalling Causing Problems in Your Marriage? From http://www.neillneill.com/stonewalling-in-your-marriage

Abuse and Relationships. Stonewalling. From https://www.abuseandrelationships.org/Content/Behaviors/stonewalling.html

Lisitsa, Ellie. The Four Horsemen Antidotes. From https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-the-antidotes/



    44 replies to "The Last of the Four Horsemen: Stonewalling"

    • TheFirstWife

      Yup married to the King of Stonewalling.

      He will:

      Refuse to answer or acknowledge a question he doesn’t want to answer

      When asked a question, he will make a joke and change the topic

      Never talk about feelings or personal things with anyone (except the OW)

      Walk out of the room or start doing something else to end a conversation

      Give the same stupid answer repeatedly

      33 years I have watched this behavior escalate. He will do it if we are discussing something concerning our children. He will do it with his friends. To be fair it is not just me but everyone gets this treatment.

      In a serious moment he will make a joke and try to change the subject. Except now I no longer fall for that tactic.

      Yesterday we were discussing something about our son. In the middle of my talking he started looking at a receipt on the counter and analyzing it. I was sitting there for 2-3 minutes and announced “so I guess we are done here”. And he just left the room.

      Funniest part of this – he always accused me of not communicating. Hahahaha.

      He told me he felt disconnected from our marriage and that led to his affsirs. Hahahaha.

      He has been the non-communicator this entire time and always threw it back on me. Except now I refuse to accept his opinion because I have proof it is him. Not me. I hide nothing from him while he has hidden everything from me.

      I don’t know how people live their life like this. We all have hardships in life – it is OK to talk about it and grieve and be upset. How my H never learned that is hard to imagine.

      And of course he has all kind of excuses to rationalize his behavior as well.

      • antiskank

        Well TFW, if this weren’t such a serious issue, it would be funny! My H could certainly give yours a run for his money as King of Stonewalling!! He also has a seconday title as the King of Avoidance.

        It has been almost 5 years since the first DDay. For the first months, he talked a little about the affair but mostly just to minimize it and lie about his actions and intentions. At that time, he had NO problem talking at all – mostly to tell me how every problem he has ever had has been my fault. I am the worst person in the world, not worthy of love, not even anything about me to like! Everything about my personality, my body, my age, my looks was the worst on earth. Those were the only responses he could come up with.

        Once that ended, he just doesn’t talk at all except about the most trivial things – the guys at work, the dogs, cats, kids, weather, etc. He is too “busy” to address the issues. He thinks he is doing everything right because he asks me once in a while how my day went. Of course if I tell him I am having a bad day, he will change the subject or get up and walk away. I tell him I feel lonely and that I have nobody to talk to about this, he says “But you have me” – right before he gets up and walks away.

        He has actually said that he doesn’t talk to me about our issues because I am just not worth it to him, or that he didn’t think he had to. He got away with things before, so if he waits long enough, I will just forget about it and we will get back to normal! I have told him that I consider our marriage over; and we have to get our finances untangled, sell our house and move on. Then he begs for another chance but does nothing with it.

        Why won’t he talk to me? His reasons – busy, don’t know how, don’t want to bring up issues that will make things worse when they are ok, don’t want to make things worse when they are already bad, and my favourite – “I don’t know”.

        I truly feel that he will do anyhting in his power to avoid expending any effort. I am wondering if we are even from the same planet. I often feel that we are not speaking the same language, literally. He doesn’t seem to comprehend what I am saying. I have explained to him that I feel like I am talking to a large rock when I try to talk to him. I can’t penetrate the outer shell. It is cold, unmoving, and gives back no response. Yet it stands in my way and I must go around it or hurt myself trying to move it. You just can’t have a relationship with a rock!

        • Edward

          Sounds ‘exactly’ like my wife. “I don’t know” is a pretty tough form of stonewalling to get around… it’s often obviously bullshit, but they’d have to admit it to actually prove it. crappity crap crap.

    • TryingHard

      My h learned the Stonewalling technique at an early age. His parents taught him welll bpesce at all costs and what will the neighbors think are their mantra. Only they are all far from any kind of moral example for anyone!!

      TFW I had to laugh at your example of the conversation between you and your husband and his sudden deep interest in a receipt. Many MANY times exact same examole conversations. And he is just fine if I move on and walk away. It’s like “whew missed that bullet!!!”

      I in the other hand was modeled by my mother who spoke up. Got mad even. Heck she yelled if her point wasn’t heard. She made sure she was heard. I’ve tried different tactics but sometimes it seems a blow up is the only thing that brings him back. It’s like the old joke “oo shiny object” and they are off on another subject.

      I see my husband do this on lots of fronts not only with me. It’s as if he will be vilnerable if he shows any kind of emotion. As if it’s a fault. And like I said earlier this is def a FOO problem. I’ve seen my sons use this too. Especially my younger son.

      So all this crap just keeps going round and round. We pass our faults and hopefully our strengths to our children.

      The problem I see is they people that employ this tactic aren’t even aware of it. And they sure as hell won’t go to therapy to learn about it because well then they’d have to confront it and do something about it

      Sarah I am happy your communication style works for you and your husband but I’ve tried this and it doesn’t work for my husband. I guess he’s too set in his ways. The old dog new tricks conundrum

    • Tired

      looking at this forum makes me sick. My husband is a loser too. i
      am beyond trying to figure out why he is so pathetic. no woman would want this man. why should i even bother?

    • Shifting Impressions

      TFW and Trying
      we must be sisters-in-law because our husbands must be brothers….masters of stonewalling!!!

      I called my husband on it before we were married….said it was something I couldn’t live with. He agreed with me and said he would change. Being young and idealistic I thought that was the end of it. I know, I know….how young and foolish.

      I used to describe it as someone who midpoint in the game….picks up his marbles and goes home.

      Great article, Sarah……stonewalling has caused many tears over the course of our marriage.

      • TryingHard

        LOL SI–Well I would consider myself lucky to call you and FW sisters!!!

        I can’t help but think that some of the stonewalling could be part of ADD. Quit laughing, I am serious. Sometimes I think my h had adult ADD. Pretty sure he had it in college. I see him struggling to stay focused especially on challenging subjects. The thought process only goes so deep and I see a look of total frustration come over his face because he knows “crap she’s right!!!”. It’s very hard for him to have a political conversation with me. On subjects like politics I do let it drop. It’s just not that important but I see his refusal to not look further into his beliefs in his political view. I will make a point and he will literally start stuttering and then come up with some off the wall argument that will either a.) leaving me shaking my head and walking away or b.) literally laughing out loud at his ridiculousness!

        So I think stonewalling is such and easy go to method of handling stress and difficult conversations. I know my h doesn’t WANT to focus on the affair of the AP. He is so ashamed, yes 6 years later, that he acts like she was never a part of his life. It’ so weird. But this is what I have chosen and sometimes it’s even a little amusing to me. I could really mess with him if I am so inclined. Lately as I have been enacting my detachment I know he wonders what the hell is going in MY mind. I DON’T bring up the affair much at all but sometimes I drop a few affair innuendo. Nothing overt but just enough to make him think, what is she thinking or up to. I’ve learned to play my cards much closer to the vest 🙂

        • Shifting Impressions

          Trying Hard, no ADD going on at my house…….the man has amazing focus and is almost gifted in logistics……he can pull anything together at the drop of a hat. He is also the master at smoothing ruffled feathers at work.

          But talk feelings???? Need I say more!!!

          • Shifting Impressions

            Trying Hard
            Happy to call you Sis as well…..
            I had that detachment thing tested sorely today with my youngest…..but yes I will keep working at it.

    • TryingHard

      Hi Tired–I get your frustration. And guess what you have a choice to do just as you please.

      When you husband was cheating on you he took away that choice and yes that is acting like a loser. A pathetic loser at that!!! So I am on YOUR side.

      That said, you know everything now. Well at least most of it and it’s time YOU made the decision for yourself whether to stay or leave. No one is holding a gun to your head to stay and NO ONE here will judge if you decide to divorce. We will still support you.

      Perhaps you should also go back through the archives here should you decide to divorce to see how to plan for that. I hope you won’t take divorce lightly or in anger but as a decision that is the ONLY decision for that is best for YOU.

      I don’t know if you have children to contend with in a divorce but THEY should be you primary concern particularly if they are young. If they are teens well there was going to be difficulty anyway so don’t blame yourself or a divorce on that.

      Reconciliation is NOT for everyone and certainly not for anyone who is on the fence with regards to their mate or marriage. Sometimes it is best to call it a day and get out! Neither is easy or for the weak of heart. So it sounds like you need to put some big girl pants on and make some tough decisions. I don’t know if life is too short or too long, but whichever it is being miserable is no way to live and perhaps you would be more content with your husband out of your life. Lots of people get divorced, you won’t be the first or the last.

      I wish you well in whatever your decision and mostly I wish you courage to make the right and sometimes difficult decisions.

    • Hopeful

      This is classic behavior for my husband. I hate the memories/reminder of dday. However I remember telling my husband that weekend that everything made sense now. For years I had suggested working on our marriage, date nights, whatever nothing huge but basically positive things to support our marriage. He always had a an excuse. Also if I never needed help with anything it was always turned on me. He always built me up and said how amazing I was but he never followed with any actual actions or support. He was so good at lip service but then would detach. I never could figure it out. How could someone say these amazing things to me, give me amazing gifts, amazing cards, write me poems…. but then not be there for me. I felt like it must be me. And my friends all envy us their husbands make no effort and are not there supporting them. So I felt like I could not complain. But after dday it all made sense. He wanted what we had but due to his affairs he could not fully connect, support or be there for himself, me or our marriage.

      I think the test of time will be how our communication evolves. It is so easy to slip back into habits. I am determined to not let this happen.

    • TheFirstWife

      I would like to add that my H’s family is like this. All siblings and parent.

      Learned behavior.

      And……..my H is the best of the bunch. By that I mean compared to his family he does talk and communicate and try to keep everyone connected. He is the glue in his family. Believe it or not.

      So now you have done idea of the situation. And no this is not new behavior – he did this while we were dating but not to the extent he does now.

      And I agree with the Adult ADD suggestion. My H has suspected he thinks he has it. Do that would explain some things as well.

    • TryingHard

      LOL TFW mine the best of the bunch too. His siblings handles it with booze!!! Def a functioning alcoholic.

      After reading some comments here and the article I actually think having an affair IS an act of Stonewalling in and of itself. Why talk about issues or things that matter or problems within your relationship when it’s just so damn easy to turn your back, change the subject and find someone else who doesn’t know you or your past or your family and you can direct them to believe what YOU want them to believe about you?? Easy alternative to facing facts.

      I also have to say I don’t think cheaters are the only ones guilty of stonewalling. I see many BS stonewalling too. Think about it

      • Hopeful


        I totally agree he act of the affair is a form of this. It allowed my husband to justify and perpetuate what he told himself in his head. And he knew before either affair started that it was a huge mistake. He said he literally was telling himself “no, stop, don’t do this, you can’t do this” before having sex for the first time with ap #2.

        And that is funny he is the best of the bunch. I see my husband’s family on a whole new light. I am nice and polite but guarded with everyone.

      • antiskank

        So true, TH! Definitely easier to create a whole new fantasy world with someone new than face the uncomfortable issues at home…

        But call me blind, I’m not getting the BS stonewalling thing. What am I not seeing?

        • Hopefull

          Is it the idea that anyone can use stonewalling as a tactic? I guess what could be stonewalling my therapist would say is protecting myself. I have been told over and over it is better to protect myself and be extra cautious through this healing phase. With time I need to lower my wall and be less vulnerable. It is just not that easy.

    • Tabs

      This article is so appropiate to my situation. I never thought to equate stupid arguments with stonewalling. My CH is particularly gifted at deflecting the original “conversation” with a complete different topic, usually along the lines of something I did to annoy him. I wonder if the stonewalling prevented me from recovering. ???

      I found out that my brother-in-laws have cheated or are currently cheating. The one in past tense is divorced. The one still in present tense, acts if it’s his right to have another woman. Wow! Family functions are incredibly uncomfortable. My BIL’s wives who are very catty, keep inquiring about my marriage. I’m sure they would use any info (good or bad) against me. They all deserve each other!

      • Hopefull

        Tabs, That is crazy! the entire family is in on it. That sounds smart to keep your marriage private. Good luck!

    • TryingHard

      Yes I think as BS we employ Stonewalling. Rather than deal with a problem we find a different issue to focus on. One that has an answer.

      It’s easy to talk about others issues or FOO. But maybe no do much ours. I think with those of us who are dealing with shaky marriages and relationships it’s a almost natural reaction. And it’s not good. If we want to parse out others faults we have to remain open to parse out our own.

      That said Hopeful I don’t know about you but I need my walls. I’m not ready and am not sure I will ever be ready to be vulnerable again. I can live with that.

      • Shifting Impressions

        TH and Hopeful
        I know that I have put up a few walls as well…..but I am willing to discuss most things with him. I don’t know if that constitutes stonewalling. Sometimes I just want to retreat from it all. Sometimes I hate my love for him…..if that makes sense. I hate it because it leaves me far to vulnerable.

        Hmm…will have to watch myself to see if I do stonewall.

        • antiskank

          I guess I see what you mean… I am pretty open and willing to discuss anything. I get very frustrated when we can’t discuss anything so may not participate as much as I normally would in trivial conversations. Is that stonewalling on my part? I do have some protective walls up that were never there before. I think nothing will bring them down except a massive effort on his part to improve things. His idea of effort is saying he doesn’t want a divorce. The rest will magically fix itself if I just smarten and get over it.
          Having been hurt so many times by his lies and lack of effort, it seems to get worse rather than better as time goes by with no improvement.

          • Hopefull

            I feel like the ironic thing is every since we have been married I have been willing to bring things up. And not all bad like I am attacking but even saying we have not spent a lot of time together, can we schedule a date night. I mean really non threatening and yet trying to be proactive. He would appease me but for years I got excuses usually all good and plausible like work, kids, parents…. Even now I feel like I am very careful to say I feel this way, this is what I need. I do see he does not love this since in the end my struggles or issues means he has to help more, be more supportive or change his ways. He does see it after we have a long talk. I think he feels if he tries and puts forth effort he is good. And it is nice but honestly I need more and that is hard for him to deal with. He is really supportive emotionally but this is more life/household responsibilities. His go to line is I don’t care if the laundry is done or the house is clean or if you make dinner. However he does not see the implications. This puts a strain on me, him and us. And to be clear I am far from OCD or picky. I think it comes from his years of doing what he wanted and making himself the only priority. He has done an amazing job transforming so much in his life but these are old and hard habits. I think even some falls into what he saw growing up as traditional roles in his household. In the past he was quick to point out what his mom did and his dad did not do. However I have to point out the flip side that his dad paid all the bills, managed their investments, did their taxes which I do all of that plus what his mom did and I work a lot and have a more complex career. I think he wants to simplify the matter to his advantage even if he dose this subconsciously.

            I used to wear down and if anything get quiet. I found it was just not worth it pressing him on topics or issues over time since he stonewalled me. In general I am very vocal in confronting issues or at least my feelings.

    • Tired

      My husband is also a king of stonewalling. After having a discussion tonight that I thought went well, he became very strange….the first wife’s description of her husband looking at the receipt rings true. They are so predictable. He initially told me things about his affair and told me it was very hard to admit these things. Then all of a sudden it was all my fault again. I sent him this link today and h said he felt awful about it: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/surprised-love/201106/betrayal-whats-wrong-men he said I was blaming him. That was not the intention.
      Any thoughts? Would like input from a man

      • TryingHard

        Hi Tired– well I’m not a man but …

        So you’re having this discussion I presume about his betrayal right? And it turns and he blames you for it? I don’t know how far out you guys are but first and foremost he HAS to own his own shit just as we have to own ours.

        We know cheaters are NOT great communicators ergo The Cheating right? So when he turns a fault of his around and blames you there is a great follow up question: How So? How did I force you to do something I knew nothing about? How do I have these magical abilities?

        When the cheater dies this it’s obvious they want to change the subject. Agree that you have faults and are willing to discuss them but you want to stay focused on resolving the problem if the affair. It’s like a math problem. You can’t move in until you have the basics down. You can’t jump from issue to issue without resolving the first one. Agree to being open to criticism and discussion about his issues with you and your interactions in your marriage. But first he must own the napalm bomb HE dropped on your relationship and stop seemingly to blame you for “making” him do it.

      • Doug

        I read the article, and as someone who is 8 years removed from his indiscretion, I can honestly say that I think this article for the most part is spot on. Now, looking at it from your husband’s point of view and your current situation, I think that he is using blame to deflect the situation so that he doesn’t have to address the real issues at hand and/or to justify his behavior. Much like TH says, he needs to “own his own shit.” However, he might not be in the mental state right now for which to accomplish that. He may not be ready or willing to do that now, for whatever reason. It usually takes a long time for CS to get to a point where they are willing to look within to figure out why they did what did – and some never do. And a lot of times it can take just as long for a CS to admit that the BS was not at fault for their affair. If your intent when showing your husband the article was for him to understand the reasons for his actions and to get him to look within, this post might be helpful: https://www.emotionalaffair.org/after-the-emotional-affair-the-path-to-introspection/

      • Hopefull

        I read the article and each point is exactly why my husband did what he did. I like to call them excuses and not reasons. Honestly my husband has a mental health background and I mean extensive background. He knew what he was doing was really wrong in the worst way and still did it. He knew he would damage himself, me and our marriage. But he had a lot of flaws and did not use his education, training and profession to help himself. Even I would try to talk with him and he always was defensive.

        I think what Doug says below is true. Depending where your husband is in the process he might not be ready to say or admit or even realize what he is saying. My husband cannot believe what he said to me during our marriage, on dday and even 6 months past dday. He is disgusted by himself. But at the time he saw it as the only way. I was relentless with many of our conversations and one thing is I would not accept blame for his poor decisions and behaviors. I worked so hard on our marriage and myself. Through the years I would focus on us, even ask him if there were other women ever interested in him. Every time he lied to my face looking me in the eyes. I was never asked or even considered related to his affairs. And I do think it is easy for them to avoid and distract themselves with something else when an uncomfortable topic is brought up.

        For the longest time my husband hated it since he wanted to fix and repair it instantly. Well that was not possible. He finally realized he had to sometimes just take it and listen to me. And we would rehash the same topic over and over. Some days I needed an apology and other times just a hug while I cried. He hates emotions which is strange coming from a mental health professional but I know that is because they are my emotions and he is the one that caused the negative emotions.

        One article that was really positive and good for us fairly early on was by John Gottman in the Atlantic called The Masters of Love. It was really good. My husband does not want to read books again that makes him feel bad and he cannot get through an entire book since he is so upset by them. But this article really impacted him and was manageable.

        I am not a man but one thing I never expected was how long and how much this would affect my husband. I figured he chose these behaviors and he broke up with the ow over a year before dday so he was over it. Well I was mistaken. He suppressed it all and was not sure if he would ever tell me. Then dday happened and his head was spinning and he was in damage control with me, himself and our marriage. This takes a long time and a lot longer than I expected for him.

    • TryingHard

      SI–detaching from ones children as they grow up is the hardest. But if you keep doing it and look at the fact that they are growing and learning and falling down all on their own is just part of life. They have to make mistakes and we have to let them.

      Often we see our children as extensions of ourselves. But they are not. Part of detaching is not taking their behaviors personally. We do however must institute rules about our home and lives. And those broken rules have consequences. That’s a life lesson too.

      Haha I thought getting older was supposed to be easier, it’s not. Little children little problems. Big children big problems. Ah the mysteries of life

      • Shifting Impressions

        I know….my head tells me it’s the right thing but oh my heart just hurts. But just like you I believe it’s everyone’s God given right to make their own choices, good or bad.

    • TryingHard

      Awww SI I know. It kills me too. It’s the stuff of nightmares right? I promise you, It will and does get better, just believe that and hold on to it and be good to YOU. But becoming so emotionally involved will solve nothing. Easy to say and hard to do but I know if I can you can and of course baby steps!

      Just be there to and offer to listen to him. I tell my sons I got nothing left that you haven’t heard already and then they will ask and open up, sometimes. Thing is, and I know it’s hard to accept, but our days of being relevant start waning by the teen years so really we have to learn to give it up.

    • Hopefull

      Silent cries from over here related to the kid conversation. It is really so hard to let them start to exercise independence. So hard!

    • TryingHard

      Hopeful–Just wait until grandchildren are thrown in for good measure!!! Give a whole new meaning to Why Tigers Eat Their Young!!!

    • Shifting Impressions

      Hopeful and TH
      It is hard but it’s the only way…..I am so thankful in this particular situation….no grandchildren involved. So very very thankful for that.

    • Tired

      So my husband is the big king of stonewall. I read this article hoping it would help him: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/surprised-love/201106/betrayal-whats-wrong-men

      The opposite happened. He said I was ” accusing him.” I thought I was trying to find a solution. I’d really like to hear a man’s perspective. But please women, respond!

    • Untold

      Not to start a gender debate, but I’d like to chime in and say women can be very effective at the 4 horsemen too. I am a male BS with FWW 3 years after DDay still in recovery, in my opinion highly due to her expert use of the 4 horsemen.

      Her specialy is a 1-2-3 punch. When a conflict or disagreement occurs, her response starts as defensive, escalates into contempt and hostility, then closes with stonewalling. Her poor decision or behavior was because of me. She tells me what I think and what I would say or do, and how that justifies her behavior. I’m so controlling, mean, nobody else could put up with me, I’m crazy and need to get help, “F#*$ you I’m sick of you”, “can’t stand you”, I can go to hell she doesn’t care, she’s leaving after our last child leaves home, yells, screams, not talking to me anymore, shut the F@*$ up, leaves the room, locks herself in another room and screams leave her alone. If I follow and try to talk sense, she screams she’ll call the police and claim I’m physically threatening.

      This has happened many times, sometimes in front of our now young adult sons. It is debilitating. The last few years I have pointed out what she is doing including the terms, gaslighting, stonewalling, etc.. That only infuriates more. Never comes back to the topic, never agrees to talk later after calming. Done, over, forget it, move forward. She refuses to see a counselor, read or listen to anything, or talk about it because it doesn’t help me and I’m the problem. I maintain control, stand firm in my position and redirect, but my head sometimes feels like mush from banging it against the wall.

      To me, Contempt and Stonewalling are the two worst, with Contempt #1. Stonewalling shuts down any constructive discussion forever. Nothing. Ever. Gets. Resolved. It only rears it’s ugly head later in another escalated conflict to make it irreconciliable, and so on into infinity. It says your thoughts are not worthy of their time, a way of showing contempt.

      Contempt disallows any connection ever, and questions wheter one ever existed. It’s a concrete wall. Nothing you say or do penetrates, resonates, or means anything. There is no good will, no caring, no consideration, no opening in the heart to receive. Contempt is the ultimate dis – disdain, disrespect, disregard. It is hate outwardly expressed to inflict the most emotional hurt possible on the target.

      I will close though by saying there has been progress over the years. Maybe it’s from slowly chipping away at it. Maybe it’s menopausal hormones settling. Maybe it’s her seeing the error of those ways. Many times I have been on the edge of ending the marriage, started mental and actual plans to separate. But so far I’ve hung in there, to keep my family intact, because I can see the big picture over time shows some improvement and hope, and no more infidelity has occurred.

      • TryingHard

        Untold– I say stir that damn pot!!! Absolutely women are capable of all these 4 traits. I even went si far as to say BS do this!!!

        I don’t know how people live in a contemptuous situation. It is like living in hell!!

        You’re a good man to put up with it si long hanging on to hope and the sake of your family. Imagine her being alone with your children. Yes you are sacrificing for them and that’s both admirable and sad.

        There’s a big difference between giving up and throwing in the towel. Personally I would give up communication with her in anything deeper than the weather just to save your own sanity. Let her mire in her own crap.

      • TheFirstWife

        Untold. I am so sorry for you and your children.

        This will have an affect on your family. Forever. How do I know? Because my husband grew up with a mother who behaved in the same exact way. While she was not a cheater, she was a screamer and yeller and made everyone’s life a living hell if she did not get her own way.

        My father-in-law dealt with this by shutting down and stonewalling to protect himself.

        My husband and his siblings all do the same thing when they just don’t want to answer a question. They just sit there and do not respond.

        It is unfortunate that your wife doesn’t see the ramifications of her deplorable and unacceptable behavior.

        Even during the course of my husband’s affair, I made sure it was never discussed in front of our children, we did not have any confrontations or scenes in front of our children and we both kept our adult issues away from our children.

        As hard as it was – I am proud of us that we had the interest of our children first.

        No offense but I would not stand for your wife’s behavior from anyone. I would have left a long time ago. You are a better person than me – I would have buckled under the pressure.

    • Shifting Impressions

      I agree….women are just as capable of this behavior. But, I agree with TFW. I don’t know if you are doing anyone any favors by putting up with this sort of behavior…….It has far reaching effects. The whole family is probably walking on eggshells. A really good read is “In Sheeps Clothing”

    • Sarah P.

      Hello All,

      I wanted to apologize for not being in comments lately. I got two separate bouts of the flu in one month and as a result I have not been in comments as much as I would like. I am getting better though and hopefully everything will be back to normal soon.

      Thanks for the great comments on this article! But I am also sorry that some of you are dealing with the kings and queens of stonewalling. Anytime someone is on the receiving end, it is such a maddening thing.

    • Shifting Impressions

      The author is George K. Simon

    • TryingHard

      Sheeps Clothing great book

    • Untold

      Appreciate and understand the feedback. I have read much of Simon’s material and blog. Excellent insight into character disorders.

      As I have told my FWW, “Don’t mistake my tolerance and committment for weakness”. I don’t just put up with it. I call it out, confront it, address it and try to manage it in a matter-of-fact way. During frequent periods of calm, much of the conversation is mundane stuff as suggested. When there appears to be a connection I try to show how collaboration and compromise work.

      In situations like this, one definitely has to find strength and support in other ways outside the primary relationship. Other family, work, hobbies, individual counseling, etc. have helped me.

      I have also had talks with my sons. I do not discuss the infidelity, no details, but in general how I am working to protect our family, manage the conflict and model good behavior for them. They seem to understand it and have expressed support.

      I have no certainty I have done or am doing the right thing. I do know I’m doing the best I can. I wish I had a crystal ball. History and a higher authority will be the judge in the end.

    • TryingHard

      Untold– I hope you know you have support here with us. We get it.

      Of course NONE of us can be abidolutely sure about any of our decisions. but if it feels right then you are probably in the right track.

      I admire you tenacity. You’re being a good Dad too. I say keep staying strong fir your sons. Time will tell you what’s next once they are grown and out if the house.

      My best wishes and heart goes out to you for strength and wisdom in your current situation.

    • Hopefull

      Untold, What a challenge. I totally agree that it does not matter the gender that either is capable of these behaviors. I do think that most of us are women who have been betrayed by our husbands so we tend to focus gender wise that way.

      One thing I have done is I have set very clear expectations and boundaries. I have decided I will not tolerate behaviors that are not supportive of me or our marriage. Your children are older but mine are still at home. I have made it clear what I expect due to it is what I need and want in a marriage and also what our children deserve in a family life.

      A huge red flag is when people either use I statements all the time. And then using these four horsemen is deadly. It is hard to be hit regularly and not know what you will be facing.

      I am glad you have seen improvements over time. Make sure to take care of yourself and not put your family life completely over your health and safety both physical and mental is very connected.

    • Edward

      Both the overt and covert stonewalling are abuse tactics, one is just a clear and overt manipulation, while the other is covert and therefore often harder to differentiate between intentional and unintentional stonewalling.

      It is always about power, control, and/or the protection of egos, and that’s what makes it abusive.

      It is not a tactic one can use to progress healthily in a relationship.

      Also, the verbal bullying crap toward the beginning of this article that is explained as a form of stonewalling is NOT stonewalling, that’s something else entirely. Though both are similarly used for control. Just because they have that in common, or because they both disallow for further growth, does not make them the same thing. Likewise, breaking up with someone isn’t a form of stonewalling, though it functionally also ends the ability for the parties to relate. This is an example of a composition/decomposition logical fallacy: the fact that each has similarities to the other, in purpose or outcome, does not make them the same, it just makes them similar.

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