Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship. It allows us to connect, share our feelings, and navigate conflict. But what happens when that communication breaks down? Enter stonewalling (what is stonewalling): a communication tactic where one partner shuts down emotionally and withdraws from conversation.

This blog will delve into the murky waters of stonewalling in relationships. We’ll explore what it is, how to identify it, and unpack the reasons behind this often hurtful behavior.

What is Stonewalling in a Relationship?

Stonewalling is more than just the silent treatment. It’s a complex emotional withdrawal tactic used during conflict that can leave both partners feeling hurt and isolated. Let’s delve deeper into the different ways stonewalling  manifests and the reasons behind this behavior.

The Spectrum of Silence: Stonewalling doesn’t always involve complete silence. It can exist on a spectrum:

  • The Radio: The stonewaller offers short, clipped responses that shut down further discussion. Imagine them tuning a radio dial – briefly acknowledging your point before switching to a static of disinterest.
  • The Empty Vessel: Here, the stonewaller might appear to be listening but offers no verbal or nonverbal cues of engagement. They’re a physical presence, but emotionally absent.
  • The Houdini: This stonewaller literally disappears from the conversation. They might walk away mid-discussion, become engrossed in their phone, or find any excuse to exit the situation.

Beyond Words: Body Language as a Barrier:  While silence is a hallmark of stonewalling, body language speaks volumes too. 

Look for these signs:

  • The Fortress: Crossed arms create a physical barrier, symbolizing a closed mind and unwillingness to engage.
  • The Broken Connection: Averted eye contact signals a disconnect and a lack of emotional investment in the conversation.
  • The Rigid Response: Tight posture and clenched fists can indicate a build-up of tension and resistance to communication.

Emotional Shut Down: Stonewalling isn’t just about shutting down verbally; it’s about shutting down emotionally. 

The stonewaller might appear:

  • Flatlined: Their facial expressions remain unchanged, devoid of any emotional response to the conversation.
  • Dismissive: They might roll their eyes, scoff, or use dismissive gestures that minimize your concerns.
  • Numb: They seem emotionally unavailable, unable or unwilling to connect with your feelings.

Masters of Deflection:  Stonewallers excel at the art of deflection. They might:

  • Change the Subject: Just as you’re about to delve deeper, they introduce a completely unrelated topic, derailing the conversation.
  • Minimize Your Concerns: They dismiss your feelings with phrases like “you’re overreacting” or “it’s not a big deal,” making you feel unheard and invalidated.
  • Bring Up Old Baggage: They might introduce past issues to shift the blame and avoid addressing the present conflict.

The Roots of Stonewalling:

Understanding why someone stonewalls can be the key to addressing it. Here are some common reasons:

  • Fear of Conflict: Some people have a deep-seated fear of confrontation and avoid conflict at all costs, resorting to stonewalling to shut down any potential arguments.
  • Emotional Overload: When overwhelmed by emotions, some people shut down as a way to cope. They might feel unable to express themselves clearly or handle the intensity of the conversation.
  • Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms: Stonewalling might be a learned behavior from childhood. If someone grew up in a household where conflict was avoided or punished, they might resort to this tactic in their adult relationships.

Remember, stonewalling is a behavior, not a personality trait. By recognizing the signs and understanding the reasons behind it, couples can begin to break free from this destructive pattern and build healthier communication.

Is Stonewalling Narcissistic?

Stonewalling is a common tactic used by narcissists, but it doesn’t necessarily mean someone is a narcissist if they stonewall. 

Here’s why:

  • Narcissistic stonewalling is often used to punish or control a partner. The narcissist might withhold communication as a way to get what they want or make their partner feel insecure.
  • Unintentional stonewalling might stem from emotional immaturity or a lack of healthy coping mechanisms.

It’s important to consider the context and overall relationship dynamic to understand if stonewalling is a narcissistic tactic or a sign of a deeper communication issue.

Is Stonewalling Gaslighting?

Stonewalling and gaslighting are both manipulative tactics used in relationships, but they’re not the same. 

Here’s the key difference:

  • Gaslighting involves denying reality, making the other person question their own perceptions and sanity. It’s a deliberate attempt to distort the truth and gain control.
  • Stonewalling focuses on shutting down communication altogether. While it can be hurtful, it doesn’t necessarily involve denying reality.

Stonewalling can create an environment ripe for gaslighting, but they’re not always used together.

How Do You Know If Someone Is Stonewalling You?

If you feel like you’re constantly hitting a wall when trying to communicate with your partner, it might be a sign of stonewalling. 

Here are some red flags:

  • They shut down conversations abruptly.
  • They refuse to answer your questions or offer minimal responses.
  • Their body language screams disinterest (crossed arms, averted gaze).
  • They frequently change the subject or dismiss your concerns.
  • They seem emotionally unavailable and unresponsive.

If you recognize these signs, it’s important to address the issue directly and calmly.


Stonewalling in relationships is a recipe for disconnection and resentment. It leaves the open communicator feeling unheard and frustrated, while the stonewaller might feel overwhelmed and unable to express themselves effectively.

The good news? Stonewalling isn’t a dead end. 

By learning healthy communication skills and developing emotional intelligence, couples can break free from this destructive pattern.


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