Therapy Blog for Orem, Spanish Fork & South Jordan

Relationship Problems – Stonewalling

relationship problems, couples counselingWhen it comes to relationship problems, this one is at the top of the list – stonewalling (Here are some others: Relationship Problems – Criticism and Relationship Problems – Contempt and Relationship Problems – Defensiveness). One of the most important things to remember is that it’s not the presence of relationship problems (i.e., arguments, fights) that leads to divorce. But rather, it’s how you handle your relationship problems that can lead you to divorce (from the research of John Gottman). So learn how to handle marriage problems correctly and you will be on the path to a healthy marriage. You can become closer because of your struggles, not in spite of them (Related Article: Marriage Counseling). 


4 Specific Relationship Problems To Avoid


Let’s identify the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse real quick. John Gottman found 4 different relationship problems that were consistent among couples who divorced (Related Article: 4 Signs You Have Marriage Problems). Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling are the big 4 to avoid. These were common in this group that didn’t make it. Work so that you don’t fall in this group. We will address these 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as John Gottman would call them, separately in different articles (Related Article: How To Fix Your Marriage Problems). 


Relationship Problems: Stonewalling 


Stonewalling includes shutting your partner out and disengaging from them. This is the ultimate way to withdraw and disconnect. When you stonewall you are not just physically withdrawing, you are also emotionally withdrawing. Even when they talk to you and are emotional about something, you just don’t care and aren’t checked in. You might grunt, or wave your hand at them, but you don’t engage. 

Example of Stonewalling


Read about this example of stonewalling. When your husband asks, “Honey, we need to talk about this. We can’t just keep ignoring the fact that we haven’t been able to have a child and it’s been 3 years of trying.” If you were stonewalling you would respond by ignoring him and continuing to search social media on your phone. Or you might say, “Ok, yeah whatever. There isn’t anything to talk about.” You ignore all of his attempts to engage. 


Fix Relationship Problems: Stonewalling


Physiological self-soothing is one way to fix the relationship problem of stonewalling. You need to calm your body down so that you can use the skills you know that make your marriage better. One way to do this is to practice diaphragmatic breathing (Related Article: Just Breathe! Reduce Anxiety With This Simple Exercise). This calms down your body through a specific breathing pattern designed to work. You don’t have to believe in this breathing method for it to help. All you have to do is do it right, and it will help. 


John Gottman describes your body as being ‘flooded’ when it physically reacts to a relational stressor. It gets to the point where it shuts down and engages your survival instincts, perhaps. Or it can just keep you numb and withdraw. Either way, it’s not a healthy place to be and you need to work on getting your body back in it. 20 minutes of self-soothing is what Gottman found is helpful for your body to calm down and come back around. 


Example Of Taking Responsibility


Here is an example of self-soothing. When your husband asks to talk about infertility in your marriage, you could tell him, “This is hard for me to talk about. I want to do it, but I need 20 minutes to think about it first. Would that be ok?” This puts you in a position where you can let your body calm down and engage with your husband around something that can be painful and difficult. 


Marriage and family therapists are trained to help you let go of stonewalling and be engaged with your spouse. We have marriage counseling offices in South Jordan, Orem, Spanish Fork and Orem. 


Written by Dr Triston Morgan, Utah Marriage and Family Therapist


Utah Therapy


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