Why You Shut Down During Your Fights and How To Stop Doing It

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Stonewall, Shut Down during Fight

This concept comes from Dr. John Gottman, who identified common features that are likely to lead to separation or dissolution for couple relationships. One of the elements he suggests as being especially damaging to a relationship is stonewalling.

What is stonewalling?

It’s when a partner withdraws from a discussion or argument. Withdrawing can take many forms. Maybe you change the subject when your partner tries to bring up a difficult topic. Or you get upset at your partner and decide to give him/her the silent treatment, creating a cold, distancing silence between you. You may even end up physically removing yourself from your partner’s presence, leaving the room or the house to avoid the conflict and escape the tension.


What unspoken messages does stonewalling send?

When you stonewall, you send negative messages to your partner, even though you may not intend to. When you pull away from the conversation or argument, your partner might feel ignored or unimportant. Thus, your partner is left wondering if you care about him or her. They might also start to feel hopeless about being able to resolve difficult issues with you, wondering what else they can do to resolve issues without driving you away.


What causes stonewalling?

Often, those who stonewall feel overwhelmed by conflict and they either shut down or remove themselves from it in order to escape feeling overwhelmed. The stonewaller may feel that they are going into fight or flight mode. Stonewalling is emotional flight. It is typically done in an attempt to avoid conflict. Perhaps you feel like you are trying to avoid getting in a damaging fight. Maybe it is an attempt to keep the peace in your relationship. In reality, it is damaging your relationship because issues remained unaddressed and unresolved and it creates emotional distance.


How can you avoid it?

It may seem simple, but letting your partner know how you’re feeling can be a key way to avoid stonewalling. Maybe you say something like, “This subject is really hard for me to talk about because I’m afraid we’re going to get into a fight” or “I am feeling overwhelmed right now and am wanting to pull away, can you help me so that doesn’t happen?” You could tell your partner about what is going on for you physiologically and that you are trying to fight the urge to emotionally flee because you want him/her to know how much you care. By saying something, rather than withdrawing, you let your partner know that you are trying and that he/she matters to you. Even if you feel like it’s not the “right” response, a relevant reply offers your partner reassurance and let’s him/her know how much you care.

Want to learn if you struggle with conflict and communication in your relationship?  Take the RELATE Assessment to get a comprehensive analysis if your current relationship health.


Written by: Steph


7 Responses to “Why You Shut Down During Your Fights and How To Stop Doing It”

  1. Adam

    Yeah, that’s great and all, making your partner feel special and whatnot, but what do you do when you have done that and your partner doesn’t ever respect it?

    • Terry

      I’d actually like to know that too, I struggle to talk in an argument and she believes it’s because I have no respect for her and it’s not that at all, most of the time I am feeling overwhelmed because she can be very contemptious and belittle me and I don’t want to argue or say something to make the situation worse because I’m the one who was in the wrong in the first place

    • Philip Zamora

      Good point. As I read this, I sort of rolled my eyes because I knew exactly the way a certain someone would react to my asking for that. Doesn’t help at all when the person you need understanding from finds your emotional needs a nuisance or snowflaking.

    • Joe Smo

      Break up, date, find a new partner.

    • Natalie

      My suggestion would be that it might be time for counseling or to have a third party mediate your conversations until you can have healthy disagreements that don’t involve stonewalling, yelling, or any other kind of pushy/judgmental behavior. Hopefully, the counseling can help you both learn proper communication tehniques so that you can better understand each other.

  2. Jeff

    I believe that sometimes the person being stonewalled doesn’t really care about the “why”. They only care that it is happening. I don’t always stonewall – the discussion usually reaches a point where I can’t go anymore. She doesn’t belittle, but seems to have no desire to hear what I am saying – only what I don’t say. Once we have started that “dance” i feel myself getting frustrated and I begin to shut down. My wife has Anxiety and PTSD and I have to always weigh my words very carefully. Eventually, I slip into a mode in which I don’t stop talking, I just disconnect emotionally.


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