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Stonewalling & The Silent Treatment

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the motivations and solutions to stonewalling and the silent treatment.

First a quick update:

The Breakup Test
Are you heartbroken, angry, lost, lonely, confused, depressed, hung up, or pining over your ex? Do you know how your ex is truly affecting you and do you want to benefit from personalize advice, action steps and revelations? Take my free breakup test and get your own personalized report.

Where Are The Heroes in Hollywood?
Hollywood is obsessed with the film theme of heroes, super heroes and good conquering evil. However, there are no heroes in the Harvey Weinstein sex assault scandal. Watch the video.

Sexual Harassment happens to men as well
Here is my story of sexual harassment, assault and groping. 

Now, let’s talk about the motivations and solutions to stonewalling and the silent treatment.

Has this ever happened to you?

You have something you want to discuss with your partner but he or she either shuts down and refuses to speak or listen, or walks out of the room. Perhaps he/she deflects, tunes out, refuses to make eye contact, becomes silent, engages in obsessive behaviors, becomes unresponsive, or turns away.

This behavior is referred to as stonewalling or giving the ‘silent treatment.’ It can continue for hours, days or weeks; some clients report it went on for years.

If you are the person trying to communicate or resolve the conflict, then you feel ignored, invalidated, humiliated, frustrated or infuriated that your partner is refusing to communicate and engage with you.

As I will explain in moment, stonewalling (and the silent treatment) can be an abusive or a defensive behavior; it can be motivated by fear or by a desire to control (power struggle.)

Stonewalling has been studied at great length by researchers Drs. Gottman and Levenson, “Physiological and Affective Predictors of Change in Relationship Satisfaction; the study found that:

Men are consistently more likely to stonewall than women. They will withdraw emotionally from conflict discussions while women remain emotionally engaged. 85% of Dr. Gottman’s stonewallers were men.

When women do stonewall, it is quite predictive of divorce

Male stonewalling is very upsetting for women, increasing their physiological arousal (things like increased heart rates, etc.) and intensifying their pursuit of the issue

Why do people stonewall or give the silent treatment?

Control and manipulation
Some people can engage in stonewalling with the deliberate desire to control, dominate or manipulate the other person. For example, someone may stonewall and give the silent treatment until he/she gets his/her way or as a way of punishing the other person. If this stonewalling constantly recurs (and for extended periods of time), then it can also be deemed to be abusive.

Sometimes a person will go silent and stonewall because the boundaries have been pushed and the other person is not listening; other times the motivation can be defend oneself from further attacks, criticism, feeling cornered, antagonized, or intense conflict. Others report feeling defeated and in a no-win situation.

Fear & Avoidance
Some men in the study by Gottman and Levenson reported that they feared they would make the argument worse by speaking (they fear that they lack the skills to effectively communicate, express themselves or regulate their emotions.) Other people freeze up when faced with conflict or confrontation – possibly due to rejection, childhood trauma, fear of being vulnerable, or as one client stated, he feared he would become really angry and ‘lose it.’ Individuals who are also avoidant or dismissive in attachment styles can also engaging in stonewalling.

Some people will say they feel emotionally overwhelmed, and experience tension and elevated heart rate and pressure during a conflict or argument. In turn, that person may choose to shut up to try to calm him/herself down.

There are 4 key temperament or behavioral styles (DISC): Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness. The D and I styles expand and become more talkative when faced with conflict; the S and C styles shrink, retreat and become less talkative when faced with conflict.

Effects of Stonewalling and The Silent Treatment
Even when the intention and motivation of the stonewaller is not to harm or hurt the other person or relationship, the effect of the silent treatment and stonewalling is still very damaging.

Here are a few examples of the way people have described being stonewalled:

Isolated, humiliating, emotionally painful, torture, numb, shocked, frustrated, infuriated, disrespected, helpless, hopeless, ignored, invisible, worthless, traumatized, inadequate, ‘emotionally abused’, ‘my feelings don’t matter’, ‘used and conned.’

– The stonewalling only amplifies the pain from the abuse and disrespect.
– The fact that he did not give a damn about my feelings and flat out ignored me was worse than the bad things he had done.
– My husband can hold his grudge with me for 5-7 weeks, one time a whole year.
– It’s not just stonewalling, it’s Stockholm syndrome too, the complete decimation of yourself, soul and mind.
– The other day I threw my breakfast at him just to get a reaction.

Suggested solutions and approaches to stonewalling
If you are the person who stonewalls:

If you feel overwhelmed or close to it, or you feel anxious, nervous or your heart rate is increasing, simply tell your partner “I feel overwhelmed; I would like to take a break and then resume the discussion today or another time.”

Beware of worsening your own emotional and physiological state with negative self-talk such as “I can’t stand it anymore…I’ve had it…I wish she would get out of my face…”

Do something to calm your body; go for a walk, do something relaxing for 20 minutes which is the time required for the body to return to calm state. Focus on the relaxing exercise and not on mentally trying to resolve the conflict.

Spend time being introspective; I once went quiet with a friend for 7 days; I was able to tell her that I couldn’t talk and I needed time to sort out my thoughts and emotions. I also reassured her, “It’s not about you.”

If you are the person who is being stonewalled:

Stop. Do not try to keep pushing the other person to talk; it only makes the situation worse and escalates the emotions, and creates more frustration and resentment.

Ask him/her if they want a break and prefer to speak later. Ask if there is anything you can do to support them to open up and speak.

Set a boundary; if you feel too much time has passed and he/she is still stonewalling, suggest you both get professional help to resolve the conflict and the way that you both handle conflict or communication.

Remember, too, there is a difference between a timeout to calm down and being silent for weeks or months.

If you need personal help to overcome stonewalling, being stonewalled or want assistance to express yourself effectively – book a one-on-one session with me.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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