Do you notice that you become easily overwhelmed during conflict? Is it common for you to withdraw emotionally or physically when conflict becomes escalated? Do you walk away, keep yourself busy, or even leave your home in order to avoid your partner when they are upset? If so, you may be with stonewalling.
Stonewalling occurs when you withdraw or shut down during an interaction because you are emotionally flooded. Becoming overwhelmed during conflict is relatively common. But keep in mind that ongoing patterns of stonewalling are correlated with divorce and relationship dissolution.
When a couple enters my office and reports “communication issues”, one of the first things I look at is conflict style. It is relatively common for one couple to seek immediate resolution while the other looks for a way out. Your spouse often perceives stonewalling as you “giving up” or abandoning them. Here are some tips to help combat stonewalling within your marriage.
Take a Break
Yes, taking a break during conflict can be beneficial! However, it is important to have parameters around breaks, taking into consideration both partners’ conflict styles. Try to set a time limit for the break, typically between twenty minutes to one hour. Then, commit to coming back together after the break and working towards repair.
Helpful Tip: Time outs are most helpful if you agree upon parameters ahead of time!
Don’t Create your Battle Plan
It is common for couples to use breaks to continue thinking about the argument and build their battle plan against their partner. This defeats the purpose of taking a break because it results in increased anger and emotional flooding. Instead, try to engage in distracting behaviors that help you “cool down” and communicate more effectively when you return to the argument
Engage in Self-Soothing Activities
Self-soothing activities can help distract you from the argument and calm down your nervous system. During breaks, you may chose to listen to music, read a book, or watch a television show to distract your mind. If you wish to be even more intentional during breaks, you may choose to meditate, focus on your breathing, or engage in a physical activity.
Michaela Standhart is a Marriage and Family Therapist Candidate. She specializes in couples therapy, betrayal trauma, and works with adolescent as young as 12 years old.