When your partner in a relationship stonewalls, what does it look like? They might leave the room or house. They may stop talking and ignore you. If they are an accomplished stonewaller, they probably look like they don’t care, are calm and unaffected. They look like “You could stand there screaming all day and I wouldn’t bat an eyelash.”
The first thing to know about this behavior is that, if it happens very often, your relationship is likely in trouble. You probably needed couples counseling years ago.
That is pretty common knowledge these days, now that John Gottman’s work is so well known. What I found surprising about stonewallers when I read his work is that if you hook a stonewaller up to a biofeedback machine like a heart-rate monitor, you find out that they are freaking out inside. Their heart rate and blood pressure are way up. They just look calm or withdrawn. They are actually so painfully engaged that they can’t deal with it. This knowledge has helped me think more clearly about stonewallers. I can be a lot more sympathetic to someone I know to be in something like flight-fight-freeze mode than someone who appears to be shutting me out.
[First published on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, July 21, 2010.]