Dear Dr. Yael,
I read your column about stonewalling and it was an eye opener for me. My husband is a loving warm person and he often gets upset when I shut down and I withdraw when I get upset. As I read the column I realized that I am actually stonewalling my husband at times. However, I do not want to stonewall him. I come from a cold family where silent treatment was used by both my parents. Please give me tips on how to stop stonewalling my special and loving husband.
Dear A Reader,
If a person is afraid of conflict because they grew up in a home where conflict meant a lack of safety or a feeling of instability, one may shut down to maintain a sense of safety. Perhaps you struggle with difficulty expressing emotions because you don’t feel comfortable and safe. Do you fear the consequences of voicing your emotions? Do you attempt to keep the peace and diffuse situations which you perceive as emotionally charged? Perhaps you learned in your family to stonewall as a communication style. It could be a coping mechanism to avoid feeling anxious. Are you using this method to punish or manipulate your husband?
It appears to me that your stonewalling is unintentional. It could be a learned response from your childhood to avoid escalating a fight or avoid discussing an uncomfortable topic. Since you are diagnosing yourself, I want to share that there are healthy behaviors that can be mistaken for stonewalling. Asking for space or time can be a healthy way of setting boundaries. When a partner asks for space or time, they are communicating that they need some space and time in order to recalibrate or calm down. When a partner asks to discuss something, with full intention of coming back and conversing with you, they are not stonewalling you.
I think you should try some techniques to self-soothe in order to have a more positive relationship with your husband. Perhaps one or more of the following techniques can be helpful:
- Take deep breaths to calm yourself down. Many people devalue deep breathing because they think it “doesn’t work”; however, when done correctly, deep breathing can be an excellent calming technique. Try taking in a deep breath from your nose, holding it for a couple of seconds, and then very closely exhaling through your mouth like you’re blowing on hot food. You should immediately feel the decrease in pressure, especially around your shoulders.
- Go for a walk or a run. Walking and running are both excellent exercises for stress relief. Even better, do it with a friend for added social benefit, if you enjoy adding a social aspect to your exercise.
- Take a hot bath. This is generally something that relaxes most people.
- Stretch or practice Yoga. Stretching or Yoga while breathing can be very helpful for stress release.
- Try to listen to calming music. Some people relate to music and this can help them decompress.
- Try to meditate. You can google some videos to teach you how to do it. Once learned, this is an extremely helpful technique.
You are taking accountability for your part in the marriage. The fact that you are taking accountability is a great step. It is difficult to be different than your home of origin. We learn how to communicate or how not to communicate from our parents, so it takes a lot of work to change how we communicate and to learn new skills.
It would be most advisable that you seek professional help to learn how to have a different relationship than you saw in your home. Clearly, you did not even realize that you were stonewalling your husband, and it sounds like you did this intentionally. We are all children deep inside. Fear of conflict can be a deep issue for you and silence and withdrawal may appear to be safe ways to deal with these issues. A competent therapist can help you work through your emotions about your childhood and learn new ways to communicate in your marriage. Hatzlocha in seeking the right professional help. Please continue to treasure your loving husband.