4 Minutes 4 Marriage – Stonewalling

Are you looking at this entry and thinking, “Is it worth it to read this? I have so much to do!”

Don’t give up! I’ll make this short. And let’s make giving up be the topic of the day.

A question for the gentlemen: does even thinking about arguing with your wife raise your heart rate?

You’re not alone. In an argument, men can easily become flooded with adrenaline. The more charged with negative emotion the discussion becomes, the higher their stress level rises until they are so filled with adrenaline they can no longer process the conversation. They need to shut down. They give up, check out emotionally, or stonewall, John Gottman’s last destructive force.

The stonewaller may think he (or she—25% are female) is trying to stay neutral, or keep emotions from spiraling out of control, but his lack of response causes his wife’s heart rate to skyrocket and ultimately will shut down the whole relationship. How can improvements happen if someone has checked out of the discussion?

Another type of stonewalling happens by choice and can even become a habit. He (or she) decides arguing doesn’t work, so chooses to disconnect. Either he stops responding at all, or his responses have nothing to do with the disagreement, or he storms out of the room. One version that many women resort to is the silent treatment.

It takes two people to forge a strong relationship, but one can destroy it. Disengaging from communication keeps anything from being resolved.


  • Take a break, if you need one. (Allow at least 20 minutes for a flooded person to regain normal pulse rate and calm his nervous system.) Tell your spouse when you’ll be able to continue the discussion. Take deep, calming breaths. Go for a walk or exercise to process the adrenaline.
  • Stonewallers can benefit from positive self-talk, assuring themselves that as long as they can communicate, they can improve the situation. Rather than catastrophizing—“This is horrible, there’s no hope, we aren’t going to make it, I can’t stand this”— reassure yourself. “I can do this. I love my spouse and am willing to make changes to keep this marriage healthy. We’ll get through this and be stronger for it.”
  • Those who live with stonewallers should realize that they must back off before their spouse hits the point of disengaging out of self-defense. Both should try to de-escalate the argument by non-defensive communication. (See last week’s topic.)
  • Don’t give up. You may have thought you were avoiding fights by your lack of response, but you actually were avoiding resolution. Be the hero, the knight, but don’t hide behind a suit of armor. Reach out and connect.
  • When we most want to turn our backs is when we must turn our hearts back toward each other.


We must actively force away the four horsemen that destroy a chance at a happy marriage: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. If we don’t, we will find ourselves living parallel lives, disconnected from our spouses. Then, desperately lonely within our relationship, we run a risk of slipping into an affair in an attempt to build intimacy with someone else.

Bible verse to ponder:

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekial 36:26 RSV)

We will turn to another author in the next entry. Let’s review Gottman’s points:

  1. At a most basic level, we all want love and respect in a relationship.
  2. Complaints are specific and about one behavior. They can enhance a relationship if spouses are open to growth.
  3. Criticism, on the other hand, attacks the person.
  4. Contempt attacks the person with an intent to hurt.
  5. Defensiveness, or the poor-me stance, relinquishes our ability to accept the challenge of self improvement for the sake of the ones we love.
  6. De-escalate a disagreement by reaffirming your admiration for your spouse, interjecting healthy humor, touching affectionately, stepping back to make a comment about your current feelings, or trying to look at things from your spouse’s point of view.
  7. When we want to turn our backs (stonewall) is when we must keep turning back toward each other.


Please contact me if you have ideas for ways to make these entries more helpful.

Betty Arrigotti


Gottman, John M. & Silver, Nan (1995). Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: and How You Can Make Yours Last. Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group.

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