Stonewalling is a complete shut down during conflict, giving no hope of dialogue or intimacy.
The fourth horseman of the apocalypse is called stonewalling. When partners criticize one another, hold each other in contempt, and behave defensively, it causes a physiological reaction called flooding. Flooding means we feel so overwhelmed it’s like a waterfall of emotions is crashing down on us. While some people lash out in anger when they feel flooded, it’s most common to have the opposite effect. Flooding makes us shut down and “retreat” to protect ourselves. The result is stonewalling.
Stonewalling: I can’t do this anymore.
Have you ever felt so upset in an argument that you could no longer form words? Has your partner ever suddenly stopped looking at you, gone silent, and acted like you were not even in the room? That’s stonewalling. It is being so overwhelmed all you can do is stand there like a stone wall.
Stonewalling is very common when the first three horseman are present. If conflict escalates, escalates, escalates with criticism, contempt, and defensiveness, there will reach a point we cannot come down from. We will wonder if our spouse still loves us, if we even trust them, how the argument will ever end. That, honestly, is too much for a person to handle all at once! Stonewalling is a natural defense when we’re too flooded to continue.
Antidote: Break time!
Any half-decent counselor will recommend an argument technique called the 20-minute break. It’s exactly as simple as it sounds, but one of you must be responsible enough to initiate it. Recognize when you’re starting to flood or give your partner the care and attention to notice they’re at risk. Stop yourself when you’re having invasive thoughts about your spouse and marital stability. Watch for if your spouse begins struggling to speak or looking away from you. Stop the flooding before it turns into stonewalling!
Take a walk, play a game, drive to go get dinner, pray the rosary. Do something to take a break. If you feel you’ll do better to be apart, do that. But, you may realize you need to take a break to be together outside the argument. Breaking together works better for some couples, and breaking apart is better for others. The key is to actual take a break from the conflict. Don’t dwell on the issue during your break. Release those emotions from your body and thoughts from your mind. Don’t let the pain keep building up.
We are spouses. Not opponents. Never forget that.
To find out more about the other Horsemen look here: https://agapecatholicministries.info/family-life/criticism-the-first-horseman/