Yet again. Several more cases of a dispute turning into a stone wall come my way. I worry when I see it because I have been there. It promises nothing but bad news for a relationship. Most books on marriage list this practice as a relationship “killer” and if you are dating and this practice appears, run!
The phrase “stonewalling” has been around awhile and means “a refusal to communicate or cooperate.” Dr. John Gottman claims that his research shows that such behavior foretells a “disaster” in any relationship whereas the “masters of relationship” calm themselves, are gentle, take at least partial responsibility and solve their problems together. It is at first impossible to repair a hurt if the other will not talk to you and then it is infuriating. The silence shouts ‘YOU ARE NOT WORTHY OF MY TIME AND ENERGY!” Such contempt is unbearable to those on the receiving end.
What it says to me is that the other party consider themselves superior to me, that I am a lesser person than them, morally inferior. I had two reactions when I was younger: pain followed immediately by great anger! Today as an older man, I feel some pain and great regret but know that this is a bad way for the other to live their lives. I just sadly move on.
I have seen stonewalling used in a number of ways over the years. Women especially seem to prefer to use it as a means of breaking up with a boyfriend they have lost interest in. As a young college student, working on an oil platform off the Kenai coast, my girl friend at the time living in Richland, Washington wrote me faithfully for about a month and then slowly the letters ceased altogether. When I returned to school, I sought her out. She was engaged! I think a “Dear Brian” letter would have sufficed as a classier and more noble approach. I was not a violent young man.
A violent man is quite a different matter. Running and hiding is sometimes the only safe option but that indicates an already badly broken relationship. There is also an appropriate “cooling off period” but the one who takes the longest time to calm down is obliged, in my view, to make the first approach to reconcile. Most women automatically assume that this is the man. I would agree but not when the woman is the one who draws out the silence. Then she has to declare her willingness to talk.
Some men use this strategy to avoid any reconciliation altogether. They just sit and say nothing. Women find this maddening and it will eventually lead to unhappiness and the death of the relationship. In the guys defense, arguing with an angry woman who is trying to score points and is not seeking to patch things up, is generally unfruitful. In other words, they stonewall to protect themselves. But then, I know of two brothers who refused to talk to each other for 30 years until the older was on his death bed. Only then did they reconcile in great regret and tears, having long forgotten what the dispute had been about.
What do we do?
The short answer is seek out and seek to reconcile whenever possible. At least end the relationship with dignity and gentleness. Gottman has observed that healthy relationships that last a long time (and I think this includes friendships) treat each other gently. They are both other centered instead of self centered, quick to take some of the blame and willing to listen and consider the point of view of the other. I like the word, gentleness. I think it is Godly.
2 Timothy 2 24The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition (NASB)
Galatians 522 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.(NASB)