13 Common Examples of Stonewalling in a Relationship

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You’re standing in the kitchen with your partner, discussing your mother’s recent health emergency. When the conversation turns to her upcoming procedures and home care planning, your partner suddenly goes silent and walks out of the room, leaving you stunned, confused, and angry.

Stonewalling examples like this are manipulation tactics meant to divert the topic and shirk responsibility. They are indicators of disrespect, emotional abuse, and devaluation of you.

This article will help you sort through the reasons, ramifications, and examples to determine how stonewalling may affect your relationship. First, let’s give it a definition.

What is Stonewalling?

Stonewalling is when a wall goes up between two people, shutting down interaction or communication. It is an unwillingness to talk about an issue by not talking, avoiding eye contact, walking away, turning away, or acting busy.

It is a means of evading uncomfortable communication and is viewed as an escape hatch for many. Stonewalling may be a form of manipulation and quickly become an unhealthy habit, contributing to the deterioration of a relationship.

That is what stonewalling is, but let’s check out why it happens.

Reasons for Stonewalling

Most of my research on this topic positions stonewalling as definitively manipulative. It disappoints me that many professional counselors view it as an ego-based, anger-based, or passive-aggressive means of controlling another person in nearly every situation.

That isn’t true in the least. Not all stonewalling is manipulative or malicious. A stonewaller isn’t always in it to be abusive or wanting to get their way.

Consider the following reasons someone might stonewall.


The most diagnosed reason and the first thing to roll off people's lips is manipulation. It’s easy to throw it out there when you’re standing in the stonewallee or counselor role, but it may not be correct.

Granted, stonewalling, or the silent treatment as a manipulation tool, is emotional and psychological abuse. It forces the other person to have no options whatsoever for the conflict. Stonewalling as manipulation is an ego-based tactic for the stonewaller to get what they want.


Stonewalling, as an inability to communicate out of fear, is ego-based in that it is used as a tool for self-preservation or self-protection. Many couples’ counselors may disagree, but abuse counselors do agree.

This type of stonewalling, or the silent treatment, as a tool to avoid conflict, avoid escalation, or save oneself from harm is not emotional or psychological abuse. In fact, abuse is occurring in the other direction.

Other fear-based reasons may include the following:

  • Fear of judgment
  • Fear that the other person cannot handle the topic
  • Fear of making things worse
  • Fear of conflict
  • Fear of where the subject may lead
  • Fear of being misunderstood

How Can You Tell the Difference?

If the person being stonewalled shows the stonewaller compassion and assures them that they have nothing to fear, it should improve the line of communication. That is, barring any other underlying reasons.

Manipulators will certainly let you know when their demands are non-negotiable. However, suppose the person being stonewalled shows the stonewaller compassion and assures them that they have nothing to fear, and it doesn’t have any effect. In that case, manipulation is likely in play.

Please keep in mind there may be other reasons why stonewalling happens that have nothing to do with manipulation or fear. Sometimes, the saying, “It’s not you, it’s me,” is very real.

Here are a few:

Neurodivergent Challenges

The crux of neurodivergent characteristics is the inability to get the communication cues right, make eye contact, sit still, or communicate in overwhelming situations. When a conflict in communication arises, shutting down is a common coping method to calm the inner chaos.

Mental Illness, Past Abuse, or Trauma

All forms of mental illness have the potential to cause someone to stonewall, some of which may have nothing to do with manipulation or fear.

Depression, anxiety, grief, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, or other complications often show themselves in communication difficulties that are solely inward-focused.

It’s also a coping mechanism for emotional reasons, such as:

  • Trying to remain neutral on a topic
  • Hopelessness when a compromise can’t be reached
  • Frustration when the other person argues in circles or will not listen
  • Reducing tension and the feeling of overwhelm

Physical Illness

Physical illness and pain can alter how a person reacts and behaves beyond their normal personality.

Pain receptors in the brain may respond by causing anxiety, depression, frustration, anger, and defensiveness. These pain-based emotions may cause a person to stonewall, but not out of manipulation or fear.

Brain Injury

Brain injuries, concussions, imbalance, or disease may significantly affect a person’s behavior, causing them to shut down during difficult communication. It may affect their reaction time and how they interact or make them appear self-centered or manipulative.

Alcohol, Drug Use, or Prescription Medication

When alcohol or drugs are talking or not talking, it may quickly be perceived as stonewalling, as a manipulation tactic. That may or may not be the case.

The short story is that alcohol and substance use alters the brain’s communication pathways, creating difficulties in how the person communicates. Long-term use can actually shrink the brain’s neurons, affecting the person’s ability to communicate effectively or acceptably for the rest of their lives.

Why It is Important to Discover the Reason for Stonewalling

To determine why your stonewaller behaves that way, be careful to identify the right source. The reasons are complex and may even overlap so that there is more than one.

stonewall meaning | stone walls meaning | silent treatment in a relationship
Stonewalling is when a wall goes up between two people, shutting down interaction or communication.

Getting professional counseling or therapy is an excellent way to discover exactly why stonewalling occurs in your communication. You’ll need that information to get the proper help for yourself, the other person, and the relationship.

Here are some reasons you need to discover the cause of stonewalling:

  • To improve and heal the relationship
  • For your own health and wellbeing
  • To improve your communication skills
  • To help the other person overcome their challenges

Negative Ramifications of Being Stonewalled

No matter the reason or source cause of the stonewalling, it can have a negative impact that is far-reaching and detrimental. Understanding the reason helps to figure out ways to stop it or decrease the severity of the ramifications, but you still have to know what the ramifications are.

Just as it is important to know what stonewalling is and the reasons behind it, it is vital to understand the consequences. Stonewalling must be confronted gently to address and adequately resolve it for both people and avoid the negative impact.

If not, it has the potential to:

  • Decrease self-esteem
  • Increase negative self-talk
  • Manifest feelings of abandonment
  • Lower interest in intimacy
  • Create distrust, anger, and resentment
  • Magnify anxiety and depression
  • Cause marital tension
  • Increase isolation, loneliness, and feelings of rejection
  • Cause feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness
  • Create mental health issues, including panic attacks
  • Ignite physical health problems
  • Create over-lapping distractions at work
  • Have a domino effect throughout all aspects of the relationship
  • Increase risks of alcohol and drug abuse
  • Affect children and others connected to the relationship
  • Cause the relationship to end

The following list of 13 Common Examples of Stonewalling in a Relationship will walk you through important aspects of stonewalling you may be experiencing. Then, links to good advice or positive things you can do to improve the situation or how to respond to stonewalling will guide you through the process.

13 Common Examples of Stonewalling in a Relationship

Stonewalling hurts because you’ve established connections, emotions, and expectations for someone you deeply care about or love. When those lines of communication are threatened or severed, it can be devastating and affect you in ways that touch every part of your life.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine if the other person is stonewalling. You may misperceive their behavior as something else or let it slide to avoid conflict. Still, it is helpful to recognize the signs and stonewalling examples to know what to look for in your relationship.

Check out these 13 common stonewalling examples.

Example 1. Silence

Silence and silent treatment are different things. While the silent treatment is a planned tactic to manipulate or punish, silence may only be a response to overwhelmed feelings or emotions.

Silence may also serve as a “cooling down” mechanism to de-escalate hyper-charged tension. The only way to know the difference is to talk about it.

Click here to find ways to counter a silent treatment in your relationship.

Example 2. Body Language for Distance

We’ve all experienced body language indicating a need for distance. When discussing an uncomfortable topic and the other person moves or pushes away from you, covers their ears, or refuses to touch you, they are attempting to distance you.

More than likely, it isn’t you they want to avoid but the topic you want to address. Learning good listening skills can minimize this behavior.

You can improve your listening skills by checking out this link to lessen the need for the stonewaller’s distance.

Example 3. Aggressive Body Language

Aggressive body language is any behavior or movement that suggests frustration or anger. Jerky movements, hand tapping, fist banging, pointing, waving hands, breaking spatial boundaries, eyeball rolling, teeth clenching, staring, and similar behaviors are aggressive.

The best way to disarm the tension is to extend words of understanding calmly. If the situation escalates to the point of danger, immediately remove yourself from the area and call for help.

Check out these anger symptoms and warning signs to understand what you may be dealing with.

Example 4. Lack of Eye Contact

To the stonewaller avoiding eye contact, it may be a method of coping with an uncomfortable topic or situation or a harmless built-in trait. To the stonewallee, it is a sign that they aren’t important or valued.

stonewalling meaning | stonewalling abuse | stonewalled meaning
Stonewalling is the unwillingness to talk about an issue by not talking, avoiding eye contact, walking away, turning away, or acting busy.

It can feel like exclusion in a relationship, but it may not be what it feels like to you. People lack eye contact for many reasons, so you have to look at the bigger picture for an accurate assessment.

This link can help you understand the avoidance attachment in a relationship that stems from a childhood link to the stonewaller’s parents.

Example 5. Walking Away

If a person is stonewalling, walking away from a conversation is the ultimate way to do it. It severs the topic at the neck and indicates that the person will not engage in it at all.

However, there may be other reasons why it happens, including hearing issues, disgust at the topic, disinterest, or distraction. Again, the only way you can know is to talk about it.

These ideas on getting along with difficult people can help you prepare and know how to react the next time your stonewaller decides to walk.

Example 6. Pretending to Be Busy

A stonewaller may pretend to be busy when you are talking to them because they are simply not interested or don’t value your ideas. They may do it to avoid getting deep into a conversation they feel will waste their time or cause tension in the relationship.

Sometimes, people pretend to be busy because they are busy. Other times, they may be dealing with distracting thoughts of their own. It’s worth addressing to learn the real reason.

Look at these core value examples to help you develop better communication skills in your relationship.

Example 7. Deflecting or Turning the Tables or Manipulation

When a stonewaller deflects or turns the tables on you, there is a bigger problem. This is one of the stonewalling examples, which is outright manipulation.

Deflection redirects the conversation at the stonewallee to shut them up, dominate them, diminish them, and punish them. Narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths commonly use it. Your stonewaller may just be angry at the moment, but it’s worth discovering how deep this behavior goes.

Click here to learn more about how manipulation tactics, including deflection, work in your relationship.

Example 8. Changing the Topic

Changing the topic of a conversation is a clear sign that the stonewaller is uncomfortable. They may fear that it leads to another bad subject, disagreement will cause a fight, or they’ve already given their opinion.

Sometimes, people with neurodivergent tendencies, ADHD, or other challenges find it difficult to stay on a topic for long. That’s not manipulative or fear-based; it just is.

Check out these steps to develop mindful communication to improve how you interact with your stonewaller and work with them toward better relationship goals.

Example 9. Finding Excuses

Finding excuses not to interact with you may be a stonewaller’s attempt to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, guilt, shame, or fear. It may also serve as a mechanism to undermine, belittle, or aggravate the stonewallee.

It could be a way to devalue you and your ideas, but it may also be an unintentional nervous reaction to a topic they weren’t expecting or aren’t prepared to deal with. Talk about it calmly and find out.

This explanation of the differences between a toxic relationship and a healthy one will help you understand when finding excuses might be a healthy aspect of communication.

Example 10. Defensiveness

When a stonewaller becomes defensive during a conversation, it usually arises from a sense of fear, rejection, guilt, shame, low self-esteem, or a lack of trust. It is a fear-based emotional reaction to try to right the ship.

Defensiveness may also manifest due to past trauma, mental health challenges, health issues, or feeling trapped or misjudged. There are innumerable reasons. You can ultimately discuss the real reason by disarming the tension with compassion and understanding.

Check out this guide to help you or someone you love to move past trust issues and improve your relationship.

Example 11. Dismissiveness

Among stonewalling examples is that of dismissing your ideas or concerns as invalid. It can look like saying, “I’m fine,” and then silence or demanding that they are always right. They may mock you for your emotions or just walk away in the middle of a dialogue. It may also be a manipulation tool.

long-term effects of stonewalling | gaslighting meaning in relationships | gaslighting meaning
Stonewalling, or the silent treatment as a manipulation tool, is emotional and psychological abuse.

However, dismissiveness may also come from being distracted by other thoughts or emotions. Sometimes, it is just a mistake we all make at some point in our lives. The way to deal with dismissiveness is to talk about it or seek counseling or therapy.

Take a look at these ways to help a stonewaller stop invalidating your feelings.

Example 12. Pretending Not to Hear You or Ignoring You

If a stonewaller pretends not to hear you or ignores you to manipulate you, it is emotional abuse. In this instance, it is meant to punish you or cause you to do whatever they want to stop the conversation.

Then, there are the moments when someone cannot hear or understand you. They may find the topic offensive or uninteresting or undesirable traits in you. Their ignoring you may or may not be intentional, depending on any distractions they may be dealing with. Discuss it with them to find out for sure.

These quotes for when someone is ignoring you are a great way to encourage you through stonewalling.

Example 13. Pretending to Be Ignorant of the Topic

Stonewallers often pretend to be ignorant of a topic in a conversation because they simply don’t want to assume any responsibility.

If they anticipate a request to take on more responsibility, they will act like they don’t know anything about it. The idea is that you’ll take it elsewhere.

The stonewaller may believe that they won’t have to engage in the conversation if you perceive them as being ignorant. It may be a sign of great disrespect, or it may be that they really did just forget. It could even be that they’re surprised by the topic and “freeze up.”

Check out ways to overcome the freeze response here.

Final Thoughts on these Stonewalling Examples

Whatever the reason for stonewalling, the lasting effect can be damaging and detrimental. Only compassionate, understanding, and calm discussion can unravel the web of emotions and feelings and lead to healing.

If you can’t find ways on your own to find improvement and healing in your relationship, get professional counseling or therapy. You are worth the effort.

In the meantime, be sure to check out 5 Levels of Interpersonal Communication: A Detailed Overview.

And if you're looking for more articles about relationships, be sure to check out these blog posts:

Rain Story is an author and screenwriter. She is an alumna of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of New Mexico, and the University of Kentucky. She earned two B.A.s and four years of graduate studies in literature, languages, and creative writing before personal tragedies pulled her away from her graduate work. She is also a Donaghey Scholar and fellow of the William G. Cooper, Jr. Honors Program in English.

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