Here’s more on the topic of helping couples manage clutter in a shared space using the wisdom of relationship researcher, John Gottman. This time we explore stonewalling and its antidote.
The other 3 culprits we’ve looked at are criticism, contempt, and defensiveness. Stonewalling happens when a person gets so overwhelmed – flooded – by the negativity of an interaction that they shut down. Rather than continue to confront the situation, they disengage completely- becoming unreachable.
Stonewalling is a reaction to escalating negativity. Stonewalling includes not making eye contact, not responding verbally or physically; giving someone the cold shoulder. The shutting down and turning away is a natural protective response to feeling flooded.
Example: Messy Bedroom
Partner 1: You never put your clothes away. I’m so sick of having to walk around your stuff all the time. Why do you have to be so messy all the time? (Criticism)
Partner 2: “I’m not the one who leaves my shoes all over the place. You’re always blaming me for everything” (Defensiveness)
Partner 1: “I can’t believe I’m married to someone who lives like this. You’ve been a mess ever since I met you! What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you get it together?” (Contempt)
Partner 2: Turns away, picks up their laptop and starts doing some project even as Partner 1 continues to try and talk to them. Everything about their body language says, “I don’t hear you and I’m not listening to you.” (Stonewalling)
Antidotes: Timeouts and Self-Soothing Activities
It is important to remove oneself from the interaction, take a timeout and do some self care in order to calm the flooding response. It helps for the overwhelmed person to state, “I’m overwhelmed, I need a timeout.” Take a walk, listening to music, going into a quiet room – anything that lets your body reset and allow you to come back to the interaction with a calmer perspective.
The combination and interplay of criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling are destructive to genuine communication and problem solving. Building awareness of these patterns can lead to healthy interactions and…eventually, to harmoniously organized homes.