Have you ever been upset about something your partner has done and tried to bring it up to them? Odds are, depending on the severity of the situation and how you and your partner solve problems, it may have ended amicably or it may have become a fight. Most of us think of fighting as an act that’s loud and arguementative, but there’s another, less common way of fighting: silence.
For example, you tell your partner you’re upset and want to talk, and they ignore you… continuing to watch tv or play video games, or leave the room altogether. Or they tell you that they don’t want to talk about it right, now turn up the music in the car, and it never gets brought up again Or, even worse, they tell you, “there’s nothing to talk about,” an invalidating phrase that implies that this is ‘your’ problem, not ‘our’ problem. And that because it’s ‘your’ problem, not ‘our’ problem, we don’t need to discuss it, and it doesn’t matter that it’s making you upset. This absence of communication during an argument or important conversation is a very basic form of stonewalling.
[Definition: When a partner is stonewalling in communication in a romantic relationship, he or she is usually using delaying or stalling tactics, or refusing to answer questions, or doing whatever can be done to hinder or obstruct a discussion, or bluntly refusing to cooperate with partner.]
Stonewalling is a form of verbal abuse, even though nothing is being said. If you’re worried about bringing things up in your relationship because you’re afraid your partner WON’T talk about it with you, it’s probably because this kind of verbal abuse is happening and you may not even realize it. I’ve had lots of teenagers and college students say to me that they’re often confused by their relationship because they don’t “fight” with their partner, but that they avoid talking about problems or issues in their relationship because they can’t get their partner to engage in productive conversation. This behavior is one of the main roots of failure in a relationship. It can also happen when discussing things like bills, employment, important upcoming events that your partner is trying to avoid, or even something as simple as asking someone for a ride. A lot of times you may feel like you ask a question and you never really know where you stand because they won’t give you a straight answer.
This form of verbal abuse is harder to spot and far less obvious, but is nonetheless a way of limiting communication and growth in a relationship. If you’ve had the experience of being stonewalled, or are suddenly realizing this is a problem in you relationship, let us know by calling, texing, live messaging, or emailing in. We’re available to help you make sense of it, listen, and sort it out.
-IH Teen Counselor