Understanding and Overcoming Stonewalling: Why Partners Ignore Each Other and How to Respond

Have you ever been left feeling like you’re talking to a wall? When your partner ignores you, it can be more than just frustrating; it can be deeply damaging to your relationship. This behaviour, known as “stonewalling,” can result in you feeling excluded and isolated. In this post, we’ll look at the causes and underlying psychological reasons why your partner could be acting like this. We’ll also dive into some effective strategies to prevent damaging your relationship further.

Why Is Your Partner Ignoring You?

Ignoring your partner isn’t just a random act—it can often have deep-seated reasons:

Conflict Avoidance

For some people, conflict is overwhelming. Withdrawing can become a defense mechanism so that they can avoid confrontation.

Emotional Overload

If someone feels emotionally taxed it can max out their capacity to engage, causing them to shut down.

Control Dynamics

Sometimes, ignoring is a tactic used to manipulate or control someone else’s emotional responses.

Communication Gaps

If your partner has poor communication skills, this could make them opt for silence over potentially escalating the situation.

I’m Here! The Psychological Impact of Being Ignored

Psychologically, ignoring your partner can be a form of emotional distancing that can stem from their own insecurity or fear of vulnerability. It could also be related to past traumas related to expressing their emotions. Relationship expert John Gottman describes stonewalling as one of the “four horsemen ” of relationship demise. It’s important to recognise the impact it can have on your relationship health over time. 

Why Being Ignored Hurts

There are many reasons why being ignored is frustrating in a relationship. It stops the essential flow of emotions and feelings between partners, which are crucial for a healthy relationship. It also creates uncertainty and insecurity. A lack of response can lead to self-doubt and anxiety about the stability of the relationship’s and your self-esteem. Without addressing these issues openly, problems will remain unresolved. This could potentially lead to even more conflict.

Strategies to Move Past Stonewalling

To avoid falling into patterns of ignoring or stonewalling in your relationship, try some of these approaches:

Develop Communication Skills

Work on your own ability to express your feelings and thoughts constructively.

Emotional Self-Regulation

Try adopting techniques like mindfulness and emotional regulation to better manage your emotional stress. 

Therapeutic Intervention

Consider couples therapy or personal counselling to tackle underlying some of the issues which could lead to withdrawal behaviours.

Building Emotional Resilience

Get involved in activities that strengthen your emotional resilience and can prepare to better deal with relationship stress.

Getting to the root of why your partner might be ignoring you is essential so that you can heal and grow as a couple.  Open communication about the effects of ignoring each other and exploring together ways to improve are important for the longevity of your relationship. By creating an environment of understanding and respect, you’ll be better able to navigate these challenges together as a couple. What strategies have you found helpful in dealing with being ignored in a relationship? Let’s discuss in the comments below!

Written & Reviewed by Cheryl Kennedy MacDonald, Counsellor in Training, in 2024