My Account

Self-Care: Stonewalling Part I

Next time you sense yourself reaching boiling point, know that it’s time to take yourself off the flame.
Ellie Lisitsa

Share this post:

Here we’ll tackle the final of Dr. Gottman’s horsemen in our series on The Four Horsemen and Self-Care. Welcome to stonewalling.

Stonewalling occurs when one partner withdraws from an interaction. They stop responding, shut down, and close them selves off from the other. The stonewalling partner, feeling overwhelmed by a fight or conflict discussion, may engage in evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or partaking in obsessive behaviors. Anything goes, really. Anything that allows for that sweet feeling of escape.

That feeling of escape is, of course, short-lived, and ultimately followed by even greater strife.

It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable “out,” but when it does, it frequently becomes a habit – a habit as destructive as it is natural.

We all know how completely infuriating and painful it can be to try to communicate with someone who is stonewalling.

When we’re trying to share a hurt or ask for help in confronting a persistent problem, only to realize that the “listener” is pretending we aren’t there, we’re likely to feel discouraged. In fact, we’re likely to become so discouraged – or upset, or angry – that we psychologically and emotionally “check out” as well.

How can we end this vicious cycle? It’s actually pretty straightforward:

Next time you sense yourself reaching boiling point (that feeling of a kettle whistling inside of you, steam ready to come out of your ears), know that it’s time to take yourself off the flame. The same goes for your partner.

1.  The first part of the antidote to experiencing this unpleasantness is to STOP the discussion. Let each other know when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and say that you need to take a break. Attempts to continue will not make productive headway for either of you, but rather will intensify your shared conflict and emotional distress.*

2.  The second step is to practice physiological self soothing – for at least twenty minutes, since it will take that much time for your bodies to physiologically calm down.**

By practicing these two steps and liberally applying mindfulness to your interactions, you can greatly reduce the damage of this kind of chronic stress to your relationship – and save yourself and your partner from going nuts.

Sound promising? Read on. This post is devoted to some scientific specifics from Dr. Gottman’s research.

* In one of our longitudinal research studies, we interrupted arguing couples after fifteen minutes and told them we needed to adjust the equipment. We asked them not to talk about their issue, but just to read magazines for half an hour. When they started talking about their issue again, their heart rates were significantly lower and their interaction more positive and productive.

** According to Dr. Gottman, “the major sympathetic neurotransmitter norepinephrine doesn’t have an enzyme to degrade it so it has to be diffused through blood… this takes twenty minutes or more in the cardiovascular system.”

Share this post:

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

Recommended products

Original price was: $250.00.Current price is: $199.00.

Transform Your Relationship

The Gottman Relationship Adviser is a complete approach to relationship wellness. Measure your relationship health with the research-based Gottman Assessment, analyze five key areas of your partnership to identify your strengths and weaknesses, then start a tailored, step-by-step digital program proven to heal and strengthen your connection—all on your schedule and from anywhere.

The Adviser uses the legendary scientific Gottman Method to help you understand what’s really going on in your relationship—and gives you exactly what you need to improve it.

Original price was: $119.00.Current price is: $79.00.

Research-based Foundations for a Lifetime of Love.  The Gottman Relationship Coach is an inspiring and educational multimedia experience designed to enhance the well-being of relationships. Participants will be guided through research-based tools and communication skills that can transform relationships—all based on the popular Gottman Method. The first program, “How to Make Your Relationship Work”, is now available and includes:

  • The Gottman Method and How to Make Your Relationship Work
  • How do we predict the future of a relationship?
  • How to build a Sound Relationship House
  • What to do when the destructive Four Horsemen enter your relationship

“Buy Now” will take you to GOTTMAN CONNECT to purchase and view this product.


Created by “the Einstein of Love” (Psychology Today), this two-day workshop is grounded on what actually works in relationships that are happy and stable. See for yourself why millions of couples worldwide have benefited from the Gottman Method.

Quote from participant in most recent Live Virtual Workshop:

The Art and Science of Love workshop- where do I begin? It was an absolute stellar workshop. We were looking forward to this for weeks, and it exceeded our expectations! It was well-structured, and well-organized, and provided a wealth of information with real-time demonstrations of how to work through specific scenarios. The outstanding support that was provided throughout the exercises with therapists on standby- WOW! Priceless!

Includes the Art & Science of Love box set.  Please allow time for shipping.  Please Note: This is a live online event. To attend, you will need a reliable internet connection. Our staff will reach out to you with your personal registration and access information.

Related posts

Couple walking

Self-Care: Cherishing Yourself And Your Relationship

Ellie Lisitsa

These are ideas that can keep you and your relationship from being overwhelmed in daily life. ...

Read More

Stonewalling vs. The Silent Treatment

Stonewalling vs The Silent Treatment: Are They The Same?

Kari Rusnak

What’s the difference between stonewalling and the silent treatment? ...

Read More

Do I Need to Heal Before I Date Again

The Truth about Boundaries

Nicole Schiener

Setting and maintaining boundaries protects your peace and so much more. ...

Read More

Permission to Come Home: Play as Medicine

Permission to Come Home: Play as Medicine

Jenny Wang

Can you allow yourself to introduce play as a healing practice? ...

Read More

Brene Brown Atlas of the Heart

Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart: Defensiveness and Flooding

The Gottman Institute

From her latest book, Brené discusses these core Gottman Method concepts ...

Read More

photo of couple arguing

‘It’s Not My Fault!’: Why Defensiveness is Damaging

Cheryl Fraser

Don’t get defensive. Do this instead. ...

Read More

Subscribe to Gottman Love Notes

Sign up and start your relationship transformation. Subscribe and get the latest on relationships, therapy, and much more from the experts. Includes a free download and access to special pricing on Gottman products every month