Growth Marriage podcast

Stonewalling: The 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse

0:00
13:26
Rewind 15 seconds
Fast Forward 15 seconds
Stonewalling is the 4th of the Four Horsemen of the Marriage Apocalypse. Here’s where you can catch the past installments that cover Criticism, Defensiveness, and Contempt. Stonewalling is when you shut down, and completely tune your partner out. You act like you couldn’t care less about what they’re saying. Men are famous for doing this. Statistics show that 85% of the time, the stonewaller is the man in the relationship.  It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that this is a conscious, antagonistic behavior men use to just push their partner’s buttons… but the reality is that Stonewalling is a natural reaction to emotional flooding - the feeling of complete overwhelm, and powerlessness to stop the emotional tidal wave. It’s essentially a human’s way of playing dead in the hopes that a predator will give up the fight. Here’s one of the best examples we’ve ever seen of stonewalling in a movie: If you’re ever upset at your partner and they get that 1,000 yard stare on their face, that’s a sign that they’re stonewalling. You can also check their body language for signs of stonewalling. If they’re turning away from you. If they’re making their body smaller by hunching over, or crossing their arms. Or if they’re noticeably avoiding eye contact, they might be feeling flooded and “playing dead.” When interviewed, people who stonewall often say that they’re just trying calm down and not to make the situation worse. But despite the good intentions, stonewalling sends a loud message that you just don’t care. You’re checked out. If you notice your partner doing this, it’s time to stop the conversation. Your partner will need some time to breathe, calm their nerves, get their adrenaline levels and heart rate down, and reset. It would be helpful to have a conversation with them about what triggered the emotional flooding. Was it the topic? Was it the tone of the conversation? Was it the words that were used? Identify what you can do together to have conflict conversations that don’t lead to emotional flooding and emotional shut-downs. If you are prone to stonewalling, you can develop the skill of self-soothing. Learning how to breathe, relax, calm your thoughts and lower your heart rate in stressful moments will have a huge payoff for you. Some people like to go for walks when they notice they are feeling emotionally flooded. Some people listen to music, or work out. Some people just need to take a few minutes to meditate or breathe. Learning to identify when you’re feeling flooded, and calm yourself quickly is a skill that will truly help your marriage in amazing ways. How To Apply What You’ve Learned: If you’ve noticed that stonewalling has been a problem in your relationship, have a conversation about what causes the emotional flooding, how to prevent it, and create a plan you can follow when it happens in the future. Get specific with your plan. Come up with a safeword you can use or a script you can follow. Setting clear rules about how to handle situations like this, then keeping the rules, will prevent the 4th Horseman from ever threatening your relationship.

More episodes from "Growth Marriage"

  • Growth Marriage podcast

    How To Know If You Need Couples Therapy

    7:35

    In today's episode, we're going to talk about how to know whether or not you need couples therapy Nearly every day. I get somebody reaching out to me asking if I know a good therapist, if they need therapy, or what they should do if their partner doesn't want to go to therapy, how is their marriage going to get better? Now I want to start off by saying that I'm a firm believer that everybody could benefit from a really good therapist. But therapy isn't always a good fit for everyone...
  • Growth Marriage podcast

    How To Save A Marriage Dying Of Busy-ness

    12:09

    “Busy-ness is the enemy of love.” I see this play out in relationships every day. People fill their lives with commitments. Piano lessons, dance classes, football practice, summer camp, PTA meetings, service projects, book clubs, high-demand jobs, zoom calls, credit card debt, mortgages they can't afford... They run around frantic and exhausted telling everyone that they're just so busy, and that life is so stressful. Sometimes they even wear it like a badge of honor... as if living life on the verge of a meltdown is honorable.
  • Growth Marriage podcast

    Don't miss an episode of Growth Marriage and subscribe to it in the GetPodcast app.

    iOS buttonAndroid button
  • Growth Marriage podcast

    Your Anxiety Is Keeping You From Getting The Love You Want

    3:49

    Ultimately, we can't have connection with our partner unless we feel safe. Yet often the things that we do to make ourselves feel safe are the things that push our partner farther away. Like storming out of the room in the middle of an argument. Or gossiping to other people, when you need validation that you're right and your partner's wrong. Or emotionally shutting down and withdrawing, when you feel blamed, judged, or like you've screwed up. It kind of makes love feel like this Catch 22. You can have safety at the expense of connection, or you can have connection at the expense of safety.
  • Growth Marriage podcast

    Why Most Relationships Get Worse Over Time

    5:23

    Dr. Gottman said, "Like the second law of thermodynamics, which says that in a closed energy system, things tend to run down and get less orderly. The same seems to be true of closed relationships like marriages. My guess is that if you do nothing to make things better in your marriage, but not do anything wrong, the marriage will still tend to get worse over time." Essentially what he's saying here is if you want to overcome this natural drift that will pull you apart over time, you have to do more than just not screw things up...
  • Growth Marriage podcast

    My Wife Doesn't Want To Have Sex... What Do I Do?

    34:34

    My wife does not have seem to want sex, and she never initiate sex. I'm at a loss here. I work hard. I try to help her around the house. I flirt with her she's okay snuggling or kissing, but the moment she feels or the things are moving towards sex she shuts down. She says that I don't give her enough space to initiate. So I back off and then I wait and I wait and then nothing ever happens. Then I feel sad, grumpy, withdrawn, and rejected. When I bring this up to my wife, she gets frustrated saying that I'm in charge of my own body. And if I want something I should ask for initiate and initiate it myself, having sex less than once a week, isn't enough for me. I'm starting to feel resentful. I'm reluctant to initiate because I'm tired of facing the rejection. What do I do?
  • Growth Marriage podcast

    How to Recover From a Betrayal of Trust

    11:38

    Mira Kirshenbaum defines betrayal as, "When someone does something that breaks a fundamental promise, or violates a fundamental expectation and does so in a way that significantly hurts your peace of mind." In her book, "I Love You, But I Don't Trust You" she states that between 40 and 70% of couples know they have significant problems with trust. And at least 90% of couples will have a crisis of trust at some point. So... how do you recover when you've experienced a betrayal? What should you do to restore trust after you've been hurt? Can your marriage survive after a betrayal? Will it ever be the same again?
  • Growth Marriage podcast

    How to stop over-functioning and start enjoying life with Dr. Kathleen Smith

    1:46:29

    I didn’t even realize how much anxiety was subtly wrecking my relationship until I read Dr. Kathleen Smith’s book, . Dr. Smith’s book helped me realize that I’ve developed extremely effective anxiety coping mechanisms that kept me confronting my insecurities and weaknesses head-on. There are two problems with this. First, anxiety typically precedes growth. And if I can’t learn to face my anxieties head-on, I will never get the lessons or enjoy the growth that lives on the other side. Second, the things that make us anxious don’t magically go away if we pretend they don’t exist. If all we do is avoid what makes us anxious (consciously or unconsciously), we’re just allowing our problems to compound. Dr. Smith lays out five different coping strategies that we all rely on to avoid feeling anxious in our relationships:   #1 Relationship Triangles Every relationship triangle (or drama triangle) consists of 3 people: The persecutor, the rescuer, and the victim. Whenever you feel anxious, hurt, betrayed, or offended by another person, we often turn ourselves into the victim. The person who wronged us, judged us, or criticized us becomes the persecutor. And the person we vent to, or gossip with becomes the rescuer. We use the rescuer to give us validation, affirmation, and make us feel like we are good and right and justified, while the persecutor is bad, and wrong, and irrational. Relationship triangles typically involve gossiping, venting, scapegoating, criticizing, and blaming others for our pain or unfortunate circumstances. It’s a great way to avoid dealing with an issue head on – by simply having a conversation with the person who hurt you.   #2 Overfunctioning Overfunctioners are famous for saying things like, “If I don’t do it, it’ll never get done.” Or, “If you want it done right, you’d better do it yourself.” People slip into overfunctioning for what often seems to be altruistic or selfless reasons. “I don’t want my daughter to fail math and not get into college… so I’ll just help him with his homework.” “I don’t want my husband to die of heart disease, so I’ll wake up early and make him a healthy lunch every day.” “I don’t want the Christmas party to flop, so I’ll just plan it myself again this year.” Overfunctioners take on too much responsibility because it makes them anxious to leave the fate of something important in someone else’s hands. It also feels really good (temporarily) to be the person EVERYONE relies on. The linchpin. The go-to guy. But eventually the Overfunctioning takes its toll. You start to get worn out and resentful. You start to say things like, “Why am I the only one who cares?” Or, “Why can’t someone else make a decision for once?” What you don’t realize is that your controlling nature has trained everyone that you’ll take care of everything for them. They don’t need to put in any effort, because you’ll always swoop in at the last minute to save the day. Overfunctioners are famous for always wanting to be in charge, constantly giving unsolicited advice, and needing constant reassurance (or being constantly reassuring).   #3 Underfunctioning Underfunctioning is the opposite of overfunctioning. When underfunctioners feel stressed, they shut down, withdraw, and hide. They beat up on themselves for always being a disappointment, letting others down, and failing at their goals. They live in a state of shame and self-loathing. They commit to things, then stop responding to you when you need an update. They ghost you when they let you down rather than having a conversation about it. Underfunctioners are masters of acting helpless, relying on the reassurance of others, avoiding confrontation, and always letting other people make decisions.   #4 Conflict Many people use conflict as a way to avoid anxiety.  I know it might sound weird considering conflict can actually cause anxiety, but conflict can actually be a great way to avoid the things that make us most uncomfortable. For example, when someone points out one of your flaws or something you’re insecure about…  You could get curious about it, own up to it, laugh about it, or work on it. Or… you could get incredibly defensive, act offended,  pick a fight, and make a scene. We use conflict to avoid staring in the mirror. We intentionally escalate difficult conversations so the conversation will end. Being dramatic, defensive, focusing on the flaws of others, pointing out how other people are the problem, and insisting that other people change are classic strategies for people who use conflict to avoid anxiety.   #5 Distance The last coping strategy for anxiety is creating distance. Sometimes the distance is physical… but most often it’s emotional. Distancers are great at avoiding controversial topics and keeping conversation superficial. They use snark and sarcasm so that nobody ever takes them seriously. They numb out with substances like drugs and alcohol, or activities like video games, social media apps, or trashy reality TV. Distancers don’t want to get overly attached or involved with anyone. They keep themselves at a safe distance. They reject compliments. They bail at the last minute. Closeness makes them anxious, so they keep the world at arm’s length.   Which Strategy Do You Use? So, which of these 5 strategies do you turn to when you’re feeling anxious? How are these coping mechanisms keeping you from connecting with those around you? How are you preventing your own development and personal growth? Ultimately, anxiety can be one of our greatest teachers. It can be the gateway to self-understanding,  intimacy, trust, and empathy. But we only get the benefits if we stop running from it, and ask it what it’s trying to teach us. For more on learning to manage your anxiety, check my hour-long interview with Dr. Smith here.
  • Growth Marriage podcast

    Stonewalling: The 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse

    13:26

    Stonewalling is the 4th of the Four Horsemen of the Marriage Apocalypse. Here’s where you can catch the past installments that cover Criticism, Defensiveness, and Contempt. Stonewalling is when you shut down, and completely tune your partner out. You act like you couldn’t care less about what they’re saying. Men are famous for doing this. Statistics show that 85% of the time, the stonewaller is the man in the relationship.  It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that this is a conscious, antagonistic behavior men use to just push their partner’s buttons… but the reality is that Stonewalling is a natural reaction to emotional flooding - the feeling of complete overwhelm, and powerlessness to stop the emotional tidal wave. It’s essentially a human’s way of playing dead in the hopes that a predator will give up the fight. Here’s one of the best examples we’ve ever seen of stonewalling in a movie: If you’re ever upset at your partner and they get that 1,000 yard stare on their face, that’s a sign that they’re stonewalling. You can also check their body language for signs of stonewalling. If they’re turning away from you. If they’re making their body smaller by hunching over, or crossing their arms. Or if they’re noticeably avoiding eye contact, they might be feeling flooded and “playing dead.” When interviewed, people who stonewall often say that they’re just trying calm down and not to make the situation worse. But despite the good intentions, stonewalling sends a loud message that you just don’t care. You’re checked out. If you notice your partner doing this, it’s time to stop the conversation. Your partner will need some time to breathe, calm their nerves, get their adrenaline levels and heart rate down, and reset. It would be helpful to have a conversation with them about what triggered the emotional flooding. Was it the topic? Was it the tone of the conversation? Was it the words that were used? Identify what you can do together to have conflict conversations that don’t lead to emotional flooding and emotional shut-downs. If you are prone to stonewalling, you can develop the skill of self-soothing. Learning how to breathe, relax, calm your thoughts and lower your heart rate in stressful moments will have a huge payoff for you. Some people like to go for walks when they notice they are feeling emotionally flooded. Some people listen to music, or work out. Some people just need to take a few minutes to meditate or breathe. Learning to identify when you’re feeling flooded, and calm yourself quickly is a skill that will truly help your marriage in amazing ways. How To Apply What You’ve Learned: If you’ve noticed that stonewalling has been a problem in your relationship, have a conversation about what causes the emotional flooding, how to prevent it, and create a plan you can follow when it happens in the future. Get specific with your plan. Come up with a safeword you can use or a script you can follow. Setting clear rules about how to handle situations like this, then keeping the rules, will prevent the 4th Horseman from ever threatening your relationship.
  • Growth Marriage podcast

    Contempt: The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse

    12:03

    Today we’re going to talk about the 3nd Horseman of the Marriage Apocalypse… contempt. Click here if you want to learn about the first or second horsemen. Dr. Gottman calls contempt the sulfuric acid of love. Needless to say, contempt is frickin’ dangerous if it’s present in your relationship. So pay attention to this post, because I’m going to teach you how to deal with contempt when it shows up, and then set up protections to prevent it from ever creeping back in! Contempt is dangerous because it robs the relationship of equality and mutual respect.  When a partner is acting out of contempt, they are putting themselves above the other person. Contempt is making yourself smart, and your partner an idiot. It’s making yourself right, and your partner a moron for even thinking they could be right. It’s making yourself the good one, or clean one, or punctual one, or considerate one, or helpful one, or thoughtful one... and then making your partner the wrongest, messiest, most inconsiderate and least helpful person around. Contempt is putting yourself above your partner. It’s making them feel small, unimportant or less-than in some way.  A typical sign that you’re being contemptuous is if you’re using weapons like name-calling, swearing, belittling, demeaning comments, mocking, or eye-rolling to get your way or prove a point. Contempt is usually caused by the buildup of frustration and resentment over time. It creeps into the relationship slowly, then explodes and does serious damage. Nothing will destroy your relationship faster than contemptuous behavior. Preventing Contempt If you want to prevent yourself from falling into the contempt trap, the best thing you can do is learn to practice constant, sincere gratitude.  Fill your relationship with appreciation! Gratitude connects, where contempt drives you and your partner apart. Gratitude fosters empathy which puts you and your partner on equal footing. Contempt puts one partner above another. Gratitude makes you appreciate all the wonderful things about your partner. Contempt makes you focus on all of your partner’s faults. If you want to protect your relationship from contempt, practice gratitude constantly. If You’re the Recipient of Contempt If you’re the recipient of contempt, here are some things you can do: First: Call it out for what it is. Say something like, “The way you’re talking to me is hurtful. It’s not ok.” Next: Take a break “I’m going to go take a walk. We can revisit this when I come back.” Then: Have a conversation about the conversation After taking a break, and before diving back into the conflict conversation, have a chat about how to more effectively have the conversation.  Ask each other questions like:  “What is the ideal outcome of this conversation?  What did I do when we talked the last time that contributed to it going poorly?  What can I do next time to ensure we don’t lose our tempers, or fall into the trap of contempt again?” If you can take some time to reflect on the mistakes you make as a couple that invite contempt into your relationship, you can take steps to prevent it from happening again. If contempt is a part of your everyday life, I highly recommend seeking out a good couples therapist - to help you overcome these dangerous and harmful habits. How To Apply What You’ve Learned: Since the best antidote to contempt is gratitude, set a gratitude goal for yourself for this week. How are you going to practice gratitude daily? How can you switch from contempt to gratitude when you’re feeling emotionally revved up? How can you use gratitude to help you with gentle start-ups when you have a complaint you want to address?
  • Growth Marriage podcast

    Defeating Defensiveness: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

    19:10

    Defensiveness is the second of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It typically shows up right on the heels of the first horseman: Criticism. (.) Defensiveness is the trap my wife and I fall into most often. Defensiveness is always an attempt to protect yourself  from a perceived attack. A defensive response usually implies, “The problem isn’t me… it’s you!” Defensiveness shows up in two different ways: Cross-complaining, and playing the innocent victim. Here’s an example things of how things unfold when criticism and the cross-complaining form of defensiveness are in the picture: “Would you clean up your dirty laundry, you always leave such a mess!” (Criticism) “Oh yeah? Well what about all your dishes down in the sink, and our filthy car that you always leave your junk in?” (Defensiveness) “Don’t even get me started on junk. I can barely even walk through the garage without tripping over one of your tools.” (Even more defensiveness…) See how that works? Let me rephrase that. See how that doesn’t work? The other way to be defensive is to whine or play the role of the innocent victim. This may include statements like, “You’re always picking on me,” or “I guess I just can’t do anything right.”  Most of the time, phrases like this are used in an attempt to score pity points, or get validation from your partner while taking the focus off of the problem.  Defensiveness can send you into a nasty endless spiral. It’s always about avoiding taking responsibility and shifting the blame to someone else. Defensiveness will turn your marriage into a conflict dumpster fire. The masters of marriage know how to combat defensiveness. They do it by taking responsibility for at least some part of the problem. Here’s an example: Jane called Andy at noon and asked him what time he’d be home from work so she could plan what time to start cooking dinner in order to have the whole family eat together. He told her he’d be home by 5:30, 5:45 at the latest. Then, right before 5:00, Andy’s boss came into his office and dropped a big, last-minute project on him. It was the difference between keeping a big client and losing them. Andy jumped into the project hoping that if he worked fast enough he wouldn’t be too late. He lost track of time, and at 5:50 his phone rang. It was Jane. She was wondering if he was almost home. “Actually,” Andy said. “I haven’t left yet. My boss gave me a big project at the last minute.” Jane was obviously hurt and frustrated. “Why didn’t you call and tell me?” “I didn’t even think about it. It’s just been crazy here this afternoon.” “Too crazy to even text me?” She snapped. “Look, I’ve been working hard all day to provide for the family. Give me a break. It’s not like I can just tell my boss ‘No.’” You know where this conversation is going… absolutely nowhere. And neither partner is going to walk away feeling good. On the other hand, what if the conversation went like this: We’ll start over in the middle… Andy looks at his phone and it’s his wife calling... “What, was work so crazy that you couldn’t even text me?” Jane snapped. “Actually, no probably not.” Andy said, “I’m sorry. Yeah this is a big, last-minute project, but still I should have called. I dropped the ball big time on this one. That was really inconsiderate on my part.” Jane heard the remorse in Andy’s voice. She knew he knew he’d screwed up. “It’s ok honey, I understand. My feelings are hurt, but I’ll get over it. When can I expect you home?” “I should be out the door in 30 minutes. I’ll set a timer as soon as I hang up the phone with you. And I’ll talk to my boss tomorrow about cutting out early from work on Friday. I’ll plan a date, and book a sitter to make up for blowing family dinner tonight. I love you, babe.” “Love you too, honey.” Taking responsibility deescalates tension, and gets rid of any reason for defensiveness. It opens the doors to connection, empathy, teamwork, and understanding. Sometimes it’s really hard to take responsibility. Especially in the moments where you feel convinced that you’ve done nothing wrong. Maybe you feel like the one who’s been hurt. Some of the most difficult times in your relationship will be when both you and your partner are feeling hurt and defensive. Your defensiveness will start spiraling out of control and your emotions will ricochet off each other. These are the times where you have to dig deep. Despite your hurt, you have to take ownership. Even if it’s small. Something like, “Yeah, I could have said that better.” Or, “I can see how I could have come across as being a jerk when I acted that way.” In the moment, it sucks to be the one who takes responsibility first. But you’ll quickly find that once you’re willing to own up to your part in a conflict, your partner will often soften and reciprocate.  That’s when the magic happens. Suddenly you start moving closer together and connecting instead of being driven apart. Your conflict has magically turned into connection. Now, Let’s Apply This Everyone is defensive from time to time. Sometimes we cross-complain. Sometimes we make ourselves the innocent victim.  Think of a disagreement or conflict you’ve had recently. Maybe it’s with your partner, or your boss, your child, or a friend. How did defensiveness show up in that conversation? What could you have taken responsibility for instead of making excuses or deflecting the responsibility to someone or something else?

Get the whole world of podcasts with the free GetPodcast app.

Subscribe to your favorite podcasts, listen to episodes offline and get thrilling recommendations.

iOS buttonAndroid button