Stonewalling and No Contact

How to build healthy boundaries is a common conversation in therapy. As is the query of if one should continue in a relationship with others in their lives such as family members, friends, work colleagues, and significant others. The term “going no contact” is very popular in social media and I hear it often within therapeutic conversations. The person may say that they simply stopped talking to someone. In further discussion it is often revealed that the goal of this tactic is not to create distance and end the relationship, but rather in hopes that the other person will miss them or reach out to reconcile. Additionally, the individual is often still angry or ruminating about the other person in unhealthy ways. In these cases, the person is actually engaging in something called Stonewalling, as opposed to what is psychosocially considered going no contact. 

John and Julie Gottman are the leading experts in relationships, and they identified the term Stonewalling. It is one of the key concepts in what they call the Four Horsemen: Stonewalling, Criticism, Defensiveness, and Contempt. According to the Gottman’s, continued use of these strategies is predictive of the end of relationships. If this is of interest to you, you can learn more at gottman. com. Stonewalling in particular is akin to the silent treatment and is often used when a person becomes overwhelmed and psychologically shuts down. It is also often used to hurt the other person as it ends all forms of communication without indicating an interest in repairing the rupture of the relationship, or ending it, in healthy ways. 

The concept of going no contact originally came out of safety planning for leaving abusive relationships. It is now a common practice for the end of many relationships. When used in safety it is a way of 
helping a person who has been abused to remove themselves from danger and from interacting with the person who has caused them harm. It also allows the person to heal from their experiences without continued exposure, which can trigger further trauma. No contact can also be used in non-abusive relationships to help us heal from difficult relationships. The key with this idea though is that no further communication is desired and ideally the person initiating no contact will work on their own issues in the relationship in order to healthily move on with their life. 

Understanding the difference between these two practices can be confusing. You can ask yourself though the purpose of your actions, is it to cause pain or hurt to the other person, or in hopes that they reach back out to you? If the answer is yes, this is stonewalling. If on the other hand you are making a conscious decision to protect yourself and your mental health with no desire for the other person to reach out to you, you are going no contact. It is important to know the difference as one is for your safety and is used to help yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. The other is focused on how you impact the other person and is considered unhealthy.

We are not required to maintain unhealthy relationships, not even with family. Healthy boundaries can be used to keep someone we love in our lives. When these boundaries are crossed repeatedly, we may choose to end the relationship. There are many emotions involved in this process. Prior to making this difficult decision it can be helpful to speak to a mental health professional who can help you process these emotions and provide support as you develop a plan forward. 

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources in your community.

Photo by Vanessa Croome