Too many of us have developed the art of stonewalling. I call it an art because those of us who do it have typically crafted the skill with our own twist. It’s the technique we use to shut out any person or situation that might be a threat to our sense of self. It is usually triggered by shame, embarrassment, feeling insulted or even by our own guilt. When the threat is present, we learn to stack bricks fast and create an impervious wall that effectively preserves our sense of self. Nothing can get in that would hurt us. The reverse is true too of course; we also can’t get out very easily. By ‘get out’ I mean, we cannot do empathy.

Self-preservation is the archenemy of empathy.

When we get into that stonewall mode where we ignore and get short with other people, we do more damage than we realize. This is especially true for men trying to restore a relationship damaged by sexual betrayal. In the space where you’re on one side of the wall and your wife is on the other, usually every old trigger is going to be activated. While you’re giving her the cold-shoulder she is going to be wondering what you’re doing, when you last acted out, who with, what else you’re lying about, etc. Trust begins to dwindle, worst case scenarios play in a wife’s mind and she’ll begin to shut down.

In the end you’re going to be left with one ugly stack of bricks. If this is you let me suggest 4 things to do instead of stonewall:
1 – Recognize that you are triggered and that stonewalling is only medicating the emotions. It is very similar to acting out sexually; it numbs the negative emotions for a short while. But afterwards, just like acting out sexually, we typically feel guilt and shame for behaving that way.

2 – Process the emotions that trigger you with an accountability partner. You should be able to vent and talk about how you’re experiencing the emotions. You ought to be able to share how you want to shut down and stonewall, while asking for confirmation of your decision not to.

3 – Work with a counselor to figure out what, if anything, is at the root of your stonewalling. Most guys didn’t hone the craft recently. They developed it over years and maybe even learned it in their family of origin.

4 – If you’re married, keep your wife in the know while you take space to process. If you insist on putting up a wall, at least leave a couple bricks out at eye-level so she doesn’t have to wonder what’s going on over there. Let her know that you’re choosing to talk to an accountability partner, reassure her of your commitment to integrity, and give an estimation of when you’ll be able to re-engage.

8 thoughts on “Stonewalling

  1. I love this article. I finally will not take it so personally when my husband acts out this way. Sadly for me, he still will not even admit he’s addicted to serial affairs and inappropriate contact with the opposite sex. Thanks to my new life family, I am living my life and thriving despite my husband’s unrepentant heart. God bless you.

    • I would LOVE to get to where you are. My husband is interchangeable with yours & still lies to my face when he’s caught or questioned about his actions. I KNOW who he is, yet each time I catch him, I go through the entire spectrum of emotions over & over again. How do I get off of this merry go round of infidelity & pain?

      • Wow!!!!! I’m in the sameone too. I’m done trying, it tears me apart of how a stonewaller dose not see the hurt that they conflict on us, we work hard everyday come home to this, my thing is that if you love someone act it,except responsibility for love that you say have for me!!!!!!

  2. I appreciate this article. All I can add is this: Read “Worthy of Her Trust” and you will find many ways to win back her heart with honesty, genuineness, determination, perseverance, and understanding. Listen to her.

  3. Your post is very timely Jason. I just spent two days “stone walled” (I may have left a brick or two out… maybe). I was triggered by one of my wife’s tirades. More correctly I asked her after the tirade if she actually hated me for what I had done to her with years of betrayal (I’ve been porn free for 2-1/2 years but just did the fullest full disclosure 2-1/2 months ago).

    Now understand, I invited her to confess. She said when she is having flashbacks that she did hate me. I immediately felt hurt and hopeless. I was reminded of my childhood and being hated by my parents (mostly passively) and the continuation of the pattern left me desolate (never mind that I was killing my wife with the 20 years of porn and an attempted affair). I chose to protect myself. I felt I could either go very depressed (I have quite a history choosing this method) or I could become distant and philosophical. I chose option B this time.

    I pushed away approaches from my wife and undermined the presuppositions that her arguments rested on. I even went so far as to openly doubt the existence of God’s love. Not even He was going to be allowed to crack the wall. I was hurt… all of my life… it was somebody’s fault… probably God’s.

    I am convinced that there is a thirteen year old inside me and his poor coping skills take over in times of stress. Thanks for the tips on how to stop this before momentum takes over. This is currently my biggest struggle and in fact it is the biggest in our marriage. Through this immature self soothing I keep destroying the trust I have worked to build.

  4. I read this blog when it was posted and thought, “Oh that’s nice for some other guy. I have been to EMB, am in counseling and talk with my wife regularly now”. Then just last night I realized that for the past 10 days this was ME. I was hurt and scared by my wife’s pain when after three months of my disclosure she finally accepted/realized that I was an initiator at least as much as the woman involved. Before she had coped with my disclosure allowing herself to believe that in some part I was a victim of a woman who pursued me.

    It was not by accident I find myself reading this again today. It is a reminder that I need to always be vigilant and working to be better. Thank you again for the post.

  5. Well, I think all your suggestions and insight is wonderful. It just does not apply to my spouse. We have been through everything. We attended Celebrate Recovery for several years. He attended Avenues for three years. We have been to see Dr. Doug Weiss in Colorado and Dr. Harry Schumberg also. None of this made any difference with my spouse. He still wants what he wants and will untile the day he dies. It is sooo sad.

  6. My husband does the same thing and the funny thing about this time (I am going through an active stonewalling session) I got upset because he did not keep his word about something and he twisted it and now he is not talking to me. It’s been two weeks to the date and honestly when he is not in the mist of this he claims he “loves” me but this right now feels like straight up hate

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