Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Four Destructive Patterns in Relationships Part II

In our last post we reviewed the four most destructive patterns we can have in relationships:

We outlined Criticism and Contempt in our last post and today we will discuss the next two, which are, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.


Research shows that this approach rarely has the desired effect. The attacking person does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming the other person.

You’re saying, in effect, “The problem isn’t me, it’s you.” Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, which is why it’s so deadly. Criticism, Contempt, and Defensiveness don’t always come into a relationship in order. They function more like a relay match — handing the baton off to each other over and over again, if the couple can’t put a stop to it. The more defensive one becomes, the more the other attacks in response. Nothing gets resolved, thanks to the prevalence of criticism, contempt, and defensiveness.
Much of these exchanges are communicated subtly (and not so subtly) through body language and sounds.

Defensiveness is seeing yourself as the victim and warding off a perceived attack. When people are defensive they are not open to learning and are also not able to access the vulnerable feelings underneath. Some typical defensive responses are:

  • Making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way) “It’s not my fault...”, “I didn’t...”
  • Cross-complaining: meeting a complaint, or criticism with a complaint of your own, ignoring what the other person said.
  • Disagreeing and then cross-complaining “That’s not true, you’re the one who ...”
  • Yes-butting: start off agreeing but end up disagreeing.

When on the defensive, several unfortunate behaviors result. The remedy: stay connected, listen well, realize that the intensity of the attacks indicates the depth of shared pain.

Questions to Ask Yourself :

  • What from of defensiveness do you recognize within yourself: denying responsibility, making excuses, disagreeing with what you imagine they will say, playing one-upmanship with complaints, saying 'yes' followed immediately with 'but,' repeating yourself, or whining?
  • In what situations are you triggered into this behavior?
  • What payoff do you get? Do you feel relieved, justified, vindicated, excused from relating.
  • With whom have you witnessed this from your childhood? What characteristics did that person exhibit and what was the outcome?


During a typical conversation between two people, the listener gives all kinds of cues to the speaker that he’s paying attention. He may use eye contact, nod his head, say something like “Yeah” or “Uh-huh.”

A stonewaller doesn’t give you this sort of casual feedback. He tends to look away or down without uttering a sound. He sits like an impassive stone wall. The stonewaller acts as though he couldn’t care less about what you’re saying, if he even hears it.

Stonewalling usually arrives later in the course of a relationship than the other three horsemen. That’s why it’s less common among newlyweds than among couples who have been in a negative spiral for a while. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable “out.”

Stonewalling is withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. They may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness. Some typical stonewall responses are stony silence, monosyllabic mutterings, changing the subject and removing yourself physically. Stonewalling is considered to be the most “dangerous” of the four horsemen

Think of the husband who comes home from work, gets met with a barrage of criticism from his wife, and hides behind the newspaper. The less responsive he is, the more she yells. Eventually he gets up and leaves the room. Rather than confronting his wife, he disengages. By turning away from her, he is avoiding a fight, but he is also avoiding his marriage. He has become a stonewaller.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • If you have resorted to stonewalling, how quickly do you do so?
  • How do you respond to when you are stonewalling?
  • How do you respond when someone is stonewalling you?
  • Where have you witnessed this before? What were the characteristics of the people involved and what was the outcome of the stonewalling?

Next post we will talk about how to turn these negative patterns around.

" God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think." Ephesians 3:20


Pocahontas hiker said...

Is stonewalling a passive attitude? Type B personalities??!

CoachK said...

I do think some personalities use stonewalling more than others but interestingly men tend to stonewall more than women.

Beverly Walters Whaley said...

Coach K....Awesome post! are really digging deep into relationships! I agree men are more stonewalling then women! Did you come up with that "stonewallin"?? AMAZING GIRL! Keep it coming!

CoachK said...

thanks Bev, glad to see you back - I thought we lost you. :)
No,I didn't come up with it. In a study done by John Gottman he came up with these 4 destructive forces in marriage.