I hate conflict. I don’t mind standing up against injustice on behalf of someone else but I hate hate hate conflict in my relationships. One way I used to try to avoid conflict without actually resolving anything was to practice stonewalling. Stonewalling is when we avoid conflict while communicating disapproval, distance and separation by withdrawing from a relationship. Some call it giving someone the “cold shoulder”. It’s fighting dirty because you do not give resolution a chance.
It’s also a bit cowardly. If called out on it, we can always tell the person that they are crazy (which is called gaslighting by the way) and that we are not withdrawn, just tired or stressed out. If we really work at this we can blame a whole bunch of people with an elaborate story that hides the truth of our own culpability - we are scared of conflict but we still want our pound of flesh.
Surprisingly, I did not learn how to reduce my stonewalling ways by learning how to fight more efficiently. Instead, I’ve learned how to practice what Dr. John Gottman calls “physiological self-soothing.”
Here’s how it works. When Pete brings up a touchy subject that we are having conflict over I immediately experience a visceral desire to run away and pout. Instead of doing so, I try to tell the truth to myself. Ugh oh, Teresa, here you go again - you are considering stonewalling. If I can remember this and not react by doing this thing I instinctively want to do I can choose to do something different. It looks like this:
“Hey, I hate this about me (acknowledge my feelings) but I really want to withdraw from you and this discussion (tell the truth). I need your help (express my need rather than blame him in some way). I need to take a break from this discussion and do something that will help me calm down. I am going to go distract myself with a nice, long walk. Can we reconvene this conversation in a couple hours?” This is an example of physiological self-soothing. Walks work for me.
I cannot count the number of times I have left the house to walk and think about how my husband is a silly goose only to return with gratitude and appreciation for his perspective. Stonewalling is not helpful but it is indicative that we are freaking out and under stress. Our work, our responsibility, our skill set to develop in situations like this? Physiological self-soothing. Workout. Do a puzzle. Water your plants. Vacuum. Take a drive. Ride your bike. Go sit on a rock in the James river and thank God you live in such a cool place! It’s a great skill set and it can be done at anytime for no charge! Try it!
P.S. According to Gottman, you need at least twenty minutes to reset. I require an hour!