How To Solve Problems When Your Partner Shuts Down At Signs Of Trouble

Every relationship has its ups and downs. Some have more ups, while others have more downs, but as long as there's communication, honesty, and openness, a lot of relationships can weather most storms. The relationships we have as adults, including friendships, are reflective of how we were raised. If we were raised in a family where communication was paramount in remedying issues, then that's something that usually follows us into adulthood. Those who come from families where issues weren't discussed, and maybe even dismissed, also carry that into adulthood. These are called attachment styles, and they're not only reflective of how we grew up and learned (or didn't learn) to communicate but also dictate how we interact with others as adults (via Simple Psychology).

Long story short? Sometimes we end up in relationships with people who simply shut down at the very first sign of trouble because their idea of communicating is different from your idea of communicating. Or, to be more specific, their idea of communicating is not communicating — also known as stonewalling (via The Gottman Institute). "Stonewalling is when, during an argument or disagreement, someone begins to shut down, withdraw from the conversation, and build a wall between themselves and the other person," psychotherapist Ludine Pierre tells MindBodyGreen.

While stonewalling may be the result of upbringing or trauma that has happened in your partner's life, when it comes to your relationship, it's extremely toxic. Problems need to be worked out, not swept under the rug.

If you have a partner who shuts down every time any problem arises, there are ways to help them (and you!) solve these issues together.

The first step is staying calm

People who stonewall instead of dealing with problems aren't being rude, mean, or ignoring the situation. In fact, they're very aware of the situation and that's why they're behaving the way they are. They're "checking out" of the scenario, so to speak, as a form of self-preservation. If you get in their face about it, start to yell, hurl insults, or let your emotions get the best of you, you'll get nowhere (via PsychCentral). If anything, you'll push your partner further away and they'll shut down even more.

Instead, when this happens, take a breather. If you've been with your partner long enough, then you probably already know that this is how they act when there are any signs of trouble. Keep this in mind as you stay calm. Remind yourself that their behavior stems from their inability to resolve conflict and manage their own emotions in an effective way that will better the situation (via Psychology Today).

While no one wants to feel like they're being forced to be the adult for two people, sometimes in order to make a relationship work, you have to take one for the team. Staying calm, walking away, and allowing space is the best thing you can do. You can come back when the tension has eased and emotions are no longer heightened.

Communicate, listen, and focus

Although your partner shuts down, it doesn't mean they can't hear you, hence the reason you want to walk away as opposed to yell and make it worse. When it feels right, tell your partner how the situation made you feel. Express what was going through your head when they shut down and ask them how they felt when they shut down. Also, keep in mind, as you listen, that you are not the reason your partner behaves this way when problems arise (via BetterHelp). Reminding yourself of this will help you take things less personally and finally resolve the issue that started the stonewalling in the first place.

Once things feel more relaxed, go back to the issue at hand and focus on how to fix it together. Allow your partner a safe space to feel vulnerable and show your own vulnerability in turn (via Growing Self). Even if part of you is still infuriated that this is how your partner reacts to such things, be kind. Communication is a learned skill and not everyone learns to communicate the same way.

Trying to work through anything with a partner who shuts down at the drop of a hat requires a lot of patience and effort. It also demands an understanding of where they're coming from, why they behave this way, and how best to broach it. While there's no denying that this seems — and feels — like a lot of work, if you love your partner, you do the work. If it gets to a point where you just can't manage it or your partner is turning further and further away, and more often than usual, then it's time to get professional help from a therapist.