Stonewalling happens when we feel so overwhelmed or upset that we shut down. We become like a stone wall.
Statistically speaking, men are more likely to stonewall than women, and they tend to stay aroused for longer periods of time than women do. Inside their heads, they seem to be saying, "Just shut up. You'll only make it worse. She can't go on like this forever." What often happens in this situation is that the other person (typically the woman) feels abandoned, and pushes harder to get a response.
So why is it so important to make an agreement that it is OK to take a break? When we are upset and just fight it out, we say things that we regret or we make our partner feel abandoned by stonewalling. When we take a break to calm down before continuing the discussion, we can use our whole brains to think more clearly. We gain access to our sense of humor and affection with one another.
How do we know that breaks work? Dr. Gottman and his colleagues did research where they brought couples into the Love Lab and asked them to discuss a disagreement. "...They discovered that a 20-minute break in which couples stopped talking and just reading magazines (as their heart rates returned to baseline) dramatically changed the discussion so that people had access to their sense of humor and affection."
Come back next Monday to learn more about what a good break looks like.