Stonewalling is a behavior characterized by the following: 1. refusing to communicate, 2. withdrawing emotionally, and 3. creating a barrier in the interaction or relationship. Narcissistic silent treatment goes hand in hand with stonewalling. The silent treatment is a conscious attempt to exert control by intentionally ignoring or avoiding talking to someone else. It is a form of emotional abuse designed to control or punish the victim.

Gottman’s notion of stonewalling is one of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” that predict relationship dissolution. It is different than narcissistic stonewalling or the silent treatment. In this research, a person withdraws from a conversation, becomes unresponsive, and emotionally shuts down as a way to manage conflict or intense emotions. 

However, narcissistic stonewalling and silent treatment are distinctly different from Gottman’s research findings.

Define stonewalling

Stonewalling refers to behavior where someone refuses to engage in communication and withdraws from a conversation or relationship. Both involve refusal to talk and withdrawal from interaction. The person who stonewalls also feints or simply shuts down emotionally.

Both types of stonewalling harm the emotional well-being of the recipient. In each case, the victim feels frustrated and upset. However, they differ in motivation, emotional regulation, and context.

Narcissistic stonewalling and the silent treatment

Narcissistic stonewalling is a consistent form of manipulation. It is used by one partner to exert dominance and control, avoid accountability, and protect their fragile self-image. With the silent treatment, they attempt to control the narrative.

Silence can be a powerful tool to manipulate perception. By refusing to communicate, narcissists can control the flow of information, twist facts, or paint themselves as the victim.

They make it about themselves by withdrawing and giving you the silent treatment. If they elicit a strong reaction from you, the focus remains on them and their needs. The victim suffers from fear of abandonment, feels threatened, or feels confused.

There may be covert narcissism (passive-aggressive forms) where emotional abuse is denied. “Why aren’t you talking to me?!” might cause them to respond, “I am talking to you. What do you want to talk about?” However, continued verbal communication is stilted, overly formal, or superficial, which frustrates the family member.

Narcissistic stonewalling shares some similarities with Gottman’s concept but also has notable differences:

Emotional regulation

Gottman’s model shows stonewalling as a response to emotional flooding. This is where one partner becomes overwhelmed by negative emotions and shuts down to protect themselves from escalating conflict.

Control or manipulation is not deliberate. It is a misguided emotional reaction to avoid worsening things. It is a physiological reaction, not a deliberate psychological tactic.

Narcissists also struggle with emotional regulation. However, they use silence and stonewalling defensively to control and protect their egos and self-image and manipulate others. They avoid any discussions or situations that might challenge or threaten their image.

Narcissistic stonewalling is a consistent pattern of behavior used to exert dominance, avoid accountability, and protect a fragile self-image. There is no conscious effort to avoid “making things worse.” There is only an effort to dodge a topic by exerting power and control.


Gottman’s stonewalling is driven by emotional overload.

Narcissistic stonewalling is motivated by a narcissist’s desire for power, control, and avoidance of threats to their self-image. The narcissist stonewalls to avoid criticism, maintain a sense of superiority, and shield themselves from vulnerability.


Gottman’s research on the Four Horsemen focuses on identifying communication patterns that can lead to relationship deterioration and conflict escalation. In this context, stonewalling refers to a behavior where one partner withdraws from a conversation, shuts down emotionally, or disengages from communication. This is a response to conflict or negative emotions.

Narcissists employ stonewalling to punish or exert control over their partners. They often shape their partner’s behavior through a consistent pattern of actions. It is likely that they will instantly “reward” you by acting kind and loving if you agree with them.

They are not necessarily emotionally overwhelmed. They are attempting to influence your behavior and thinking.

Solutions to deal with Gottman’s stonewalling vs. narcissistic abuse

Dealing with a narcissist requires a different response than dealing with men who are flooded (85% of Gottman’s participants who flood are men).

Set and enforce boundaries vs. a “time out.”

Gottman’s solution: time out

Gottman’s recommendations for stonewallers are clear and straightforward: calm down and re engage. He suggests that the couple recognize signs of emotional flooding, label it as flooding, and take a 20-30 minute “time out.” You can avoid ruminating by reading, but avoid rehearsing the fight in your mind.

Narcissistic stonewalling and silent treatment solutions

A toxic partner constantly manipulates and harms their partner’s well-being and happiness. What to do with a narcissistic partner is less straightforward.

Set and enforce boundaries.

Clearly define your boundaries and communicate them assertively. Let the narcissist know what behavior is unacceptable to you. Spell out the consequences if they continue this manipulative behavior. Be prepared to follow through with those consequences.

Focus on self-care

Narcissistic stonewalling can be emotionally draining and manipulative. When you leave your house or even the room, you can focus more on your well-being. Pick rewarding things to do if you are facing stonewalling or silence, and do them.

Practice assertive communication

Clearly express your thoughts and feelings without expecting them to be acknowledged or respected. Avoid getting defensive or accepting blame. Stay calm and composed in response to narcissistic rage. Be firm in expressing your needs and expectations.

Expect withholding

Narcissists crave control and power over others. By stonewalling, they can withhold information, emotions, or validation. The goal is to maintain dominance and make others feel powerless and frustrated.

They are hypersensitive to criticism. Expect withdrawal if you’ve hit a sore spot or challenged their perceived superiority.

Narcissists often have difficulty accepting responsibility for their actions. Stonewalling allows them to evade accountability and avoid confronting uncomfortable truths or criticism directed toward them.

Maintain perspective

Remind yourself of the narcissist’s patterns and motivations. Understand that stonewalling does not reflect your worth or value. It is a manipulative tactic used to gain the upper hand in relationships.

They do it to protect their fragile ego. Keep your expectations realistic and focus on your own personal growth and happiness.

Consider disengagement if necessary

If narcissistic stonewalling or silent treatment persists and has a consistently negative impact, seek professional help. It may be necessary to evaluate the relationship’s viability. In some cases, disengaging from the relationship may be the healthiest option to protect yourself from further harm.

It’s worthwhile to note that while stonewalling is common among narcissists, stonewalling is also common in men without narcissistic traits. If you are dealing with a stonewaller, it is critical to know what kind.

The solution might be as simple as a time-out or as complicated as couples therapy or divorce. In either case, it is crucial to set healthy boundaries and consider seeking support from a mental health professional or a trusted source. This will enable you to navigate the relationship dynamics.