“I’ve noticed that my partner [32M] tends to stonewall. He becomes so irritated and angry that I [26F] feel completely helpless. We’ve been together nearly 5 years.
Most recently, on my birthday a few days ago, we were enjoying time with our friends at our house. We agreed that he would make the plans for my day because I’m not a planner and he loves planning… it was kind of funny and I thought it would be fun.
At about 2 pm, one of our friends told me she wouldn’t be ready to meet for lunch until 4, so I thought, no big deal, we can hang out here until 4 then meet up with her.
My partner fell asleep, and woke up completely irritated. He wouldn’t look at me, was thumping around the kitchen and avoiding our friends. It was super awkward. We left to lunch with our friends in silence. I tried to hide a few tears. He has said that I “use” emotions in the past. I just felt like I did something completely wrong. I made a couple of snarky comments about “it’s my birthday just chill and have fun” obviously that didn’t work, and I regret that.
A few hours later after the mood had shifted, I asked if he wanted to talk away from our friends. He agreed and said he was upset that I altered my birthday plans when he had planned everything out.
I guess I understood, but the reason I was so upset and so hurt, I later realized, was because he completely shut me off and I felt helpless for the entire afternoon as he refused to acknowledge me.
After talking that day, I kinda blew it over. But there’s been a history of stonewalling in the past. He gets so irritated that he becomes blind to his surroundings. I’m worried about this in the future.
I’m wondering if it’s okay to bring up the stonewalling now, a few days later .. or if that’s a toxic idea? How do I deal with it in the future?”
Dear Humanoid 999,
It can mean a couple things when your partner(s) are stonewalling you. It could mean that they’re investing their emotional resources into resolving this situation in their heads. It could also mean that they are so wrapped up in their warped emotional state that they cannot be present with you, thus creating space that can feel like stonewalling. Based on what you’ve shared here, it looks like your partner could be doing both.
I was so frustrated to read your post because it WAS your birthday. Regardless of what his plans were, the goal therein was to celebrate this day with you. He agreed to planning your birthday on his own volition without any strings attached. And it wasn’t even that you personally obstructed his plans; one of your friends just couldn’t make it. And instead of adjusting, he immediately internalized the pain, projected negative intent on your behalf (“You ruined the plans I made for you.”), and sulked for the rest of the night instead of compartmentalizing his feelings in order to be present in your birthday celebrations.
I am really tickled that your partner phrased that you “use” your emotions in a negative context, because it appears that he actually wielded his disappointment and pain in a way to hurt you. An emotionally mature person might have communicated their disappointment in the pre-established plans falling apart. What he did on your birthday – cold shouldering and deflecting – are much worse than his preemptive plans falling apart.
I want to point out this particular exchange from your post.
I made a couple of snarky comments about “it’s my birthday. Just chill and have fun.” Obviously that didn’t work, and I regret that.
One. That is not a snarky comment. A snarky comment would be ill-humored, short-tempered, and often passive aggressive. In that moment, you sensed something off about his mindset and you tried to de-escalate his frustration/anger by diffusing it with calm humor in order to remind him that it WAS your birthday.
Two. It didn’t work because he wasn’t necessarily listening for the sake of listening. Instead, he was wrapped up in his own feelings and could not at the moment recognize that he was actively making your birthday difficult and awkward for not just you but for your friends as well.
But lastly, where is that feeling of regret coming from? Are you regretting your efforts to diffuse the situation? Or are you regretting that he couldn’t hear you? Deep dive into that feeling of regret, and consider if you are actually directly responsible for the source of that regret.
You did not share whether or not he apologized for ruining the experience of your birthday. Based on your wording, I get the sense that you forgave him nonetheless.
You ask about your worries for what this means for the future of your relationship. And this is one of those situations where I wish I could speak to your partner as well. As a chewer who likes to sit on his feelings for a long time before discussing them with my partners, I have some very pointed advice that he can take away from. Since he is not here, I’ll give you advice from my partners who have had to experience the same kind of distancing effect that you experienced.
First step is to acknowledge that this is who he is. Regardless of what his intentions are, first accept for yourself that your partner might get into a mood like this where he is completely inconsolable and mired in his own feelings. You are not going to gain anything from pecking away at his wall. So respect this uncommunicated soft boundary that he has established and give him space to come back to you on his own terms.
Second is to prepare and plan for the future recurrences. You might benefit from communicating with him in an unpressured situation that you will provide him with space the next time he gets upset and gets into moods like this: for the sake of your sanity, for the sake of his sanity, for the sake of your relationship. Kindly remind him that your door is always open when he decides he wants to be more present and emotionally engaged with you to resolve these issues in a more productive way.
Then you have to follow through on the commitment you just made, that you’ll walk away when things get heated. You might have to remind yourself (and him too) that you are not abandoning him, especially the first times you enforce your own boundary. You are just merely stepping away and respecting his emotional space so that neither of you hurt each other. He’ll have to get better at compartmentalizing and managing his own emotions until y’all coalesce to talk things through.
For today, start with discussing how his actions made you feel on your birthday. If you feel like you cannot safely discuss your emotional state, be prepared to step away until things have cooled down again. His irritation is not an excuse for a complete lack of communication. And do not make excuses for his emotional state. You are not responsible for managing his feelings. You are only responsible for managing your own feelings and reactions to his actions.
Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.
I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at email@example.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!