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Stonewalling in Couples: When You or Your Partner Shuts Down

Relationship researcher John Gottman, Ph.D, was the first to apply the term “stonewalling” to couples, said Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships in Orange County, Calif.

Gottman defines stonewalling as “when a listener withdraws from an interaction” by getting quiet or shutting down, she said.

“I describe stonewalling to clients as when one person turns into a stone wall, refusing to interact, engage, communicate or participate. Much like what you’d expect from a stone if you were talking to it!”

Partners emotionally or physically withdraw because they’re psychologically or physiologically overwhelmed, said Mary Spease, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in couples therapy in La Jolla, Calif.

They “are typically trying to avoid conflict or escape from conflict; they’re trying to calm themselves down during a stressful situation,” Nickerson said.

For instance, they may refuse to discuss certain topics or feelings, struggling to tolerate the discomfort. They may turn away, stop making eye contact, cross their arms or leave the room because they feel hurt, angry or frustrated, Spease said.

She described stonewalling as “an uncomfortable and hurtful silence.”

Stonewalling is a complex issue. People shut down for myriad reasons. People who have experienced trauma may disconnect from themselves and thereby disconnect from the relationship, said Heather Gaedt, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in Palm Desert, Calif., who specializes in couples (particularly with those with eating disorder and addiction issues). Partners might shut down because they’re keeping secrets or feel resentment if it’s a topic they’ve talked about over and over.

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Zakat eligibility of The FYI

The Family & Youth Institute, or The FYI, is a well-known Muslim organization in the United States. It works to promote mental health and wellness by strengthening and empowering individuals, families, and communities through research and education. It has been working for many years to bring Islamic perspectives to understanding and promoting mental health in our communities.

It is dedicated to serving and supporting Muslims – safeguarding our deen, our families, and our future generations. Therefore, the work of The FYI comes in the category of ‘fi sabeelillah’ or the Path of Allah, within the eight categories where Zakat money can be used.

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed for it and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah, and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah, And Allah, is Knowing and Wise.”
(Al-Tawbah 9:60)

According to scholars who widen the meaning of fee sabeelillah to include any activities that promote Islamic growth, The FYI is indeed eligible to receive part of the Zakat funds for its programs and services. I urge Muslims in America to support this organization through their donations, general charity, and through their Zakat. I ask Allah swt to strengthen and guide The FYI to continue its good work in supporting Muslims.

Shaikh Ali Suleiman Ali, PhD

About Shaikh Ali

Sh. Ali Suleiman Ali was born in Ghana where he spent his childhood studying with various Muslim scholars. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and enrolled in the Islamic University of Madina.  He graduated with a degree in both Arabic and Islamic Studies. Dr. Ali went on to complete his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Sh. Ali serves on the Advisory Council of The Family & Youth Institute. He is the Senior Imam and Director of the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs in Canton, Michigan. Additionally, he serves as the Director of Muslim Family Services in Detroit and is a council member of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA). He is also a member of the North American Imams Federation (NAIF) and the Association of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).