The Silent Treatment: How to Respond to Your Partner When They Refuse to Speak
There are few things more frustrating than the silent treatment. There are also few things more damaging to relationships. Many people believe that refusing to speak is better than saying something they’ll later regret. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Refusing to speak to someone is emotionally abusive and removes all possibility of solution.
When it comes to the silent treatment, there is nothing colder than the cold shoulder. Tuning someone out is like telling them they’re too insignificant to warrant your time or attention. It’s toxic and it’s off.
For those people who are being ignored, here are some tips on how to handle the silent treatment:
1. Speak about the silence directly and do NOT return silence with silence. Calmly tell your partner that you’re aware they are angry and you’d be happy to talk about it should they choose to. Let them know you can’t change anything if you don’t know what it is that’s bothering them.
2. After you speak to them, go about your life and do not try to get them to speak. They are adults and responsible for speaking up if they want something. Do not get caught up in the game. Realize their silence is not about you. Don’t allow it to get you down or lead to you feeling guilty. Also, do not lose your temper in response. Stay centered and calm!
3. Know that you did not cause your partner to be silent, so don’t take responsibility for their behavior. Even if you were in the wrong, your partner is still responsible for talking about it.
4. If the silent treatment goes on for a crazy amount of time (a day or more) or is a frequent problem, then inform your partner that their silence is harming your relationship. Calmly state that you are not willing to chase them down to talk and that if they continue to ignore you, you will be taking some time to consider your next step in this relationship.
5. Next, quietly figure out your next move. One person for example, told her husband that since he was refusing to speak to her, she was going away for the weekend to her family and if he didn’t speak to her upon her return, she would think of a more permanent move. Upon her return, he was all talk. Other options include: moving out of the bedroom, getting into couples therapy, getting into individual therapy or even separating.
The silent treatment is toxic to relationships and the only way to deal with it is to address it head on, in a calm, centered manner. Be clear about its impact, be willing to set limits and be willing to ramp up the limits if the silence continues. Do not chase down the person; go about your day.
CHALLENGE: If someone in your life gives you the silent treatment, first be clear that it’s not okay. Next, if you did something wrong, apologize and offer to talk about it if they’d like—then let it go. Do not chase them down. If it continues, decide your next step and follow through.