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June 14, 2010

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.


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He is out of country last 15 days & thats when the misunderstanding happened.He is too busy a man in his professional life & successful too.He had sent me pics over whatsapp with one of his female coworker over there & was trying to make me jealous.He has played such pranks earlier even & I always take it lightly. But that night I was drunk & reacted on him & also used filthy words, calling him names. He immediately blocked me there & also shouted saying I shouldn't try to contact him in any form henceforth.There was no other way I could get in touch with him as he had blocked me in all social sites & his mobile was switched off. Its been 20days now.In between I whatsapped him from some other no asking for Sorry & he replied in same firm manner that he had forgiven me for everything but doesn't wish to be in contact anymore.
I had been sending soft & feminine messages to him sometimes, but he is not responding...I cant make out whether he is back to country.
Please tell me how to go about it further.

Dear Stella,
Your husband is acting abusively. the last thing you want to do is apologize for HIS abuse. Instead, stop enabling his abusive behavior and tell him he needs to get help for his anger. You could also seek help to help you get strong enough to set limits. His anger is about him not about you. Don't take the blame for something that is not your blame to take. His silent treatment is emotionally abusive and is another thing you don't want to accept. This is getting to be too much for you because it should be! This IS too much. Start loving yourself enough to stand up for yourself.

Warm Regards,

Hi there,
My husband is giving me the silent treatment now for the past 5 days. It kills me but I don't show it to him. He stopped talking to me completely and doesn't answer even if I ask if he wants food. We've been having a bit of arguments in the past week..about 2 mild ( I mean not heated ones arguments per day). That's enough to piss him off and give me the silent treatment. Usually whenever he's angry he'll scream and break things around him ( I usually go out of the room then and allow him to cool down) ...but now he is doing it more often ...like even for the slightest disagreement he screams,yells and breaks things. I'm usually a resolver and try to resolve but he doesn't want to talk problems out at all. I usually apologize to him if he breaks things, that way he'll stop breaking and cool down. He's getting to be more than I can handle....please suggest what to do with his temper.

Dear Julius,
Why are you hoping for this man to come back into your life? He treats you terribly, lies to you, makes false promises, leaves you without any explanation and cheats on you. What are you thinking? This man has done nothing but bring you done. It's your turn now to build yourself back up--for your sake and the sake of your child. Don't model for your child how to accept poor treatment. Model instead how to stand up for yourself, have self-respect and how to love yourself enough to not settle for anything like this again. VIew this relationship as a learning experience and move on. If you need help to do that then get into counseling. Give yourself that gift.
Take Care-Lisa

My husband and I have been separated for 1 year and eight months now. We have been unhappy for a month before he moved out without telling me. We did not argue at all, I just traveled for my masters registration and upon return, he was gone. He left a note that he had moved out (without mentioning the reason or where he was going to live) and that he will always love me, no matter what happens.

He impregnated another girl three months later--at the same time he left me pregnant. He then moved in a new flat with that women until today. For the last 8 months he used to call, visit and give support while claiming the other woman will leave for us to get back together. That never happened until today. He has a passive aggressive personality, and for the last three months he has been giving me the full silent treatment. We sometimes chat on whatsapp,with him promising to take me to lunch or buying the baby clothes, but come the next day- he will not pitch, nor communicate. He wont be open for discussions, once I start talking about me and him, he will immediately shut the conversation down and lie that he has to go somewhere or he will come back tomorow for us to talk. I discussed the divorce with him but he refused by saying he wants to work things out. My question is, how can he work out the situation if he is unwilling to talk to me and find solutions??
I am worried. What does his silence mean??

what if a partner is choosing 2 days a week silence for self preservation and time to recharge with no anger towards the other? is that okay?

What about situations where one will give the silent treatment because she is hurt over a misunderstanding and won't communicate for fear of argument. We are in a Long Distance Relationship, and had a miscommunication over loving one for a reason or without reason. She was hurt because I gave reasons I loved her, and wasn't saying I loved her without reason (which, on reflection, I do love her without reason).

Since last Thursday night (her Friday morning), she's avoided calls, and won't reply to my emails, FB messages or instant messenger.

I do try to make it safe to speak with me, but sometimes she's fixated on the problem to the extent anything I say is white noise.

Now, she's hurt and avoiding me all weekend. We're engaged, but this scares the crap out of me. Not only do I not want to lose her, but I want to foster a healthy environment for each of us to speak to each other.

We are different cultures, and English is her second language, so I don't now how much a factor that is.

I've learned a lot about communication from my first (failed) marriage, and don't want to screw this up. I've told her that I acknowledge her hurt, and I'm sorry for my part in it, but the silence is hurting us.

What else can I do?

Dear Geni,
His lack of communication for ten days is emotionally abusive. Inform him that you don't mind giving him a little time to think, however days of silence is not okay with you. If he continues to do this kind of behavior I would ask to do couples work with him. If he refuses, seek professional help yourself to explore your options.
Take Care-Lisa

The man I am involved with seems to use silence as control or punishment and I find it hard to deal with as I am a resolver. Is it best to understand the different style and work from there?
Also currently he was very mean and I know my blame and always take my part but when he is super mad he won't, not when he is stressed. He wrote me an email (we don't live together) that he can't see or hear me right now and that was 10 days ago and I have stayed silent to allow him to calm down. I thought I could break this pattern and wait him out and am unsure of my next move because if I ask him to call and he isn't ready it would be worse. Obviously he is unable to communicate well.
Are many men this way?!

I like the article, but if we don't live together? He stopped talking to me 4 days ago after an arguement.

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