February 04, 2010


Paul’s wife Janet was so angry at him that she didn’t speak to him for two days.  When I asked Paul what he meant about her not speaking, he said she literally had not said one word.  Apparently this is not uncommon.  Paul reports that this has been going on for most of their marriage.  One time she didn’t speak to him for an entire week.  Often she won’t speak to him for several hours.  Janet reports that she does this because she needs to calm herself down first before she is able to speak to him.  She also states that when she is hurt or upset, she just doesn’t want to talk to him...or be near him, for that matter.

Although not speaking to your partner for days is on the extreme end of withdrawal, I see this all the time in couples.  What many people do not know is that the silent treatment is one of the most damaging relationship moves a person can make.  When we use a wall of silence, we render our partner helpless.  They can’t repair, discuss or get tuned in to what’s going on for us.  You cannot work on issues in your relationship if one or both of you refuse to discuss them. 

For all you silencers, know that you are OFF.  It’s not okay to give anyone the cold shoulder for a couple of hours and certainly not for days.  The silent treatment is extremely toxic for your children since it sends the message that they are invisible and worthless.  If you struggle with this, get help and don’t justify ignoring people.

For those of you living with someone who silences, send a clear message that ignoring you is hurting the relationship.  First, tell them that you notice they are not speaking to you and tell them what you’re going to do about it.  For example, your first conversation may be:

* “Janet, I’ve noticed you’ve been ignoring me ever since you became angry yesterday.  I want you to know that your silence is not okay with me.  If you’re angry with me, I’d like to sit down and talk it out.  If you refuse to discuss it, then I’m going to assume everything’s fine and you are just choosing to be rude.  If you continue to silence and shut me out every time you’re angry with me, our relationship will be in trouble.” 

* If nothing changes, your second conversation could be: “I will not stay in the house while you ignore me, so be prepared to be alone on those days.  I will also no longer chase you down and try to get you to talk to me.  If I do something wrong, I will apologize and try to repair it, but if you refuse to accept it, I will not continue to apologize.” 

* If your partner continues to give the silent treatment every time they get upset, your next conversation needs to increase in seriousness and consequences: “I also think it only fair for you to know that I no longer want to be in a relationship with someone who is cold to me.  I am thinking about my options regarding that, including moving out of the bedroom, seeking professional help and even leaving our relationship.  My hope is it will not have to go that far, however, if it doesn’t change I will take at least one of those steps, if not more.  Let me know if you’d like to talk about this.”

Silence is not okay.  It’s rude and disrespectful.  If your partner chooses to give you the cold shoulder, be clear that’s not okay for you and protect yourself by setting a limit.  Do not give any mixed messages.  A mixed message would be telling them it’s not okay and then falling over yourself to try to get them to talk to you.  Don’t try to coax them into speaking by endlessly apologizing or being ultra-kind.  You deserve to be treated well—silence is not being treated well.  Don’t settle for it and don’t be rude yourself in response.

CHALLENGE:  If you’re giving the silent treatment—stop it.  It’s rude, not relational and not acceptable.  If you’re on the receiving end of silence, be clear that it’s not okay with you.  Try the scripts above and back your words up with actions.  Silence is another form of bullying—don’t give in to it.  Deal with silence in a straightforward fashion that is honoring of both yourself (no groveling, pleading, etc.) and your partner (stay respectful when you deliver your message, no yelling or silent treatment yourself).


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Dear Maryellen,
I'm so sorry to hear about your situation. It sounds like both of you have been holding things in and not discussing things for a while. My suggestion is that you sit your husband down and ask to have a heart to heart conversation. What would it take to get the marriage back on track and would both of you be willing to try before you throw it all away without even an effort? Get in touch with an expert who works with couples and ask him to go with you to help both of you decide what you want to do. 32 years is a lot of years to throw away without even trying to work on it. If he won't talk then write him a letter.
In addition, apologize to him for what you said and how you said it. Let him know you've been feeling bored as your assuming he has too or he would not have so easily agreed with you. And tell him you love him and would like to work on getting the marriage back on track.
Hang in there.

My husband and I have been married 32 years I'm 60 and he is 72. We were planning to sell our home in a few months and move to Tennessee we live in Indiana. Things were going ok, we're bored staying home a lot we both are retired. He is a quiet person. Our romance is not there any more we kiss and hold hands now and then. It's mostly me that makes the move. We are in a rut right now till the weather breaks. We had a company that was sold and my husband works for them for now. So he is on his computer and goes to meetings. I don't work but pay all the bills and assist our one daughter who is special needs. She lives 2 hours away. Last week our patio door shut and locked I was outside in the cold banging on the door. He is hard of hearing he finally let me in. After that I was pissed. Got ready to workout and said I'm so sick of your crap . I can't take it anymore will sell the house and split the money. He turned around gave it two thumbs up said all right. I left and did my thing then. Few days passed with not speaking at all. I finally gave in and tried talking. He was very cold non responsive and said not sure he wants to stay in the marriage. So we're not talking again my daughter is in for visit and leaving tomorrow. We had appts with a realtor this week to list our house. Thinking we were going to move to Tennessee. I cancelled appts till we see where were at. I'm so distraught and constantly crying. I need some good advise please help me. It's tearing my heart apart.😒

E, "fading out" (deciding to stop talking) without informing the other party is inherently abusive. It leaves them to guess (often, wrong - making it an ineffective form of resolution), assume (perhaps you're just finished with the relationship? angry? going through something else?) and offers no clear message.

If someone is repeatedly "not getting the message," you could use the same steps outlined in this article to draw a clear boundary - and enforce it.

Also, I think when she uses the term "silent treatment," she means "non responsive." Obviously, it's okay to cool down - but if you've done so in a way that stonewalls another person, you're empowering neither yourself nor them.

My husband ignores me completely. If we argue or have a fight about his careless attitude he become silent. His behaviour makes me very afraid of him. His silent treatment lasts for one to two weeks. I got married to him 1 year back . I live with my inlaws. He lives in anther country and visits us very 3 months . Now I am getting used to it. anne john

Ok. So i am not the only one going through this. Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences. Sometimes, it simply gives strength to go on when we know that we are not the only ones dealing with difficult people. Situations and outcomes may be different for each of us. I just hope and wish all of us find the right path towards healthy relationships.

I have resorted to giving my husband the silent treatment because when I am upset about something, he NEVER acknowledges my concern. In the past when I would tell him something bothered me, he would disagree and that would be that. We rarely fight, but when I do get upset, I now just ignore him completely until he comes to me.

My 14 year marriage and 20 year relationship with my wife has involved her giving me the silent treatment. Before I met her I was calm, had no anxiety or depression and never yelled. I loved her and the good far outweighed the bad and I never saw what was happening. Over the years I began to develop depression and anxiety and started feeling worthless because my wife couldn't complete talking about basic issues unable to express herself. She would withhold everything to control me but always accused me of controlling her. She was good asking for a vacation but couldn't say she was short money to pay her personal credit cards and let them rack into the tens of thousands. Many conversations would end me being denied us talking and agreeing on many issues and I would be treated invisible. I wrote letters and emails that would also be dismissed and called "hatemail" though there wasn't a single hatefull word. I would be completely closed off and insulted and sent away regularly ignored. I felt so worthless I became suicidal a couple of times and I always blamed depression, but thought my brain chemistry was the cause and not the intense hopeless conditioning of silent treatment and deliberate withholding of my needs. This wore me down and eventually I would yell at her to listen and force conversations. Now she says that's the reason she dousn't talk whether I yell or not. She thinks she's the victim and until recently I thought I had anger problems because I couldn't understand why I was yelling. I realized how I changed from being ignored. I don't think she'll ever realize how destructive it has been and she so stubborn I don't think she ever will.

My husband is the king of the silent treatment..and he withholds sex. He has been giving me the silent treatment for weeks and he always brings up stuff that bothers him from YEARS ago. It's useless trying to talk to him. I've tried all the talking, waiting it out, Apologizing,crying, all that. Sooooo some othe sites say go on about your day and so I do. He can always speak to me when he needs money for gas or tolls but nothing else. We have a one year old so for now we just co parent. I'm at my witts end with it. He has his own internal issues so I can't compete with the past. I still cook, clean, and give him the few dollars he needs for work travel. Other than the scripts or trying to talk, does anyone else have advice?

My husband doesn't just stop talking, he literally walks in the bush (we live in an isolated community 500km from the nearest urban centre - our community is classified as very remote. He did this a week ago and I can't let it go. He did this to me about 8 years ago just after my mum passed away and emotions erupted over a bedsheet. I sat up all night waiting for him stressing out. He promised not to do it again. And yet - a week ago he did it again in front of our 9 year old (adopted) daughter. I am now at the point where I hope a poisonous (taipan, death adder) bites him to serve him right for this behaviour. I am trying to save our marriage right now. I'm up against a (his) family pattern of not communicating and using silence. I just want him to see the other side. But he goes all 'victim' on me. I don't do victims - have had some horrendous things happen to me but refuse to be a victim. Like someone said earlier - the good times are great. but I can't let my daughter think this behaviour is okay. Guess I will be following in my mother's footsteps of not sticking around for the father to negatively affect the child

Dear Ellen,
I'm so glad to hear that. The silent treatment is cold, disrespectful and hurtful. Have your back and don't silently accept the unacceptable--do so respectfully, calmly and powerfully.
Warm Regards,

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