The Silent Treatment

November 7, 2018

Why the silent treatment sucks and what you should do when you get cold shouldered.





We've all been there.  After an argument, fight, disagreement or something just sets the other person off, we have gotten the silent treatment.   No matter what you do or say, the other person doesn't respond.  They walk around the house like you aren't there.  They pretend not to see or hear you.   This can go on for minutes, hours, days and in extreme cases, weeks.  Sometimes we might even be the person who does the silent treatment.


First, let's talk about why the silent treatment isn't cool.  And why it's definitely not good for your relationship.


The silent treatment is all about power.  By taking away the other person's basic right of being seen and heard, the person giving the silent treatment has more power.  They get to control the other person's ability to even exist, as far as the other person is concerned.  So when you silent treatment someone, you control what power they have in the relationship.


Why is this not good for your relationship?  Because research shows power imbalances have negative impacts on the quality of your relationship.  It might seem like if you have more power, you would enjoy it but what really happens is it feels kind of shitty.  You don't look at the other person as your equal.  If you are above them, it definitely isn't fun to have sex with someone beneath you.  So you may be tempted to say having some extra power in your relationship might be good but the reality is that it's not.


One last reason the silent treatment sucks.  It leaves the other person feeling resentful.  It does not feel good to be ignored.  It feels childish, frustrating, and even hurtful.  The silent treatment builds resentment.  One does not simply forget that their partner paraded around the house for 2 weeks pretending they didn't exist.  Sometimes, the silent treatment gets that person what they want.  In desperation, the partner says "fine! It can be your way!"  Just so they can be acknowledged again and life can return to normal.  But guess what?  Getting what you want through coercion and manipulation tactics doesn't do great things for your relationship.  Once again, it makes you unequal.  And remember, unequal in a couple is bad.  Especially if there are children around.  


So what to do?  Here's how you handle The Silent Treatment.


--> Go to the other person and say the following:

  • We had a disagreement/fight/argument. 

  • I do not like when this happens because it makes me feel (sad, lonely, frightened, etc.). 

  • I want to resolve this and get us back to feeling good with each other again.  I love you.

  • Let's talk about it (now, tonight after the kids go to bed, when you've finished your show, after your run, etc., suggest a time when there is an opportunity for talking and talking calmly). 

--> If they answer, great!  The silent treatment is over and it's something you can discuss for the future and agree to not use on each other again.   In regards to the argument, remember to talk calmly about the issue and talk about it from your perspective only.  Be curious about why the issue is important for the other person.  



--> If they continue the silent treatment and do not respond, add in this:

"I understand you are upset and maybe you need time to cool down before we talk about this argument.  However, the silent treatment until then is not okay.  I deserve respect and acknowledgement and this hurts my feelings.  I will walk away now however when I see you in the house again, I expect you to speak to me and act as if I am there."


--> When you see them again in the house, acknowledge their presence and try to act normally again.  This will give them a soft opening to end the silent treatment and hopefully they take that opportunity. 


-->If they continue the silent treatment, now it's time to decide if you want and are ready to up the ante.  For your sake, I hope you are ready to end this.  Sometimes it takes standing up to the other person and letting them know what you will no longer tolerate in order to get your relationship moving in the right direction.  But is it hard?  Hell yes.  Will it be worth it?  I think so.   So if you are ready, let them know again that you will no longer accept their silent treatment and you would like them out of the house until they are able to talk.  Tell them to go stay at a family member or friend's house until then.  


You are doing your relationship a great service by giving it some boundaries.  The Silent Treatment is offending from the victim position.  In other words, it's saying I'm Mad So Now Damn You, I'll Make You Pay.   It's not okay.   By standing up to it and insisting this will no longer be tolerated, you are giving your relationship a better chance at succeeding.


*One last important thought, if you feel like this wouldn't be safe for you to do, please don't do it.  Also, consider calling the Domestic Abuse Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to talk with someone.  Even if you aren't sure you are being abused, it doesn't hurt to talk to someone about it.  It's 100% free and confidential.  



Corrin Voeller is a relationship therapist.  She specializes in doing couples counseling, intensive couples counseling, discernment counseling and sex therapy in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.  She lives with her husband, kids and extremely fat dog.  


Want to chat?  Click here to send me an email today. 







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