In marriage, conflicts and misunderstandings are inevitable. That is why conflict management through open communication is highly important for the success of any relationship. Not only does it help resolve conflict, it also increases the emotional connection between spouses. However, when one spouse is using silent treatment, the open communication, which results to emotional bonding between spouses, is being thwarted.
Silent treatment is a passive-aggressive tactic done by angry spouses when they deliberately ignore their partner and treat them as if they don’t exist. It leaves the receiver feeling abandoned, rejected, insignificant, and helpless.
Some people connotes silent treatment as a ‘cooling off’ period. As such, it is important to differentiate silent treatment from cooling off so you would know if your partner is using silence against you or s/he is just calming down.
Cooling off usually last for a few hours or within a day. It happens when one spouse refuses to talk for a while to avoid hurling out hurtful words that would make them regret later. It also gives the angry spouse a space to calm one’s emotions and to reflect on the issue they were arguing about.
Despite the cooling off, the angry spouse does not alienate the partner by not acknowledging his/her presence. The other partner is not left clueless about what made their spouse irate. When the angry spouse is ready to talk, they would launch into a discussion and tackle the problem. We can say that cooling off is a healthy and mature way of putting off the couple’s argument in order to calmly discuss it again at a later or agreed time.
The real silent treatment, on the other hand, would usually last for days to weeks, which could be a form of emotional abuse. It is commonly given by passive aggressive and/or narcissistic partners. This drives the other partner crazy as they asked themselves questions like, “What have I done wrong?,” “How should I have handled the situation better?” “How could I make him talk?” They have no idea when their angry partner will snap out of it. As such, they would go at great lengths to restore the communication, but only to be ignored repeatedly.
In truth, it is hard at times to distinguish whether your partner is just letting off the steam, seething with anger or s/he is emotionally abusing you. Nora Femenia, author of The Silent Marriage, identified the following impacts of an abusive silent treatment on the hurt spouse:
– low self-esteem
– feeling of being ‘married alone’
– strong feeling of unworthiness
– feeling unloved
– real loss
– not belonging
– not being good enough
– not being loved
Ask yourself if these are what you generally feel in your marriage. Chances are you might be married to a passive-aggressive and/or narcissistic spouse who emotionally abuses you. Be aware that in a good marriage, you must feel loved and respected all the time, not just sometimes.
Reasons why the silent treatment
Some wives admitted that they use silent treatment while expecting their husbands to read their minds, letting them figure out what made the wives irate. Other wives wanted their husbands to coax them and apologize first for what had happened. Usually, this immature behavior happens during the early stage of marriage. Experience will teach them that this only prolongs the fight, inflicts unncessary emotional burden to both spouses, and most of all, it just doesn’t work.
On the other hand, the abusive silent treatment is a way to punish the other spouse. According to Andrea Schneider, a marriage and family therapist, silent treatment is designed to:
– make the abuser feel in control
– silence the other partner’s attempts at assertion;
– avoid conflict resolution/personal responsibility/compromise;
– punish the other partner for a perceived ego slight, which often happens when the abuser’s mistake was pointed out.
The abuser deliberately uses silent treatment to inflict emotional pains and control on his spouse.
How to deal with silent treatment
Some people who use silent treatment have no idea about the pains they are causing their spouse. If this is the case you may benefit from trying these suggestions:
– Acknowledge what you’re feeling. Do you feel rejected? Hurt? Unworthy?
– Tell him how his treatment makes you feel by not speaking to you, shutting you out, making you feel non-existent.
– Tell him that you would give him space. And when he’s ready, invite him to tell you what you have done wrong and how can you make it up with him. You can also tell him that it’s okay for him to express or vocalize his anger. Some passive-aggressive men grew up not being allowed to feel their anger, believing that being angry is bad. You may do this through a letter, online message, or text.
– While you are waiting for him to come out of his shell, focus yourself on activities that lift your spirit and make you feel better about yourself, instead of trying vainly to resolve the conflict on your own.
– When he finally decides to talk it out with you and share his emotions, be accepting and receptive. Thank him for sharing his thoughts and feelings with you and that you will try to make it up with him. Encourage him to express his hurt and anger in a way that wouldn’t hurt you and the relationship.
On another side are people who deliberately punish you by ignoring your presence. The best thing to do is not to play their game and not to reward their treatment by showing how distress you are. You might want to consider the following responses:
– Do not show how distressed you are
Prepare a list of activities which uplifts your well-being such as listening to inspiring music, talking to friends, playing with your children, reading books, etc. Refer to this list whenever you’re in a silent zone. This will keep you from wallowing in pain, which will starve his desire for control.
– Talk to him like you do in a normal setting. He may refuse to speak, but he surely could hear you. Act as if everything is normal. I know that this could be challenging, that’s why you’re advised to make a list and engage with certain activities to uplift you.
– Do not plead with him or coax him to open up. This will just show him how effective his immature tactic on you. Remember you cannot do conflict resolution alone, it needed to be done by a couple. Him not cooperating leaves you with nothing to do. It’s not your fault you’re being given the silent treatment. It’s all about him, with his immaturity and tactics.
– Refrain from giving him the taste of his own medicine. If you do, you are just lowering yourself into his immaturity. It will also breed bitterness on you and will not provide you with peace of mind.
Again the purpose of these suggestions is to starve his desire for control by refusing him his rewards.
Silent treatment makes any receiver feel like a nobody. It is a toxic, immature behavior that poisons the relationship and deteriorates the other partner’s self-esteem and self-worth. If you’re a frequent receiver of silent treatment, know that it’s not about you, it’s about him. You can never change him, you can only control your reactions towards him. If he continuously treats you this way without any effort to change, then it’s up to you whether this relationship is worth all your energy, your future, and your happiness.
The Silent Marriage by Nora Femenia
Silent Treatment: Preferred Weapon of People with Narcissim by Andrea Schneider
Silent Treatment: Emotional Abuse in Relationships by Ebonny