How Do I Handle The Silent Treatment?

Philip called for help in his marriage. “I see no reason for me to stay in a relationship where she won’t talk to me for days. How do I handle the silent treatment?”

Over the course of the day with us in the Marriage Intensive, Philip and Kelsi each found things that they could do to create the healthy marriage they had always wanted. One of the keys to making their marriage work was Kelsi’s willingness to discover what was behind her behavior that was causing Philip so much pain and leading to his consideration of ending the relationship.

‘Love is patient; love is kind. Love isn’t envious, doesn’t boast, brag, or strut about. There’s no arrogance in love; it’s never rude, crude, or indecent—it’s not self-absorbed. Love isn’t easily upset. Love doesn’t tally wrongs or celebrate injustice; but truth—yes, truth—is love’s delight!’ I Corinthians 13:4-6 (VOICE)

The Silent Treatment Is Emotional Abuse

The silent treatment is a passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse. The abuser uses silence to express their displeasure, disapproval and contempt for their spouse through non-verbal gestures without the use of direct communication.

The silent treatment is frequently used by people who are controlling, have poor mental health, exhibits emotional immaturity, have low emotional intelligence and have difficulty in long term relationships.

The abuser’s goal of using the silent treatment is to maintain control over their spouse. They are attempting to control any individuality or assertion of their spouse. It is employed to avoid conflict resolution, personal responsibility and any compromise.

Using the silent treatment is a way to tell your spouse that they are non-existent, have no value, and are less than a person. The silent treatment is a red flag for a relationship that may become dangerous.

The Difference Between Time Out and Silent Treatment

Taking a Time Out includes communicating to your spouse what the issue is and that you are requesting that there be no discussion about that specific issue for a specific time period, preferably less than 24 hours. Taking a Time Out is constructive, time specific, issue specific, mutually agreed upon, helpful to regain composure, allows for seeking support, seeks self improvement and is solution focused.

The silent treatment is always destructive, indefinite, contemptuous, disengaged from relationship, unilateral, seeks alliance in the argument, seeks to improve only self, selfish, blaming, and about the past.

How To Handle The Silent Treatment

  • Don’t Go After Them – If you pursue them by doing things for them or offering apologies for things you do not know that you have done, you are communicating that they are in control of you. It feeds their behavior and will make it keep happening over and over, again and again. Do not try to engage them in conversation. Be unflappable in the face of their withdrawal behavior.
  • Take Care Of Yourself – Realize that your spouse is choosing to engage in the silent treatment instead of taking responsibility for any part of the issue at hand. You have no control over your spouse so you are not responsible, in any way, for how they are dealing (or not dealing) with the issue. Don’t let their childish behavior affect your own peace and happiness.
  • Take a Time Out – Communicate to your spouse, even if it is one sided, that you are taking a time out and you will be back to talk to them about it in about 24 hours. Keep returning to discuss it every 24 hours until their abusive behavior stops and they are ready for a future focused Courageous Conversation.
  • Enjoy Yourself – While your spouse is not talking to you, enjoy yourself. Go on with your life because they are unavailable to be a part of the relationship.
  • Set Boundaries – When you meet for your Courageous Conversation, only accept responsibility for your part of whatever the issue is. Do not apologize for how your spouse acted. You did not cause your spouse to behave so immaturely. Ask your spouse to take responsibility for it and to never engage in the abusive behavior again. Let them know that a Time Out is OK but the silent treatment is not.
  • Get Help – If your spouse continues in emotionally abusing you with the silent treatment, get professional help. You should not allow your spouse to abuse you and they may need professional help for problems deep within themselves.

What do you have to say?

We love to hear from readers.  Have you ever experienced the silent treatment, what did you do?  Have you been able to end the silent treatment in your marriage, how?  Do you have any other suggestions you would add to our list? Do you know someone you need to forward this article to?

This article was written by Roy and Devra Wooten, authors of “The Secret to a Lifetime Love”. Learn more at © Roy and Devra Wooten 2016. All Rights Reserved. You may replicate this article as long as it is provided free to recipients and includes appropriate attribution. Written permission for other use may be obtained at [email protected].

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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