How To Stop The Silent Treatment

Question: We got in a heated argument but after realizing that it was about nothing important, I apologized. We had sex afterwards. Next morning, I woke up and found him already up and about to leave for work. I said good morning but no response. I asked him what was wrong and he said he had an important meeting that morning. At lunch time, I texted him to ask about his meeting but no response. He came home late at bout 11.45 p.m. and headed straight to bed. I followed him and told him if something was bothering him that we should talk about it. He insisted he was tired and wanted to sleep. It’s been 3 days and nights and he hasn’t said anything to me and acts like I do not exist.

This is a pattern with him. He shuts down and I have to apologize even if it wasn’t my fault and beg for him to talk to me. He’s never ever once come to me first. I’m tired of always having to apologize whenever he gives me the silent treatment. I do not know why he does it or how to stop it. Advice please?

Yangki’s Answer: It is not just hard when someone refuses to communicate, it’s frustrating and hurtful.

Silent treatment is passive aggressive behaviour. Passive aggressive people use silent treatment because they can get away with it. If someone physically assaults you or verbally abuses you, you can say you did this or said that — and confront them with evidence. Passive aggressive people don’t like any form of direct confrontation so they use silent treatment because it’s easy to deny that they’re “doing” anything. When you confront them, you look like a fool because you have NO evidence.

Secondly, silent treatment is a form of calculated control. As long as there is some sort of pay-off (you getting bothered/hurt, apologize and/or beg) it gives him a sense of power and feeds his ego. It could be something learned from childhood, but as adults, people do it because they can and choose to.

But even more importantly, silent treatment is psychological/emotional abuse whereby the person engaging in silent treatment is holding the other person emotional hostage. By making you feel invisible, unimportant and not valued, he has a psychological and emotional hold on you.

It’s a not a good idea to keep ignoring the behaviour. It may work temporarily but the cycle of abuse will continue. In addition, the frustration, anger and hurt that gets buried ignoring the behaviour will over time undermine the relationship.

It’s best to let him know this has to stop.

Start by expressing how this makes you feel. Say something along these lines: “What you are doing is destructive to our relationship. It’s does not resolve the issue or help the relationship. The only way we can work together is for both of us to communicate in a constructive way.”

Be direct, assertive and calm. If you get upset and start blaming, accusing or yelling, you’ve already lost control of the situation — and this will most likely lead to another silent face-off. As calmly as possible, let him know the impact his behavior is having on your relationship. You might be surprised that like most people who use silent treatment, he may not even realize how abusive this is.

Next, ask him how he thinks you can express yourself/act/respond better so that he doesn’t feel the need to go into lockdown mode.  Say something along the lines. “I am taking the first step to us learning how to communicate in a more constructive way. In this particular situation, how would I have expressed myself/communicated better?”

Listen to what he says and take responsibility for where you think you might not be doing your best. Do not use this opportunity to bring up “all the other times” he’s done this or that. It doesn’t help. Instead discuss how you resolve things better next time you have a disagreement.

Last but not least, let him know you are ready to leave — if you must. Then give it time for change to take place. If it continues with no signs of anything changing, make good on your word and leave. If you say you’ll leave and not follow through, threats of leaving just get incorporated into the “game” and it goes on…

Remember, you can only be controlled or abused to the extent that you are willing to allow it.

If you’re the person giving the silent treatment, I think you’ll find The Silent Treatment as a Way of Coping helpful.

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  1. says: Matt

    I suppose I’m one of those men too. I ignore my partner when something i feel she has done is on my mind. I like her trying to talk because it makes me feel wanted and valued. I suddently feel my thoughts turn to soft feelings again. This to me isn’t control. It’s me inside feeling hurt or used, ect.

    1. says: Yangki Akiteng

      “I ignore her… makes me feel wanted and valued” is not just about control, it’s worse. It’s manipulation.

      Hurting someone else so as to feel wanted and valued is a sign of low self-esteem, emotional dysfunction and/or immaturity.

      One day she’s going to catch up on it… and you’ll be here looking for advice on “how to get back my ex”…

      Just saying…

      I think you’ll find my article helpful (if you are willing to be helped): Is Playing Mind Games Normal In Relationships?

  2. says: Abby

    Thank goodness I stumbled upon your article. The communication strategies are very helpful and make perfect sense. I’ve been trying to break this endless cycle of silent treatment from my husband, withholding of affection (and, of course ,sex), me begging for communication and the finally saying “sorry” for no fault of my own.

    I don’t want to leave (although I’ve threatened many, many times). My reasons to stay are selfish–I don’t want my daughter to have a broken home and I cant afford it!

    I really do want to stay in this marriage so I’ll give the tips a shot–wish me luck!

    1. says: Love Doctor, Yangki Akiteng

      I wish you luck!

      If what you want is to stay, then give it all that you have before calling quits. There is advice here that helps with ‘communication’ in general as well.

  3. says: jonathan

    I am married to my wife for 3 years and she was already like this when we dated but its only rarely that she behaves this way,so things were fine for the first year of our marriage but things start to change on the 3rd year when we have our first boy. now she does the silent treatment thing very often, be it whether I did something wrong or not.We talked about this before but she only got better for a day and continue to behave the same after, i became so tired of all these and now I just do do what she does: ignoring all these, but its tiring me out.

  4. says: Jamie

    This is a great article! I find men and women do this. In my current relationship I have such a hard time finding where to draw the line when it comes about. Most often it’s self cured but it’s totally uncalled for. I would also like to add, how can a true bond be built if you block out your partner,spouse, husband, wife….

    To thoses giving this keep in mind the people in a relationship with you make a choice to be there, in most cases they want to share in both good and bad times.