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: Katy

    My boyfriend is wonderfully loving and caring a lot of the time, but he does this sort of thing a lot. He doesn’t talk to me for days then starts talking like nothing was ever wrong. It makes me feel as if I did something wrong.

  2. says: Charlie

    Most people who do silent treatment tend to see things from their own side and not from the other person’s end. A good relationship is about seeing things from both ends.

  3. says: Sandy

    Sometimes when I see that talking only makes things worse, I find it easier to not say anything at all. I don’t see “not talking” as passive aggression or abuse as it is not meant to hurt anyone. I do not support abuse in any way. No reasonable person would.

    1. I hear you… deciding not to talk until you or the other person “cools off” in some circumstances and situation is the best option. But “not talking” for hours or days, or ignoring the existence of someone especially when you know that it negatively affects them (but makes you feel good) is different from saying to someone “I can’t talk to you right now, but we will talk later/tomorrow.”

  4. says: Tikriti

    I know what it feels like to be given the silent treatment. I am on the 2nd day of my silent treatment from my wife. Every time it happens which is like every 2 weeks, I ignore it and pretend like it doesn’t bother me but it does. Trying not to focus on her behaviour is so stressful and draining in itself. At my age I definitely don’t need this. It totally sucks.