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: Heather

    It is true people who use the silent treatment tend to be passive aggressive. Instead of having an honest, if uncomfortable conversation to find out what’s wrong they prefer to punish with silence. What they don’t know is that they are in some way causing their partners to reject them.

  2. says: alice

    These responses are so interesting. My husband used to do the silent treatment to me for days on end. When I acted like i liked it he stopped. That was years ago. We are older now and still have alot of communication problems. Its like why bother? I am disfunctional now. I feel stupid. Cuz now im old and still taking crap

  3. says: Me

    The silent treatment/cold shouder is very hurtful and can turn the one on the receiving end into an irrational emotional wreck.

  4. says: Derrick

    My ex gave me the silent treatment. I finally decided she’d never change because it was all a game to her. I broke up with her and didn’t contact her and she didn’t contact me.

  5. says: Carrie

    Im in my 6th week of receiving the Silent Treatment from my boyfriend of 3 yrs,he is 52 and I am 42. This is about the 3rd time he has done this. He is a poor communicator and does not like to discuss any problems that have to do with our relationship and when I confront him he gets mad and goes into Silent Treatment Mode. This time, I did not go to him and ask him to please talk to me and lets move on, I wanted to see how long he would pull the Power Play? After the 5th week I said Im done, its over, I am too good of a woman to get this kind of treatment, and I will not stand for it. I prepared a short, to the point letter and put it in his door, that was a week ago. He ran into me at the gym and came up behind me and said “Hi Carrie” in a laughing manner. So childish it made me sick. I am moving on as hard as it is, because when you love someone its very hard to end things, but Im sticking to my decision. At our age, if you dont wake up every morning loving that person more then the day before, bow out……..