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7 Shocking Facts About the Silent Treatment in a Relationship and Why It's Abusive

Author:

CL Grant has authored many relationship books, including "30 Day No Contact Rule," "The Reality of Being the Other Woman," and "Ex Addict."

Though it might seem like a normal part of a relationship, the silent treatment is actually a harmful form of emotional abuse.

Though it might seem like a normal part of a relationship, the silent treatment is actually a harmful form of emotional abuse.

What Is the Meaning of the Silent Treatment?

If you think that your partner not speaking to you for days on end is normal, then think again. Whilst silence can be used in a productive manner—such as following a breakup or during a period of cooling off—prolonged periods of unresponsiveness within intimate relationships are not normal or healthy.

Is the Silent Treatment Emotional Abuse?

Whether you realise it or not, you are being punished. This is because the 'silent treatment', also known as emotional withholding, is actually a form of passive-aggressive abuse.

This happens when your partner refuses to enter into any form of meaningful dialogue with you, regardless of the situation at hand. He becomes emotionally detached and distances himself from you by ignoring your very existence. You are excluded from his life and information is withheld from you, making you feel like an outsider. This type of behaviour is also referred to as 'stonewalling' or 'ostracising'.

Ignoring Someone Is a Control Move

People generally resort to using the silent treatment as a means of placing them in a position of control (often because they feel helpless in the face of their situations, their feelings, etc.). A person may also use the silent treatment to avoid personal responsibility for his own actions or to suppress a partner's attempts at asserting self-worth. Additionally, he may be employing the silent treatment predominantly due to a lack of ability to properly communicate. Most likely though, it's attributable to a combination of the above factors.

Note: While the abuser is often referred to as 'he' in this article, this is simply for ease of reading. It should be stressed that both men and women are equally as capable of withdrawing from their partners in this manner. Thus, the terms 'he' and 'she' should be considered interchangeable.

Signs That Your Partner Is Giving You the Silent Treatment

Although silence is the primary method of chastisement, your partner may also adopt other subtle tactics that are designed to frustrate you. Hence, you may find that he delays or refuses to complete chores, knowing that this will upset or irritate you. Alternatively, he may refuse to attend joint social events, with the full knowledge that this will cause you great inconvenience or embarrassment.

Should you attempt to initiate any form of physical contact, with a view to breaking the deadlock, he will reject you. Even superficial actions, such as avoiding eye contact or staring straight through you, are enough to make you feel invisible and insignificant. By resorting to silence and withdrawing from your life, your partner is demonstrating his utmost contempt for you.

7 Disturbing Facts About the Silent Treatment That You May Not Know

This is unacceptable behaviour and not something that should be tolerated in any relationship. Listed below are the seven disturbing facts about the silent treatment that you may not be aware of, which we will explore further in this article:

  1. Your Partner May Be Avoiding Confrontation
  2. It Is Not Cooling Off
  3. The Silent Treatment Is Emotional Abuse
  4. It Is Damaging to Your Health
  5. It Can Lead to Physical Violence
  6. Your Relationship Is Dysfunctional
  7. Your Partner May Be a Narcissist
Is your partner avoiding confrontation?

Is your partner avoiding confrontation?

1. Your Partner May Be Avoiding Confrontation

Some people genuinely have a fear of confrontation and prefer to avoid it at all costs, as it makes them feel uncomfortable. This can arise for several reasons, such as: your partner is afraid of losing you, he may not know how to communicate his feelings, or he may simply lack the confidence to stand up to you.

While this may be their preferred option of problem solving, it does not suit every relationship, especially if you are the type of person who likes to talk problems through. Additionally, by burying his head in the sand, your partner is not resolving any problems and may be building up feelings of resentment towards you.

Problem avoidance is their way of living a peaceful life. Unfortunately, while this may work for a limited period of time, a point will be reached when an issue is so big, it must be discussed. Not having developed the necessary skills to deal with this in a constructive manner will make this process totally alien and uncomfortable for them.

Moreover, as Sarah Schulman notes in her book Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair, this could also be damaging to the person enacting the silent treatment, even if they don't know it.

'In order to "protect" ourselves by keeping our lives small and shutting out intimacies, we could actually be hurting ourselves, missing out on a transformative experience of the heart, and sabotaging our small but crucial contribution to making peace'.

2. It Is Not Cooling Off

From time to time, everyone needs to take some time out of their relationship. This is perfectly normal and often used to resolve conflict in healthy relationships. Nonetheless, this should not be confused with being given the silent treatment. Cooling off is usually implemented as a constructive means of finding a solution to problems that you and your partner may be having.

Perhaps you have had an argument with your partner, and he may be too angry or upset to speak to you. He may need some time to reflect and gather his thoughts. This is perfectly normal and is not necessarily being undertaken to punish you. It is used to give you both time to calm down and to think rationally about what you want and if the disagreement is worth sacrificing your relationships for.

Typically, cooling off is time-bound and you know why it is being done. You will both know what the problem is and when you are going to discuss this matter further. You're not left in limbo and know exactly why you and your partner are having some quiet time. The important aspect is that it is only temporary, and the two of you plan to talk it out soon. As Schulman notes, 'Refusing to speak to someone without terms for repair is a strange, childish act of destruction in which nothing can be won'.

Taking time out of a relationship can be a healthy activity, if done in the correct way and with the correct intent. You do it to save the relationship and not jeopardise it. You don't do it to punish or hurt your partner.

The psychological effects of the silent treatment can be far-reaching.

The psychological effects of the silent treatment can be far-reaching.

3. The Silent Treatment Is Emotional Abuse

The silent treatment is your partner's way of telling you that you have done something wrong. As a consequence of this, he refuses to acknowledge or communicate with you. This is passive-aggressive emotional abuse.

In addition to causing distress, being ignored and excluded threatens your basic psychological needs of belonging, self-esteem, control and meaningful existence. In doing so, your partner is attempting to induce feelings of powerlessness and shame. This is known as psychological or emotional abuse.

The abuser is letting you know that you have done something wrong and, as a consequence, are being punished. He is repudiating your very existence and denying your feelings and needs.

When you are given the silent treatment, you are either unaware of what you are supposed to have done, or the matter is so trivial that you are left feeling dumbfounded by the consequences.

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Though it may not leave easily identifiable physical evidence in the way that physical abuse does, emotional abuse is nevertheless very real and very harmful. It is defined as any attempt to control a person in an emotional or psychological way. In the larger sense, a relationship can be considered emotionally abusive when one person consistently—whether fully intentional or not—uses abusive, hurtful language and bullying, intimidating behaviors to break down a person's self-esteem and self-worth and undermine their mental and emotional health.

Lots of different actions can be considered emotional abuse. This includes things like your partner belittling your emotions so as to make them seem silly or inconsequential, forbidding you from hanging out with your friends or barring you from spending time with anyone else at all, or expecting you to drop everything and help them whenever they demand you to. It can also include impossible expectations that can never be met no matter what you do. Or the incessant invalidating of your experience, perceptions, viewpoints, feelings and needs.

The fundamental goal of emotionally abusive behavior is to control the victim by discrediting, isolating and silencing them, making them feel trapped and incapable of leaving.

Emotional abuse is any type of abuse that is not physical in nature. It can include anything from verbal abuse to the silent treatment, domination to subtle manipulation.

— Beverly Engel

4. It Is Damaging to Your Health

The effects of emotional abuse are frequently underestimated. Just because you cannot see the damage being done, does not mean that it does not exist. In fact, victims of psychological abuse are more likely to suffer from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than victims of physical abuse. This is because the pain of social-exclusion, such as being ignored and ostracised, can be relived far more easily (and triggered more often) than the pain suffered by a physical injury.

Psychologically abused women, in particular, are likely to encounter poor mental health, with 70% experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Furthermore, sufferers of emotional abuse are more likely to go on and form other unhealthy relationships. They also have greater difficulty trusting a new partner.

Moral wounds have this peculiarity—they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.

— Alexandre Dumas, 'The Count of Monte Cristo'

5. It Can Lead to Physical Violence

Domestic abuse or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is any form of physical or sexual assault, stalking or psychological harm, inflicted by a current or former partner. As with most types of relationship abuse, the silent treatment usually begins rather innocuously. However, over a period of time, it escalates until it becomes a normal part of your relationship. While emotional abuse can be undertaken in isolation, statistics indicate that 95% of men who physically abuse their partners also use psychological abuse.

Even if you decide to leave an abusive relationship, you may discover that your nightmare is only just beginning. Harassment and stalking may well continue long after the relationship has ended. This is why it is important to recognise the signs of emotional abuse and be prepared to extricate yourself as soon as possible.

Domestic violence and emotional abuse are frequently experienced together.

Domestic violence and emotional abuse are frequently experienced together.

6. Your Relationship Is Dysfunctional

It is perfectly normal for couples to argue, and there is nothing wrong with debating differences in a constructive manner. Nonetheless, while this may include short spells of time-out, it does not extend to prolonged periods of social ostracism or isolation. It's important to remember that, as Schulman notes, it's 'unreasonable to expect other people to interpret our silences'.

In dysfunctional relationships, your partner exiles you over the most frivolous of matters. So trivial, in fact, that you do not even recall what you are supposed to have done. Even when you do remember, the fallout is disproportionate to the alleged offence.

You invariably find yourself adopting the role of peacemaker. Continually reaching out and trying to make amends. Apologising repeatedly. You begin to feel so insecure in your relationship that you develop a fear of abandonment. And this constant state of defense and apologising and assumed guilt greatly diminishes a person's ability to develop and cultivate a healthy sense of self-worth. These are all warning signs of a dysfunctional relationship.

7. Your Partner May Be a Narcissist

If you have ever had the soul-destroying experience of dating a narcissist, then you will know that it comes with its own set of unique problems. The narcissist lacks empathy and is emotionally immature. Big on empty promises, he initially sweeps you off your feet in a whirlwind romance. He is quick to tell you that he loves you and soon begins planning your future life together.

Sadly, once he has you snared, you soon discover that his fragile ego demands to be worshipped and adored constantly. He is not interested in any thoughts or opinions you may have and spends all of his time talking about himself.

At some point in your relationship, you will undoubtedly be on the receiving end of the silent treatment. Also known as emotional withholding, this is a manipulation technique favoured by those who have narcissistic temperaments. Unlike others who may withdraw because they feel hurt, are sulking or simply wish to avoid conflict, the narcissist uses stonewalling in order to keep you in your place. He becomes enraged if he believes that you have challenged his authority or disrespected him in some way. Constructive criticism does not exist in his warped world.

Your desire to work through any conflict helps place the narcissist right back where he wants to be: in control. The more you reach out to him, the more self-righteous he becomes. Every message, telephone call or text you send is met with utter contempt. His sense of control is derived from maintaining silence. He knows that dialogue will not recommence until he feels that you have been sufficiently punished for your misdemeanours.

Even though you may be oblivious to what you are supposed to have done, you will find yourself apologising. The narcissist never accepts responsibility for his actions. He knows that by ignoring you, he is devaluing your very existence and making you feel insignificant.

If you see any warning signs that your partner has any narcissistic tendencies, then you should do yourself a favour and get out as soon as possible. It will never end well and may prove to be an extremely costly lesson. Dating a narcissist can be both emotionally and financially draining.

Without conversation, it is the person with the most limitations who is in control. The desirable goal for all of us is not to restrict those who can, but to bring more communication skills to those who can't. Refusal through email, texting, and other technologies keeps the person who doesn't know how to problem-solve from learning how.

— Sarah Schulman, 'Conflict Is Not Abuse'

How to Respond to the Silent Treatment

It is difficult to provide a definitive response as to how you should respond to the silent treatment. You first need to ask yourself why your partner is acting in this way. If he genuinely has a fear of confrontation, then you may be able to help him discover positive methods for resolving conflict.

If your relationship is dysfunctional or you think your partner is a narcissist, then you should really be looking to cut your losses, for the sake of your own sanity.

Finally, if your partner is simply having a prolonged period of sulking, then the best thing to do is to keep yourself busy. Put on some music, watch your favourite film or try out a new recipe. Just don't waste your time trying to elicit a response from him. Get yourself out of the house and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that you are not putting your life on hold because he is feeling sorry for himself.

Should you be looking for ways to repair the relationship, however, consider the following tips.

Reach Out and Share How You Feel

Though you've likely already tried this in some fashion, sometimes all it takes to get the repair process started is one more earnest, non-attacking attempt at reconciliation. Sometimes a simple 'Hey, I know you're not talking to me right now, but I wanted you to know how I feel' can go a long way.

Consider sharing your feelings and thoughts from your vantage point. Tell your partner how the situation has been making you feel. If you feel as though you played a part in the conflict, share that and offer your apologies. If you don't think you did anything to deserve the silent treatment or at least aren't sure about what might have sparked it, share that too.

Give Your Partner a Chance to Share Their Side of the Story

Though the silent treatment is not an acceptable response to a conflict, many people resort to the tactic when they feel like they aren't being heard in the first place. So if you give your partner an opportunity to open up and share what's upsetting them without attacking them or devaluing their experience, it can often help pave the way for resolution.

Occasionally, it can just take someone starting a dialogue with something along the lines of 'Hey, I know you're upset with me right now. If you're up to it, I'm ready to hear your side of the story and what you have to say'.

Suggest Some Next Steps to Take

If the two of you manage to openly share your experiences and feelings, then it's a good idea to then discuss how you can both handle similar situations better in the future. That can include things like admitting that if someone is upset that they might just need some time to cool off first before talking it out. You can even come up with agreed-upon terms for those situations, such as 'red light for an hour'. These can work wonders when it comes to both parties feeling respected in their wishes and needs.

Remember that much of what makes the silent treatment abusive is a lack of terms for re-opening dialogue. It's not necessarily abusive to want some space sometimes. It is abusive, however, to never set terms for when discussion can be opened again or to use silence as a weapon to hurt another person.

Establish Boundaries

This is an extremely important step, especially if your partner is not as responsive and respectful as they should be. Boundaries are important in just about every aspect of your life, but particularly so when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

Telling your partner that they may no longer insult you, call you harmful names, yell at you, or do anything similarly disrespectful is very healthy and necessary to a mutually loving and respectful relationship. You can also communicate that extended periods of silence—without terms for when they will end—are hurtful to you, and you won't stand for it. Furthermore, it's important to set terms about what will happen if they violate these boundaries. For instance, if they do any of the above, the conversation will be over and you will leave the room.

Just make sure that when you form these boundaries and stipulations that you plan to follow through with them should the time come. Failing to do so will undermine your word and make it that much harder to develop self-worth.

Build a Support Network

Having a circle of trusted friends, family members and professionals trained in the field of interpersonal relationships is extremely crucial. This helps you feel more supported and less lonely. More importantly, however, this gives you an outlet to communicate your experience to third parties who care about your wellbeing and will help you get an outside perspective on what is happening in your relationship.

This in turn also gives you witnesses to your experience—so that your partner is less able to discredit your side of the story. Moreover, it helps you notice further abusive behavior in the future and helps give you the strength to leave should it be necessary.

Sources

  1. Williams KD, Shore WJ, Grahe JE. The Silent Treatment: Perceptions of its Behaviors and Associated Feelings. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 2016;1(2):117-141. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  2. Wesselmann ED, Williams KD, Hales AH. Vicarious ostracism. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2013;7:153. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  3. Meyer ML, Williams KD, Eisenberger NI. Why Social Pain Can Live on: Different Neural Mechanisms Are Associated with Reliving Social and Physical Pain. Urgesi C, ed. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(6):e0128294. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  4. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. National Statistics. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  5. Schulman, Sarah. (2016). Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair. Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  6. Gordon, Sherri. (2018, September 20). How to Identify and Cope With Emotional Abuse. VeryWellMind. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  7. Koza, Jenny. (2018). How to Deal with the Silent Treatment. OneLove. Retrieved February 12, 2019.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: My husband has given me the silent treatment throughout our 25-year marriage. He doesn't think he is doing anything wrong and refuses to go to couples counseling. I am afraid of losing 25 years of my life. Where do I go from here?

Answer: Without wishing to appear harsh, you have already lost 25 years of your life. There is nothing you can do to change that, or get those years back. The only thing you can change, is your future. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life with someone who doesn't appear to fulfill your emotional needs?

If your husband won't go to counselling with you, then you should go on your own. This will help you evaluate your relationship for what it truly is, and hopefully, guide you through any difficult decisions you may face.

Question: How long is considered normal to put up with the silent treatment in a relationship?

Answer: It is never normal to be subjected to the silent treatment, which is a form of emotional abuse.

However, don't confuse this with periods of 'cooling off' or taking 'time out.' It is perfectly natural for couples to disagree and need some time alone to reflect and gather their thoughts. This is used to resolve problems in a relationship, whereas the silent treatment is used as a form of punishment.

Question: A man I met has been giving me the silent treatment for 5 years. This started almost immediately after I met him, in a foreign country, where I was a tourist. He has refused to speak a word to me since I sent him an email from the next country I traveled to. There, I was the victim of aggression and barely escaped being raped and murdered. He has banned me, blocked me and reported me for stalking. He is not answering his phone or even checking his emails, fearing it might be me. Why would he give me the silent treatment for five years?

Answer: Firstly, I am sorry to hear of the traumatic events you experienced whilst traveling. I am unable to say if this is partly responsible for the obsessive behavior you are displaying towards this gentleman.

Nonetheless, you must acknowledge that your actions are unhealthy and unacceptable. The reason he reported you for stalking is because that is exactly what you have been doing.

Why are you obsessing about contacting someone, who you briefly met 5 years ago?

It sounds as if you are reading far more into the 'relationship' you had with him than he is. There was nothing wrong with sending him an initial email, but if he didn't respond, why would you make any further effort to contact him? It's his loss.

As you appear oblivious to the toxicity of your actions, I suggest you read an article I wrote about obsessive love disorder here: https://pairedlife.com/breakups/how-to-stop-thinki...

Furthermore, you would probably benefit from face-to-face counseling with a professional therapist, to help you come to terms with your emotions. In the meantime, delete all of his contact information and do not make any attempt to contact him.

Question: My husband has been giving me the silent treatment for about one month because I got myself a job. What should I do in this situation?

Answer: You should re-evaluate your relationship as soon as possible. In securing employment, you have increased your independence both on a personal and financial level. This means that your husband has less control over what you do and who you meet.

It may also be possible that he has genuine concerns about your wellbeing or for the welfare of your family. Without knowing your background, it is difficult to provide a definitive reply. Nonetheless, giving you the silent treatment for one month, especially for a positive achievement, is an extreme measure and should not be taken lightly.

Question: Who gives a week of silent treatment after a big or petty fight? It's always the case and I think am losing my mind. If I start crying and screaming he will call me a psychopath or schizophrenic.

Answer: You need to seek professional help so that you can discuss your circumstances in greater detail. You are the victim of emotional abuse and it is clearly affecting your mental health. Do it now, before he destroys you completely.

Question: What if you are married to a passive aggressive narcissist, but you only realized it after your child was born? I can't get out. I know he will use my child as a pawn. How do I protect myself from losing it?

Answer: You need to seek professional advice as soon as possible. Not only is your husband's behavior affecting you, but it may ultimately have an adverse impact on your child.

There are many domestic abuse charities that will provide you with free, confidential advice and support. Search for one where you live. If you do this online, make sure you delete your search history and cookies, so that he doesn't find out.

Question: I calmly told my husband I am upset because he called me a "bitch" in public and hadn't apologized. I also raised the issue of him refusing to discuss any major issues with me. He is now giving me the silent treatment, which is so typical of him. I used to get so upset with him I would start yelling. However, that only led him to say I was "mentally ill." So now I just don't engage. Last time, it took three days for his "silent retreat" to end. Is this abusive?

Answer: Yes, the silent treatment is a type of emotional abuse. Also, him referring to you as being, 'mentally ill,' is another form of abuse, commonly referred to as 'gaslighting.' The latter can have serious implications for your emotional well-being.

Remember, it is perfectly natural for couples to argue. However, you both need to establish boundaries. Not insulting each other in public should be top of that list.

Question: This can go both ways right (male or female)? Is it normal to give someone the silent treatment if the person was upset and discussed his or her feelings and why they are angry?

Answer: Yes, both men and women are capable of inflicting the silent treatment. However, do not confuse this with simply taking some time-out to gather your thoughts, calm down or lick your wounds after an argument. These are relatively normal occurrences in healthy relationships.

The silent treatment is about punishment and control. It may begin in a subtle fashion and there is frequently no discernible trigger for it.

Question: Who could give 9 hours silent treatment in a car?

Answer: It's not beyond the realms of possibility. It all depends upon the individuals and their underlying motives. Most reasonable people would probably not even consider a 9 hour car journey, if they were not speaking to their partner.

Question: Could the silent treatment, that my husband gives me, be triggering my PTSD from my childhood?

Answer: Yes, it is possible. Any trauma that generates similar emotions to the ones you experienced in your childhood can cause painful memories to resurface. You may associate the heartache of being ignored by your husband, with feelings of abandonment, abuse or neglect, that you may have suffered as a child.

Firstly, you should seek medical advice, to help with your PTSD. Once you are feeling stronger, you and your husband should seek couples counseling, so that he is fully aware of the damage he is causing to your health.

Question: I am giving my partner the silent treatment. He refuses to talk or listen to my opinion and says he doesn’t understand why I get upset over things. He refuses point blank to argue and tells me to stop stressing out. It's making me ill and question where we go. What should I do?

Answer: Whether you realize it or not, you are trying to punish your ex by giving him the silent treatment. On the face of it, he is in the wrong as he refuses to discuss matters with you. However, some individuals genuinely do not like conflict and will avoid it at all costs.

Similarly, you may well be overly-sensitive about certain issues, but his refusal to discuss your concerns is only serving to heighten them.

Have you told him how he makes you feel? Have you asked him to help you not feel so upset and stressed out? If he doesn't talk to you, perhaps you could write him a short letter. No more than one side of a page. Don't accuse him or blame him for anything. Simply write down how you are feeling. Tell him that you would appreciate his help and support, especially as he seems to cope so well. Perhaps you could agree to sit down for an hour each week, so that you can both discuss any burning issues that you may have.

Failing this, you should seriously consider visiting a counselor. If your partner doesn't go with you, then go alone. Communication is a vital aspect if any relationship. As it stands, the lines of communication have broken down, and that's where your relationship is heading, if something doesn't change.

Question: My partner used to give me the silent treatment, but eventually I threw him out. I let him back, but now he doesn't speak to my 20 year daughter and is always slagging her off to me, even though she's a hardworking girl. He's childish as well and is always lying. What do you think I should do?

Answer: Wow! He sounds like a real catch...doesn't he? Immature, serial liar, gives you the silent treatment and puts down your daughter. He is also a manipulator and emotional abuser. He is trying to isolate you from your daughter, so that he has more control over you. He believes that if he keeps saying something often enough, you will come to believe it also.

You honestly don't need me to tell you what you need to do. You sound like a smart lady who deserves so much better. Good luck.

Question: My boyfriend of 5 years has given me silent treatment for 2 weeks. We fought over something he had done to hurt my feelings. He resorted to name calling and bringing up my faults. He also accused me of cheating and told me I disgusted him. He then stopped talking to me. I have tried to break the silence with, "have a good day" but am met with a slamming door and even more silence. He avoids me until bedtime. I cry myself to sleep and wake up crying. What should I do?

Answer: You don't say if this is the first time your boyfriend has given you the silent treatment, or if there is is a history of abuse. Nonetheless, two weeks is a long time not to speak to you. He also appears unmoved by your tears and may even be pleased that you are feeling so distressed. All couples argue, but this is taking matters to an unhealthy level.

It's time for you to take control. You need to stop moping and stop crying. It also isn't healthy for you to continue living in this toxic environment. Do you have anywhere safe where you could stay for a while? You don't have to move out permanently, but just enough time to give yourself and your boyfriend a little space to think the situation through.

You may also want to consider counseling, although it doesn't appear that your boyfriend would be receptive to this, at the moment.

What is most concerning, is that this does appear to be a control tactic that your boyfriend is using. He is punishing you and making sure that you do not step out of line again. Removing yourself from this situation is the only way to move forward.

Question: How does a silent man deal with an aggressive person?

Answer: You seem to suggest that you are not communicating with your partner because he or she behaves aggressively towards you. If this is the case, then you should seek professional advice to determine if you want to stay with this person. If you do, then you need to work on changing the dynamic of your relationship. Nobody should live in fear of an abusive or aggressive partner.

Question: My boyfriend of 10 years had a minor disagreement with my mother. That was over one month ago, and he hasn't spoken to me since. He also hasn't returned any phone calls or emails. Why is he giving me the silent treatment when I wasn't the person he argued with? His behavior suggests he has broken up with me. Am I right to think this?

Answer: He appears to be blaming you for the disagreement and possibly feels that you were unsupportive of him. Either way, his reaction is immature, and you may be better off without him, as painful as that may seem. Rather than chase after him, you would be better to regain some self-respect and implement the no-contact rule. You can read my article about no contact here: https://hubpages.com/breakups/no-contact-rule-afte...

Question: The first time any partner gives me the silent treatment, it's all over. They are obviously incapable of love and trying to exploit me. It's like an off-switch for me. It's like finding dirt on my shoe and I have to clean it off instantly. I can't love someone like that. Am I being too harsh?

Answer: Yes, you are. While I would never recommend staying in an abusive relationship, have you considered that you may have a fear of commitment and are using this to justify ending things?

Silent treatment as a form of abuse is very specific. As stated in the article, there are other reasons why people may not be willing to engage. Have you considered that your partners may have found you intimidating and thought it best to let the dust settle?

There is clearly a pattern here and you need to establish why you instantly react in the way you do. You may also find it useful to discuss your feelings with a relationship counselor.

Question: What should you do if your partner keeps on lying to you over and over again?

Answer: Leave.

Without trust, you don’t have a relationship and you certainly don’t have a partner whom you can rely upon.

Question: My wife gives me the silent treatment when making plans with family or friends. She won’t talk to me for weeks and it’s always my fault. What should I do?

Answer: You effectively have two choices. You can stay in this abusive relationship and be unhappy for the rest of your life, or you can leave and embrace new opportunities and challenges that life presents.

There is a middle ground to visit a relationship counselor, but it's unclear if your wife would be receptive to this.

Only you know the extent of the abuse and what you are prepared to do about it. A good way to approach this is to imagine that it was a friend who was in your situation. What advice would you give to them?

© 2017 C L Grant

Comments

Ge Rijn on July 05, 2020:

My partner/girlfriend for 9 years very often acted out the 'silent treatment'. I often tried to discuss it as gentle as possible. It made her silence and emotional/physical withdrawing even worse. Till the point she started to devaluate me and telling me I could not live without her.

This happened at the end of our relationship. Never occured before so openly. Just at a time I'd lost my job and had serious health issues. The passive-agressive went active I see now. I broke-off the relationship immediatly after this obvious abuse and betrayel.

Seems all classic narcissistic but it turned out she has been diagnosed a half year later with Autism/Asperger-syndrom. Her brother had this disorder too I knew since she told me years ago and all knew in the family. Never made a deal out of it to bother about.

Till this happened to me and I started searching for anwsers.

It turned out to be typical Autistic/Asperger behaviour too.

Maybe something to consider too.

Damaged on June 18, 2020:

My soon to be ex husband used the silent treatment tactic with hostility on me for the better part of 28 years. I always felt like I deserved the treatment because I as made to feel like I was always in the wrong. I apologized repeatedly for things I did that I didn't remember or wasn't really sorry for. Whenever something new would happen, I would have to apologize for that and everything else from the past that I had already apologized numerous times for.

On the other hand, if I was angry at him and confronted him about something he did, he would lie even if I had proof and somehow turn it against me and make me feel guilty for even mentioning it. He would lie and deny, deny, deny & gaslight me. H tried to make me think I was going crazy like I imagined those text messages I found on his phone to another woman. I had screen shots of those messages and was still made to feel like it was all in my head.

The silent treatment was so hostile and palpable that others were effected by it as well. My daughter noticed it & when she was 13 or so, she told me I shouldn't put up with it as it is a form of domestic violence. I did some research and realized she was right. The tactic was not employed to avoid conflict but to punish and humiliate me. From there, I ignored him as much as possible and focused on doing things I know he doesn't like and more or less laughed at him - I turned it against him. Played his game & won. He tried to break me and get me to leave but I refused. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. So eventually he caved and left but he remains angrier than a hornet about it. He says it wasn't his decision to leave and refuses to accept responsibility for it. This bitter attitude makes me think it isn't over.

He never forgives or forgets anything and his anger is what drives him.

Mark on May 06, 2020:

I have been two years with someone who gave me all these sort of treatments ... yet when confronted my partner made me feel guilty as half of what he was recounting made so much sense ... I kept self doubting and not sure ... what is real that these things are so subtle before you know it ... your life is upside down and the “unrecognisable waves of emotions” made me feel overwhelmed and in the wrong. I had help as, everyone brace , I am a therapist myself and could not believe I was in such a situation... thanks for your contributing knowledge... as the difficulty to leave has been eased by far ... gratefully

Debbie on February 27, 2020:

How do i leave,while he is at work just go.

Mimmie on July 29, 2019:

My partner use to have a terrible temper, screaming and shouting in an agreement. He went to see someone to help joke deal with it, and it was good for a while. Now he has fallen into the silent treatment as punishment. How do we reach a middle ground as both extremes makes me rebellious and I will fight back or be spiteful when this happens.

Dina Sostarec from Osijek, Croatia on July 23, 2019:

Hi,

Thank you for such an informative article. I definitely agree with you that "silent treatment" is not something that should be considered normal in a functioning relationship.

My boyfriend and I gave each other silent treatment after a particular fight a few months ago. I felt almost sick and I was so stressed out that I found it hard to perform even routine tasks.

I guess neither of us actually wanted to deal with each other at the time, and I would add this to your list of reasons.

We both agreed never to do this again. It's never a good decision to stay mad at each other for a longer period and to make 0 efforts to come to a resolution.

John on July 18, 2019:

My wife of 12 years has been using the silent treatment ever since we met. It’s mostly only used when I see my friends or family. She always has a reason robber upset. She will say I’m not including her, so I’ll go out of my way to invite her multiple times but that doesn’t seem to help. It’s so bad that I find myself avoiding friends and family cause I know she’ll be upset and not talk to me for weeks. I encourage her to spend time with her friends and family. We see her parents every weekend and I have no issues with that. I just expect the same respect when I want to see my family. We’ve argued about this so many times that it’s so exhausting. We have 3 kids and it would be hard to leave. I just wish I had left before we got married

Jane on July 14, 2019:

My daughter lived with an emotional abuser for 10 years, his "silent treatment" of her finally broke her and she took her own life! :(

Rose on October 17, 2018:

Thank you so much for this wonderful, helpful article! I was with my ex for 5 years and he would regularly give me the silent treatment. It would usually go on for about 3 weeks at a time. If he answered me, it would be with sarcastic and mean responses. It was very upsetting and I started having anxiety attacks regularly. It has now been 3 months since I've left him and haven't had a single anxiety attack since. I would encourage anyone experiencing this to do the same as the abusive person will only get worse with time. They lack empathy and simply don't care if you're suffering.

Lisa on October 09, 2018:

I don’t feel it a silent treatment when a person who has a casual relationship to your life decides to verbally dump on you. They are having a bad day, someone else hurt their feelings, they are feeling annoyed because they just are. I have no time and no interest for children like that no matter their age.

A nony mouse on August 26, 2018:

Sometimes the silent treatment is possibly the only thing that will work, it is often employed where attempts at communication are seen as nothing more than nagging. Wound up in therapy with my ex husband, where he admitted that he messed up anything that I asked for help with in the hope of not being asked for help in future.

Now, I have a different view, when I cook dinner for someone I love, it is an act of love in itself and I would wish to produce a meal to the best of my ability that shows that. Not surprising then that I felt worn out and unappreciated. Any attempt to discuss how I felt resulted in him stalking off and claiming that he was being nagged, he would then be surprised that when he was ready to talk (read wants me to do something for him), that he got the cold shoulder. This generally resulted in him buying me flowers, I would then try to explain that rather than buy me flowers, which are nice, I would still prefer that he took the bins out.

He complained that I no longer had his friends round for dinner. I told him that, it was because it was such hard work. Not only did I work full time, but when he had mates around, it was me that shopped for all the food, laid tables, prepared and cooked food and ran back and forth to the kitchen. He could not even manage to help with tidying up or wash the dishes. He promised that the next time he would do the dishes, guess what, despite being told quite clearly, that I understood his inability to shop and cook and so I did not expect any help with that, but the least he could do is ensure that the dishes had been washed by the time I came home the next day from work. Ten days later, despite repeated reminders, he still had not cleared the plates. Given that he knew that I did not invite my friends for meals because of the amount of work involved, you would have thought he might be grateful enough to share some of the burden of the work.

I would imagine that a lot of the silent treatment is given because some husbands are simply not receptive to the idea of communication that does not involve sex, Here is an idea to avert the silent treatment, listen to what your wife says and do your share to the best of your ability. If you still fall foul, instead of a bunch of flowers, try tackling the laundry basket. Washing drying and ironing would be far more appreciated than a bunch of flowers, because it gives your wife me time and a break from chores. If you really can't manage the laundry without dying everything pink, or shrinking or burning clothes, then get it professionally laundered. It says to her I am responsible and want to lessen your burden, even if it is only a means to get the best from your wife in the bedroom, after all a less tired and stressed wife is more grateful.

SIMPLY on July 25, 2018:

Silent treatment is a method that works both way if you use it right it's a good reason to rebuilt the relationship - cool off time - don't we all need it. If you use it because you think it's a game or something fun to do to control the other person or because with hatred or holding grudge then it's not right.

In my relationship I used the silent treatment with my boyfriend when we first dating because he treated me with disrespect and I feel like you know what I'll show you how to treat a woman right and it works. I am a very reasonable, compassionate and caring person I would not ever want to hurt anyone physically or emotionally and so some people think they can just step all over you - and then sometimes you will show them it's unacceptable and silent treatment can be used to let them understand that and next time they learn to communicate better.

So sometimes you have to learn a hard lesson and some people need a hard lesson and hopefully they learn to be a better person.

Pisces on May 08, 2018:

When I was younger I used the silent treatment. I would ignore calls, ignore texts, to feel a sense of control and to punish. When I met my past ex, I made a promise to myself, that I would always answer all calls and texts no matter how mad I am. I kept my promise, but my ex boyfriend would always give me the silent treatment. It was often over something very minor. I would always be the one to reach out and it was humiliating and painful that the person who loves you and is supposed to be your best friend can have no issue with ignoring you.

dashingscorpio from Chicago on June 14, 2017:

I wonder how many men have ever had to deal with the "silent treatment" from their female mate or spouse.

My guess is if and when it does happen (men) just roll with it or go off to hang out with friends. Something tells me that men don't consider the silent treatment to be a form of abuse.

In fact when I think about it the word "passive aggressive" is usually applied towards men by women and not vice versa.

As you noted sometimes the "silent treatment" is a "cooling off" period where a person knows it's pointless to start talking right now unless having a major fight is the goal.

Some men probably use the silent treatment to avoid becoming verbally or possibly physically abusive when angry. They're usually advised to "walk away" rather than explode.

I once heard someone say that the person who is the least emotionally invested in the relationship controls it.

If the "silent treatment " seems like a torture to one person and the other is nonchalant about it you pretty much knows who is winning the "power struggle".

Probably the best way to handle the "silent treatment" is to step away from whomever is using it and go about having fun with friends & family while letting them continue to sulk.

It's what parents do with a toddler in their "terrible twos"

Over time people change their (tactics) when they don't work.

Your (reaction) is what gives them the satisfaction they desire.

Once in a while when my wife gets distant/silent on me I'll leave the house maybe take in a movie or do whatever.

I refuse to give anyone the satisfaction of controlling me or making me feel miserable. I simply won't play that game.

Ultimately if I ever had anyone do it for days I'd probably start making my own exit plans. Life is too short to deal with B.S.

As one old song goes:

"The greatest love of all is learning to love (yourself)."

"Never love anyone who treats you like you're ordinary."

- Oscar Wilde

If someone refuses to speak to you they clearly don't think you're all that "special". Thankfully there are 7 Billion other people.