7 Ways To Deal With The Silent Treatment With Dignity

They want you to know they're pissed, but they aren't going to tell you outright.

Why should they bother when they can simply keep their mouth shut and communicate all they need to say?

The silent treatment is a passive-aggressive tactic people use in relationships when they want to punish or wound you.

Either they can't or won't communicate their feelings maturely, so they clam up and leaving wondering what's going on.

Being on the receiving end of this behavior feels like you've been emotionally excommunicated.

Why Do People Use The Silent Treatment?

Silence may be golden sometimes, but it can also be a weapon.

man standing by neon light silent treatment

People use it to punish, control, manipulate, disempower, or run away from a person or problem.

People who use silent treatment to manipulate often have the following characteristics:

  • They never learned to express themselves assertively or maturely.
  • They have strong narcissistic tendencies.
  • They know that silence is an effective way to manipulate someone, perhaps because they’ve been victims of emotional abuse themselves.

If you know someone who displays these characteristics, and that person gives you the silent treatment on a regular basis, know that you are not powerless against them.

How to Handle the Silent Treatment with Dignity: 7 Essential Strategies

Wondering how you should respond to the silent treatment?

You don't want to reinforce this behavior. Nor do you want to meet it with similarly juvenile reactions.

What's the point of crossing your arms and sewing your lips together? Reacting to the silent treatment certainly won't improve your relationship.

Keep your cool and recognize that your silent friend or partner is trying to speak volumes but just can't manage the words. Maintain your dignity and try these six strategies.

1. Look for the reasons behind the silent treatment.

People who give the silent treatment aren’t always doing it out of malice.

They may have trouble expressing themselves, especially when it comes to negative emotions like anger and grief. They may also be afraid of how you might react knowing how they really feel or think.

On the other hand, serial emotional abusers don’t care if they hurt you with their silent treatment.

They only care about the power silence gives them.

  • The power to compel you to do what they want.
  • The power to make you grovel at their feet.
  • The power to make you do feel desperate to get back in their good graces.

Before doing anything drastic about the silent treatment, make sure you understand what's compelling it.

Ask the person directly (but calmly) why they clam up, and let them know how it makes you feel. If you are met with defensiveness or a lack of empathy, you'll know you are dealing with a toxic personality.

2. Share the psychology behind silent treatment.

During a calm period after your partner has punished you with silence, give him or her some information about silent treatment abuse. Discuss the effects of silent treatment on trust and intimacy in your relationship.

This behavior is hostile even though it's wrapped in a cloak of silence. Withdrawal of communication and closeness is deeply painful and unkind, and your partner should understand the kind of damage he or she is inflicting.

Unhappy couple, silent treatment

[Sidebar]: Break the Chains: Are you tired of feeling controlled? Our Emotional Abuse Breakthrough Course empowers you to reclaim your autonomy and build a healthier future.

3. Avoid reacting to silent abuse.

The silent treatment hurts, and it's hard not to react. But one way to cope with silent treatment abuse is acting as fi it doesn’t affect you — even when it does.

Remember that people who give the cold shoulder this way are looking to get a particular reaction out of you. If you refuse to play into their hands, they’ll know better than to try to get you into the game next time.

For example, if your boyfriend hasn’t phoned you for days, resist the urge to keep calling him until he picks up the phone.

Instead, act as if his behavior doesn’t bother you at all. Occupy yourself with other things and try to keep your thoughts away from the incident. It's on him to explain his behavior — not on you to draw it out of him.

Once you’re face-to-face with him, talk to him like you normally do. If he insists on be unresponsive, say “When you’re ready to talk and be close again, please let me know, and we can discuss what's going on.”

Calmly make it clear to him/her that you won’t allow silence to be used as punishment against you.

4. Respond with calmness and speak kindly.

If you're getting the silent treatment in a relationship, you will have to confront your partner at some point, even if your partner resists. When that time comes, take a deep breath, clear your mind, and initiate a talk in a private, comfortable place.

Then, use the “sandwich method” of breaking the ice and offering feedback. Start off with a positive, factual statement. Then calmly state the hurtful behaviors or tactics your partner has been using. Try use “I” statements to express how you feel rather than blaming him or her.

Make an offer of reconciliation. For example, a conversation with your significant other may look like this:

“Babe, I love you, and I want our relationship to be enjoyable and supportive for the both of us. When you avoid talking to me about things that bother you and just clam up, it makes me feel isolated and unloved. I need to feel connected to you, and I want you to know I’m here to listen if there’s something on your mind.”

More Related Articles:

How To Recognize the 8 Signs Of Emotional Manipulation

31 Quotes About Toxic People That Are So Spot On

7 Damaging Effects Of Emotional Abuse 

5. State your boundaries clearly.

If your relationship has soured because of the ongoing silent treatment tactic, you may decide to end the relationship outright.

Or you may want to state your boundaries and consequences plainly before you decide to end things.

You might say,  “I can't be in a relationship with someone who manipulates me and shuts me out. If you insist on giving me the silent treatment, I’m afraid I’ll have to break things off between the two of us.”

Your partner might balk at that last statement and beg you to give him another chance. If you think there’s a chance your relationship can be saved, give him one more chance. But make it clear that your boundaries are firm, and you will follow through if the behavior continues.

If he goes back to his old, passive-aggressive ways after you’ve made up, break it off and don’t look back. You deserve better.

6. Take care of yourself.

When someone gives you the silent treatment, it’s easy to get thrown off-balance.

You might feel like you’re grasping at straws and beat yourself up for not knowing what a loved one is thinking. The moment you start to feel like that, STOP.

  • Stop beating yourself up.
  • Stop berating yourself for not being a mind reader.
  • Stop thinking it’s your responsibility to help an immature person mature.

If your partner gives any indication that they want to change, offer to help them. Otherwise, let them be.

Be sure to surround yourself with positive people. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Practice positive affirmations daily.

Remind yourself that you’re not a terrible person for being in a relationship with someone who gives you the silent treatment.

It's their issue, not yours.

7. Consider professional therapy.

Silent treatment in a relationship is emotional abuse. Putting up with silent treatment can take its toll on you.

You may become angry, depressed, and anxious because of how you’re being treated.

In that case, seek professional help. If possible, ask the person giving you the silent treatment to go into therapy with you.

Should the person refuse, schedule appointments for yourself anyway. Prepare to pack up and leave the relationship if things take a turn for the worse.

Common Questions about the Silent Treatment

Here are some common questions people have about this painful and confusing behavior that might shed additional light on your situation and why it's happening.

How do you respond to silent treatment?

When it's happening, try not to give it any attention. Allow your partner (or whomever is dishing out this treatment) to stew in his or her own juices for a while. After a few hours or a day, try implement point #4 listed above to see if you can set things back on course.

Is silent treatment manipulation?

In many cases it is. Some people use this tactic as a way of getting you to behave or respond a certain way. Be especially aware of this manipulative strategy if you're a highly sensitive person who tends to take blame or responsibility for others' bad behaviors.

What should you do when narcissists give the silent treatment?

Narcissistic silent treatment suggests intentionality and cruelty with this abusive behavior. It isn't simply a communication problem or immaturity. A narcissist is so insecure and self-centered that he or she doesn't care about your feelings. The goal is to get his or her way at all costs. Run for the hills.

What does silent treatment do to a woman (or man)?

This kind of treatment, if used consistently, can make you feel confused, insecure, and unlovable. You walk on eggshells, wondering what might set your partner off so that he or she stops talking and gives you the cold shoulder.

Eventually, it takes a toll on your self-esteem and mental health if you don't address the behavior and set boundaries — or leave the relationship altogether.

Final Thoughts

Getting the silent treatment can make you feel crazy and lonely.

Do what you can to get the other person to open up, but if it's clear the behavior isn't going away, you need to put yourself first.

You deserve love, honor, and kindness from others. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise and take away your dignity.

19 thoughts on “7 Ways To Deal With The Silent Treatment With Dignity”

  1. Loved the article, and I think this belongs to at least 70% people of today’s society!
    Thank you so much for your help…

  2. I was silent because I found out he was cheating on me thru whatsapp and then he got out of control and started calling me nonstop and then sending insulting texts. I was terrified of the whole situation, not ready to face him or his betrayal. I was going to call him and discuss but his reaction pushed me to stay silent. beside, he ended it himself by insulting with worst names ever.

    I am shocked and in denial ..

  3. This article is my marriage at first I questioned myself wondering why the silence then, I left him alone in den tried and per him need time to relax. I ask if I have done something to cause the separation of communication?
    Moving forward got copy of cell phone bill to learn this man was having a emotional affair with a women whom he texted 57 times one day and every morning at nine they text back and forward until eleven. This is an affair per him I lie this went on for three years. He is a firemen I am sure this continues at work. I address the situation and he said I lie and I am insecure this is the man who needed his space. The silence was his needs being meeted. My son has one more year in high school and do to the trust factor. I have no physical attraction to him and nor does he have an attraction to me, I feel all the the attraction has left the marriage. The pain it cause has left and he is in complete denial says something is wrong with me and I have discuss with him that I am aware he is not in love or attracted to me’and please go be happy with whom ever you want. I do realize that people fall out of love, but the lying and the job situation is real. I continue to read and empowering myself and keep myself happy I will divorce him in a year. We go on dates and vacation it is all fake. If I address the problem he doesn’t talk for days .

  4. Excellent article – brief and to the point. I am a man with a wife using the silent treatment on me. That is not my way so this article was a big help in protecting myself. I especially responded to points 3,4 & 5. In my case, the silent treatment is really ineffective because i see it as a childish form of behavior – adults talk it out – they do not take their toys and go home. So, as a way to shed bad feeling and protect myself, I wrote her a letter (hand delivered) accepting responsibility for my fault in the matter ( can’t do better than putting it on paper) and then I let it all go. She may hang on to it as long as she wishes – I have a life to live and we better live it because no one gets out of this alive – time is too precious to waste it on silence surrounding stupid petty things. The silent treatment is emotional abuse – no question about it. The silent one wants to hurt the other but uses it as a way to seemingly take the high road and claim they need silence to heal . Problem – – only the silent one matters in that equation – narcissistic at the least.

    So thank you – and point 6 is good as a starting point for mindful self- healing. If the silent treatment is used by one in a relationship, then you can pretty much take it to the bank that there are more bad things going on in that nest than just the silent treatment. Therapy may help but most importantly save yourself – you is all you have -it has token me forever to learn and act on that fact.

  5. I just scanned over this article. I have been in a relationship of estrangement for almost 4 years with all 3 children. This has developed over a 15 year period, at first with just one son and DIL involved for the first 11 years, but gradually all became involved. There was so much talk among them for years and I believe things became so distorted. My husband and I were ever given an opportunity to be part of talking about resolution when it was just one couple, nor when it was with 3 couples. There are many details that I don’t have the time to discuss it here. After so long it becomes so complicated, and when you’ve never been able to try to reason, reconcile, discuss ways of resolution or some way to make the situation acceptable for everyone, you just start drowning in rejection. Truly it seemed to start with the 1st couple as DIL wanted all relationship to be with her family and friends, and push us out. That was evident from the beginning. So anything that threatened that being accomplished was met with periods of rejection, silence, estrangement. The couple just younger talked a lot with them about their feelings but never us, and there was also a tendency to have everything that DIL’s way and I feel she was empowered by the actions of the first. The third was a complicated matter that really caused a change in dynamics when daughter divorced father of grandchild remarried quickly to another man, older than her, with a grown family – everything went to his grown children, and his hobbies. During this time their father, my husband was diagnosed with advanced cancer and died after an 18 month survival. It was heartbreaking to see him die heartbroken. They came around some during his illness but not much and it was superficial, not an effort to reconcile. We had, at the beginning of their families had very close relationships with all the grandchildren, making much effort to have a relationship with them. Now it’s all gone. They refuse to talk, so we, now I , get 100% silent treatment. We’ve never been able to have a conversation about any of this. They talk among themselves, set the rules in a bullying manner, then the silent treatment. It’s devastating. I’m finding many parents are in this same situation.

  6. I get along well with my ex-husband’s family. He dropped out of life and became a drug addict and speaks to no one. Through the years they have helped a little here and there not because I asked but because they love my daughter, also his daughter. I have learned over the years that I was straddled with the blame for his behavior.
    Our children understandably have emotional issues to deal with which are magnified now by age and have been since reaching adolescence. I never was a controlling or mean person, since I grew up with a handicapped sibling and grew up understanding that situations were not under my control at all and I learned acceptance at a young age. Yet, I have been told by the family that my children must have learned their, at moments, very erratic behavior from me. It is not easy being a single mother. I have no one except my handicapped brother.
    Once in a while I forget the rules they have laid out and I will mention an encounter that might be bad or good news about him and it soon becomes apparent that I am now under the silent treatment. Both his sister and her husband and his mother will cut off all communication, even for news about my children or any small talk I text trying to see if they really are doing it again, until whatever it is that makes them decide they will communicate with me again. They are a very religious and very wealthy family and carry themselves in an impeccable manner at all times. It is very obvious when I have disappointed them. While they are silent, what they aren’t saying comes across loud and clear.

  7. My mother is giving me the silent treatment yet again. I’m 60 years old. She has used against my father and now me, for years. He died in 2012. Every time I say something she doesn’t like, she reminds me of how I’m just like him. Right now, she is mad because I criticized my sister, who won’t lift a hand for herself. My mother waits on her like she’s not perfectly capable. This morning, my mother asked her if it was ok to let HER dog out! A few minutes later, my mother let the dog back in! Directly to my sister’s face, I said, “It’s ok to let your dog out, so I guess it’s ok to let him back in.” From that moment, I have gotten an hour’s worth of silent treatment from my mother. She will keep it up until she’s tired of it, with no discussion of what made her mad. I was married for 9 years to a severe emotional abuser, an emotional sadist. He would give me a week or two of silence. Now it’s clear that the problem is me. I have sought therapy for other issues, but not for this. Thank you for suggesting it. My mother needs it, but the only one that I can help is myself.

    • i grew up with a mother who gave me the silent treatment whenever something is “bothering” her and a father who also gave me the same treatment when he is very busy at work… it’s no wonder why I got into this relationship with a man who gives me the same treatment whenever I do or say something he dislikes… yes, therapy I need that

  8. Last week, I finally told a man I’ve been friends with for 40 years that I am in love with him. It’s now 5 days later, and he hasn’t responded at all – no return text, no return email, no phone call – nothing. I was disappointed, a bit hurt, shocked, and surprised. We know each other quite well, and I was certain he was giving me “yes, I am interested” vibes, but apparently not. We currently live over 1,000 miles away from each other, but that was going to change within the next few years. He told me 2 years’ ago he was interested in me romantically in the past, but I was always with someone else. At that time (2 years’ ago), I was still grieving for my now deceased husband, so I didn’t act on this knowledge – until last week. I thoroughly thought through what I wanted to say; made sure that I wanted to say it. I have been in love with this man since I was a teenager. He has never had a really long-term serious relationship or been married. Maybe he is trying to think of what to say back to me, maybe he doesn’t want to hurt my feelings… who knows. Maybe I completely mis-interpreted his actions/words. I’m just sorry that what could have been amazing is not going to be. We are both missing out here in my opinion, but I also have to move on with my life. Thank you for this article – very helpful.

    • He is not missing out on anything. If he thought he was, he would go and be with you. People, especially men do not stay away from what they like. He is not thinking or feeling the way he did two years ago. It also sounds like he would just like to sleep with you, go out to dinner a few times. Nothing serious.

      You should get serious about your life. Pining away for someone since you were a teenager? You are believing in a fairytale romance with no problems.

      Go out there and date as many different men as you can, don’t get stuck on one hoping he will come around and learn to recognize when someone really wants you. Hint: they tell you upfront and blunt.

  9. Very helpful…the silent treatment is coming from my son…I was a young bride and my then husband did
    The Silent Treatment regularly and after not many years I divorced him…article very helpful…would you email me with your advice on how to deal with this issue…I’d like to give a copy of this to my son…If he is doing this to me, he might be doing this to his wife…Oh no I don’t want THEM to get divorced…Oh Heavens! In a loving relationship there is no room for The Silent Treatment…we all agree.

  10. Thank you so much for this page. Reading through every paragraph is exactly what I’m going through with a very soon-to-be ex boyfriend. I’ve had enough of the emotional torture that he puts me through every time he spits his dummy out. Narcissist also describes him perfectly too.

  11. What about when you have a 6kod blended family and moving in together was the trigger for the silent treatment to start

  12. This part of the article was absolutely wrong: Boyfriend not calling for days “once you’re face-to-face with him, talk to him like you normally do. If he insists on not responding to your words, say “I understand. If you’re ready to talk and be close again, please know that I’m here for you.” <——DOORMAT.

    This is GIVING HIM PERMISSION TO TREAT YOU THIS WAY. You are also saying to him "it does not matter what you do, I will be here no matter how abusive you are."

    The right way to handle this is "once you’re face-to-face with him, talk to him like you normally do. If he insists on not responding to your words, say “I understand you do not want to talk to me. Obviously this is a breakup. Goodbye." TURN AROUND AND WALK AWAY. DO NOT CALL. He/she is grossly immature and NOT worth your time at all. You will only have severe problems with him/her.

    If you are one of those women or men that protests "but I love him/her" you are absolutely right. You love them, you DO NOT LOVE YOURSELF AND all you are doing is causing them to fall in love with themselves. NOT YOU.

  13. My husband has used the silent treatment as a weapon to hurt me and to control the narrative for our entire relationship of 30 years. He is narcissistic, sanctimonious and a hypocrite. Do as I say, not as I do is what he is like. Whenever I do something to annoy him or even have a differing opinion, he gives me the silent treatment until I apologize. I used to blame myself which played right into his hands. I’d apologize for things I didn’t remember doing or wasn’t sorry for just for the sake of peace and harmony in the household. A couple of years ago, my teenage daughter asked me why I put up with it and made me realize it is a form of manipulation and emotional abuse that I am not responsible for. That realization has set me free in so many ways. He has been giving me the silent treatment for 2.5 years now because I have not relented and apologized or given his behavior any attention. I have carried on as normal, going about my business not being nasty or unfriendly. I ignored it basically and now, I’m getting divorced. I’m free.

  14. When I give someone the silent treatment, it’s not to deliberately hurt or manipulate them, but because they’ve done something that really hurt me. I’m genuinley just not ready to talk to them at that moment.

    I detach myself from the person to give myself time to cool down and to “heal”. Its also my way of showing them that they have really hurt me (I dont care if they choose to ignore me back).

    Eventually I will talk to them, but I shouldn’t be forced to talk to them if I’m not ready as I might say something I will regret in the heat of the moment (I dont trust myself not to say something foolish when I’m hurt or upset).

    Lastly, I only choose the silent treatment as a last resort after I’ve first spoken to the person about how their behaviour makes me feel. If the person continues, I distance myself from them to avoid getting hurt again. Also, when I give someone the silent treatment, it hurts me as much as it hurts the person on the receiving end, especially if I love the person, but clamping up is my way of “reassessing the situation” and I will come around when Im ready to talk about it. I think you should try to understand why some people give the silent treatment instead of concluding that we want to be manipulative and controlling. There are some who use it as a manipulative weapon (especially if the silence goes on for weeks and becomes too frequent, which borders on abuse). However, some people use silence as a way to process their emotions and want to be left alone while doing so. People react to situations differently and not everyone has the ability to reingage immediately after a fight.

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