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6 Ways To Deal With The Silent Treatment In A Relationship

I once knew a man who seemed to be everything I wanted.

He was good-looking, well-mannered, and articulate.

He had an opinion on every topic under the sun and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. As someone who valued intellect and honesty in a partner, I couldn’t help but be captivated by him.

So when he gave me the silent treatment for the first time, I chose to ignore it.

It was the first anniversary of our relationship, and I wanted to go someplace special. Since there was already a venue I had in mind, I decided to simply inform him of the particulars (date, time, meeting place) and take him there.

But when we arrived at the venue, I noticed he was tense. I thought he was just tired from our travels, so I told him to relax and enjoy.

The tension never melted away, though. He hardly spoke during the vacation, and even when we were ordering at a restaurant, he refused to say a single word. Instead, he’d either grunt or gesture using his hands.

Knowing him to be a talkative man, I knew something was wrong. I decided to save the questions until the end of our trip since I didn’t want to add to the tension. It was only when we left for home did he say, “I didn’t want to come here, you know.”

Naturally, I was surprised. “So why didn’t you tell me?” That was what I wanted to say, but instead, I replied, “I see. I’m sorry I didn’t ask you for your opinion before the trip.”

Ever since he would use the silent treatment more and more. He’d keep his lips sealed and refuse to talk whenever I did something he didn’t like, or if I refused to do something he wanted.

Sometimes he even gave me the cold shoulder for no apparent reason. He would just stonewall me when I would ask him what was wrong.

Finally, I had enough. When he came to visit me one day, I chose that moment to meet him at the door and tell him it was over between us. I was glad to be free of him at last.

From that relationship, I learned that silent treatment isn’t something I — or anyone else — should ever have to put up with. It is hurtful and is a type of emotional abuse that is used as a manipulation tactic.

Why do people use the silent treatment?

As my story demonstrates, silence is a weapon. It can be used to punish, control, 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.
  • They have strong narcissistic tendencies.
  • They know that silence is an effective way to emotionally manipulate someone, maybe 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 respond to the silent treatment

Consider using these 6 actions to deal with the silent treatment in your relationship:

1. Dig deep into the reasons for the silent treatment.

Sometimes, people who give the silent treatment aren’t 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’ll react if you knew how they really felt or if they did something they thought you wouldn’t like.

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.

man standing by neon light silent treatment

Before doing anything drastic about the silent treatment, make sure you know where the silence comes from.

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

2. Avoid letting the silent treatment get the better of you.

One way to cope with silent treatment abuse is to act like it doesn’t affect you even when it does.

Remember that people who give the silent treatment 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 and calling him until he picks up the phone.

Related: 7 Damaging Effects Of Emotional Abuse 

Instead, act as if the silent treatment doesn’t bother you at all. Preoccupy yourself with other things to keep your thoughts away from the incident.

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.”

Don't react but calmly make it clear to him/her that you won’t allow silence to be used as punishment against you.

3. Directly respond to the silent treatment with calmness, and talk to the person kindly.

At some point, you will have to confront your partner, even if your partner doesn’t want to. When that time comes, take a deep breath, clear your mind, and ask your partner to talk in a private, comfortable place.

Then, use the “sandwich method” of offering feedback. Start off with a positive, factual statement. Be specific and matter-of-fact about the things your partner does to hurt you and use “I” statements to express how you feel. Make an offer of reconciliation.

Unhappy couple, silent treatment

For example, a conversation with your girlfriend may look like this:

“Honey, I love you, and I want our relationship to be enjoyable and supportive for the both of us. So when you avoid talking to me about things that bother you or 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.”

4. Clearly state your boundaries.

If your relationship has soured because of the ongoing silent treatment tactic, you may want 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.

He might beg you to give him another chance. If you think there’s the slightest chance your relationship can be saved, give him one more chance, but make it clear that you will follow through if the behavior continues.

Related: 7 Ways To Heal From Emotional Abuse

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.

5. 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 being able to know 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 someone gives any indication that they want to change, offer to help them. Otherwise, let them be.

Also, surround yourself with positive people. Keep your diet balanced, and exercise as regularly as you can.

Silent Treatment Abuse (6 Of The Best Ways To Respond And Stop It) Click To Tweet

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.

6. 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.

Related: How To Recognize the 8 Signs Of Emotional Manipulation

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.

Did you find any value from learning the best way to deal with silent treatment?

I hope you'll use these steps to help you when you're having difficulty in your relationship. Would you be willing to send out some love to your friends and family? Please share how to respond to the silent treatment on your preferred social media platform.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 10 comments
  • Kiran

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

    Reply
  • Hyatt

    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 ..

    Reply
  • Lynn

    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 .

    Reply
  • Nathaniel Owings

    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.

    Reply
  • PJ

    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.

    Reply
  • cleo

    You forgot one options: You can end the relationship. It only gets worse with time.

    Reply
  • ZP

    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.

    Reply
  • Yvonne Maxwell

    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.

    Reply
  • Elinor

    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.

    Reply
  • Kathleen

    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.

    Reply
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