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?
- How to Handle the Silent Treatment with Dignity: 7 Essential Strategies
- Frequently Ask Questions about the Silent Treatment
- Ending the Silent Treatment for Good
Why Do People Use The Silent Treatment?
Silence may be golden sometimes, but it can also be a weapon. 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:
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.
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.”
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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.
Frequently Ask 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.
Ending the Silent Treatment for Good
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.