Copyright: Dmitry Kalinovsky

The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse a person uses to withdraw from their partner in moments of stress and conflict.

Are you a victim of the silent treatment? 

The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse a person uses to withdraw from their partner in moments of stress and conflict. This toxic behavior can occur in varying degrees, fraying the bond between two people, causing anger, resentment, and confusion. Asking a person for space after an argument can be an appropriate reaction in certain situations, allowing each partner time to reflect. However, the silent treatment takes this concept of “space” a step further, creating a silent barrier in order to inflict punishment and avoid blame. A person may refuse to acknowledge their partner’s presence or talk to them, regardless of what their partner says to appease the situation.

What causes a person to go silent?

Stubborn silence is oftentimes displayed in moments of trauma and strain. This behavior can occur when a person faces a challenging situation in their relationship, social life, or work environment. The more a person practices the behavior, the more likely they are to continue avoiding problems by implementing a non-verbal barrier.

Withdrawal stems from insecurities residing deep in the person inflicting silence. This person fears that openly talking about issues will lead to a drawn out fight or potential breakup. The person may also use the silent treatment to avoid having to apologize, accept blame, or face sensations of guilt.

How damaging is the silent treatment?

The silent treatment results in short-term relief, allowing a person to avoid an uncomfortable situation. However, the long-term effects are incredibly detrimental to a relationship. Instead of openly communicating about issues, many conflicts are swept under the rug unresolved. The perpetrator will excuse their actions by insisting it wasn’t a good time to talk or that silence was their way of remaining mature in the situation. When the victim presses the issue, the person will insist on discussing the problem at a later point. A victim of the silent treatment will come to find there is never a “good time to talk.” The person aims to delay the conversation to a point when the discussion no longer feels relevant or appropriate. This behavior promotes ineffective communication within a relationship. Over time, tension begins to build as the number of unresolved issues steadily increases. People hope that these issues will fade away completely over time, but instead, they remain buried deep beneath the visible surface of the relationship.

Silent treatment also takes an extreme emotional toll on the person enduring the abuse. They start to feel sensations of loneliness and abandonment, unable to grapple with why they are being denied love from their partner. This type of manipulation oftentimes leads to the victim apologizing even when they are not at fault, in an effort to gain their partner’s approval or attention.

Breaking the silence

Everyone differs in their past experiences and current motives. Try to understand why your partner believes the silent treatment is acceptable behavior to practice in a relationship. Respectfully confront them about the issue and ask why they think this behavior is justifiable. Explain how the behavior negatively impacts you and the hurt it causes. Avoid raising your voice, as this may cause your partner to fall silent again.

Don’t be afraid to refer to a professional opinion, whether this be a therapist or previous research. If you’re partner still does not agree with your viewpoint, you need to ask yourself if the person is truly right for you.

It takes two for a relationship to work, one person should not be responsible for initiating every important conversation. A healthy relationship understands that there are inevitably going to be unforeseen conflicts. However, openly discussing an issue should not tear the relationship apart. Consistent communication will strengthen the bond the two of you share. Remember that silence cannot be broken with more silence.  

Adrienne Gagne attains happiness by continuously exploring uncharted territory. Her ultimate goal is to encourage new directions of thinking, not to sway others’ opinions to strictly align with her own....

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