How 'The Silent Treatment' is Damaging Your Relationship

Giving someone the cold shoulder or the silent treatment after an argument is increasingly common, especially among those involved in a romantic relationship. What many of these couples don’t realize is that this method of showing your anger is utterly toxic for your relationship. When you refuse to discuss a problem and avoid any sort of communication, it only creates frustration and resentment. Dr. John Gottman, marriage researcher, calls this Stonewalling and one of the 4 deadly horseman to relationships. Save your relationship before the silence becomes a living breathing thing and creates too much space between the two of you, and you forget what it was like to be in an open and honest relationship.

Mother holding child’s hand while father turns his back to them.

4 Effects of Silent Treatment:

Passive-Agressive Rage

Often the one administering the silent treatment believes that they are taking the moral high ground by not yelling and screaming, they are wrong. The silent treatment is not a lack of retaliation, in fact, it is a calculated and strategic move designed to hurt the other person and make them feel unworthy of your words. You may not be screaming and shouting, but your silence is packed full of aggression, and is a manifestation of the rage you feel. It is not the absence of a response, but a response itself, one specifically used to manipulate the partner into seeking forgiveness, even if they were right.

The Power Struggle

Ultimately, this is about winning. You are aware that your silence will provoke feelings of guilt. When you are the one reacting, it automatically signals to the other person that they are wrong, and should be begging for your attention and forgiveness. Your partner may respond with full on aggression to combat it, and the argument worsens. Experts call this demand-withdrawal. One partner demands attention from the one who withdraws, making them angrier and more demanding, which causes further withdrawal from the second partner, devolving the relationship into a vicious cycle of hurt and anger.

Strategic Action

The silent treatment is a strategy, and it can result in the other partner feeling unworthy, invisible, and unimportant. You are telling them, without using your words, that they do not matter to you until they apologize. You are portraying yourself as so hurt and upset that you are speechless, when you are actually calculating coldly a strategy to not engage in finding a solution, but rather your partner having to take most of the blame. The silent treatment is a form of emotional manipulation, much like intentional crying when it is used to make someone feel guilty. Most of all, the silent treatment is a strategy put in place to divert the attention away from what caused the argument, and onto you and your silence.

Their Feelings

It’s important to consider what this does to the other partner. They are angry and upset because of the argument you just had, and they believe that they were not 100% at fault. They are looking for you to explain what they did and why it upset you, but you don’t – instead you retreat into the deadly silence. Your partner cannot read your mind, and they are frustrated because they can’t understand how to resolve the situation. Now there are two arguments; the one you originally had, and also a second one about how you are being unreasonable on finding a solution. You may both get locked into the position that the other person is at fault, and this will begin to erode your relationship and build resentment, which eventually can lead to the end of your relationship.

Remember silence is not a conclusion to the argument, this is a delaying mechanism, and the fight is sure to resurface. If you turn the other way and hunker down on finding a way to resolve, the issue will only resurface or cause more damage to the relationship.

An argument can only be truly resolved when you communicate. Talk openly and honestly, without holding anything back. Discuss your perspective on the situation, and let them discuss theirs. Maybe one of you will see the other person’s view as reasonable, or you will be able to reach a compromise. But this will be done through discussion and honesty. Nothing is solved by the silent treatment, and it’s time to eradicate it from your relationships.

Couple and family therapy can help improve communication and conflict resolution. Give Jennie Marie a call at 310-853-3638.

3 Tips to Resolving Conflict in Relationships

My Grandmother always said "Kiss me Goodnight Rich" - this was her way of telling Grandpa, she wanted to resolve the conflict.

In a healthy relationship, conflict is bound to arise from time to time, because two people cannot be expected to agree and work cohesively all the time.

If dealt with properly, conflict can provide an opportunity to strengthen the relationship, but when mismanaged, conflict can deteriorate a relationship and make it weaker.

It’s important to understand and learn the skills associated with conflict resolution, in order to manage it properly and come out on the other end with a stronger bond than before.

Here’s how you can effectively resolve conflict in your relationships:

Always Kiss Me Goodnight framed wall art.

Understand the Cause

Conflicts are based on disagreements concerning values, ideas, principles, and opinions. At the root of every conflict there is a difference of needs. Both parties want their needs to satisfied, whether their need is validation, safety, intimacy, support, or respect. When you understand this, you can see that the needs of both involved parties must be met in order to maintain a strong long-term relationship. This will allow you to look at the situation a second time, this time in an environment of compassion, love, and mutual support.  This is how a compromise is reached and a conflict is resolved.

 Recognize Your Own Fear

If you are terrified and threatened by just the thought of a conflict and try to avoid it all costs, you may be damaging your relationship by doing so. The truth is, previous conflicts from other relationships that ended badly may be governing your fear of future conflicts, and so, you go into it thinking that it will be awful and will end terribly. This makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy; if you decide in your mind that it will play out negatively, you will do nothing to steer it in a positive direction because you are certain that the negative vibes have a right to be there. When conflict seems more threatening to you than it actually is, it leads to mismanagement. This feeds your fear, and it allows you to see conflict as humiliating, demoralizing, and more terrifying than it was before. You need to go into thinking that it will okay, and you must train yourself to let go of your fear.

Control Emotion and Stress

Even something trivial can trigger an emotional response which makes the conflict larger than it was. Your reactions play a very important part in how that conflict is resolved. Often, in the midst of a heated argument, people say hurtful things and prey on each other’s weaknesses just to prove a point. This does nothing but exacerbate the situation, and leads to longer conflict time. Avoiding hurtful and disrespectful arguments almost always leads to faster resolution. Let go of the stress and don’t let your emotions take over; by staying calm during an argument you can see both sides of the story much more clearly.  Once you look at it more practically and calmly, a solution will present itself to you. It’s important to understand that all healthy relationships have their fair share of conflict, and you just need to be patient, and communicate openly in order to resolve it.

It’s important to understand that all healthy relationships have their fair share of conflict, and you just need to be patient, and communicate openly in order to resolve it. 

Need help learning how to resolve conflicts and communicate effectively in your relationship? Contact Jennie Marie.