The silent treatment in marriage is a poor communication technique that has tripped up many relationships. It can be an innocent approach of being overwhelmed and not being able to talk and it can be a manipulative approach.
Overwhelmed – sometimes silence is golden
When you are angry at someone, at the moment, everything about them irritates you and all you want to do is get away from them until your anger fades away and you feel better. Everyone has their own way of dealing with anger. Some people turn silent and need to be alone until their mind clears and they can start behaving normally with the person. If your spouse has the same kind of tactics for dealing with fights and their anger, you should know how to deal with them in order to help their anger fade and make the silent treatment be over sooner.
Most of the times when someone opts for the silent treatment in face of anger, it is more of a learned behavior. They most probably didn’t get a chance to express their anger as well as a range of other emotions and as a result managed what best they could in the situation. Due to a childhood issue or a personality trait, people who do not know how to express their emotions tend to keep their feelings bottled up and prefer giving others the cold shoulder instead of looking for a solution to the problem. If your partner opts for the silent treatment, know that the issue lies deeper than you think.
Aggression – I’ll show you!
There have been times when I’ve seen people use the silent treatment in an intentional and manipulative way. They make themselves unavailable and refuse to let you help them when they feel that you have hurt them. This is a plea for attention that they cannot express on its own. They conceal their feelings in this form. When, people opt for passive-aggressive methods for conveying their anger, it is a part of their personality and it is a trait that they cannot help but use. It is a tactic that they have been using for ages and it always got them what they wanted and as a result, they continue using it because they are confident that they will continue getting their way when they opt for the silent treatment.
When they shut you out, they are choosing a passive-aggressive method for displaying their disapproval and they are basically giving you the cold shoulder. It can feel degrading and hostile to have a partner not talking to you and showering everyone else in the family, with all the attention. It really hurts you and they realize that. Their silence will make you feel rejected and all the while they can act like the victim and the party who has been wronged by you.
If they have seen other family members demonstrating the same kind of behavior, they probably learned it from them. Some people who express their anger by giving others the silent treatment were never allowed to raise their voices or express emotions as a kid. This is why they learned to express their emotions in this manner. If you want to change how they display anger, you need to figure out why they do it and then you need to show them that there is a better form of anger or argument resolution technique.
Many people, who know everything about their partner’s past as well as their reasons behind giving them the cold shoulder, try to get them to respond when they are throwing an episode. While others knowing why they are responding in this way, tend to tip toe around their partner and avoid all conversations or contact with them until their partner decides to start talking to them again.
Some of the common approaches to getting your partner out of a silent treatment, that many spouses all around the world try includes:
- Joking or cajoling their partners until they feel valued and start talking again
- Apologize for the mistake until they accept and start talking again
- Show empathy until they draw out of their shell
- Treat them nicely until they feel touched and decide to start talking again
- Give them the cold shoulder until one of the two backs down
- Get others to talk some sense into them
Once the partner has decided to start talking again, the couple usually discusses the matter and comes up with a solution or else they make up with apologies and then a lot of affectionate behavior to make up for the earlier coldness.
The next time the two of you are on good talking terms, sit them down and talk to them about their behavior, and explain to them how it makes you feel. Explain in detail without putting blame on them. Then when the two of you fight again and they decide to give you the cold shoulder, you tell them that you had hoped this time would be different and then you tell them that the two of you can discuss the issue and find a solution when they are ready to talk again. Leave them alone until they start talking to you again.
Make sure that when you have the initial talk with them about how their silent treatment affects you, make sure you tell them how you will respond the next time they give you the cold shoulder. However try to be patient with them as well as loving because it is a habit that has been formed over the years and it won’t be so easy to change. However with time and love, it will change so be patient.
We all have ways of dealing with life that are not ‘optimal’. This is one of them. Couples counseling sessions creates a safe place where everyone can talk through the issues and approaches in a structured and guided way.