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What Married Couples Should Know About the Silent Treatment

It is Abusive

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Silent Treatment
Photo: Roberta Krasnig / Getty Images
The silent treatment doesn't work. And it is mean. This form of emotional and verbal abuse as a manipulation tactic is also ineffective and hurts your marriage. As well as leaving important issues in your marriage unresolved, the silent treatment may make your spouse feel worthless, unloved, hurt, confused, frustrated, angry, and unimportant.

When you sulk or pout and refuse to talk about a problem, accept an apology, or help make a decision, not only are you shutting your spouse out, you are being cruel. Like saying "I don't care" or "whatever" or rolling your eyes or smirking, using the silent treatment is a cop out.

How to Respond to the Silent Treatment

  • If your spouse denies giving you the silent treatment by saying it's just a cooling off period or a desire for some space or time alone, point out in a respectful tone of voice that you are not a mind reader and that a need for space should be expressed prior to the period of silence and that there should be a time limit to wanting time to cool off or get your act together.
  • Some experts recommend not acknowledging the silence or cold shoulder mode and suggest you leave your spouse alone to sulk.
  • Don't respond with threats.
  • Recognize the tactic of not talking to you is a control tactic or a way of avoiding having to admit making a mistake. Quit inventing ways to get your mate to speak to you.
  • Walk away. Do something fun or interesting that you want to do. But if your spouse talks to you, respond with a soft courteous voice.

What Others Have to Say About the Silent Treatment

Kipling D. Williams: "A survey of over 2,000 Americans conducted by Faulkner et al. (1997) found that 67% admitted to using the silent treatment, deliberately not speaking to a person in their presence, or a loved one. The percentage was slightly higher (75%) for those who indicated that they had been a target of the silent treatment by a loved one ... They found that the silent treatment was just as likely to be used by males as females, and that it was used more often to terminate a partner's behaviors than to elicit them."
Source:Kipling D. Williams PhD. Ostracism: The Power of Silence. 2002. pgs. 9-10.
Gregory L. Jantz, Ann McMurray: "The silence, the loss of verbal relationship, is meant to exact an emotional toll on the other person, who often will go to great lengths to attempt to restore communication with the abuser. This level of control is precisely what the abuser is looking for, as well as a way to vent his or her anger at the other person. By not verbally expressing that anger, by 'avoiding' showing anger, the abuser is allowed to feel as if the victim is the only person at fault for whatever wrong is perceived by the abuser. If the victim responds to the silent treatment with anger, the abuser is doubly vindicated."
Source: Gregory L. Jantz, PhD, Ann McMurray. Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse. 2009. pg. 78.
Walter B. Roberts: "Silent Treatments are used to control the situation by their lack of responses. When they do nothing, others have to do all the work. The power of the Silent Treatments rests in their abilities to always be right ... They maintain a position of superiority by not owning a part of a plan -- if we let them get away with it ... The trick is always to keep the Silent Treatments engaged and maybe even provide a little positive provocation to get them to respond, as a method of increasing their participation."
Source: Walter B. Roberts Jr. Working With Parents of Bullies and Victims. 2008. pg. 75.
Sharon Anthony Bower, Gordon H. Bower: "The best way to counter the silent treatment is to assert your rights and ask for a speaking partner."
Source: Sharon Anthony Bower, Gordon H. Bower. Asserting Your-Self: A Practical Guide for Positive Change. 1991. pg. 121.

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