What you need to know about silent treatment

Has your partner ever refused to listen, talk or even respond to you for days, weeks, or months? Some call this the 'silent treatment,' which is a way for people to hurt, manipulate or control their partners. Some spouses refuse to acknowledge the presence of their partners for weeks on end. That makes the partner feel less of a person and more like a ghost.

'Candice has a rough time with her husband, Dylan, whenever he was angry. Dylan would refuse to speak to Candice for days. The first time Candice ever experienced any form of silent treatment with Dylan was back when they were dating. A male friend approached Candice, and they started laughing out loud, telling each other old stories of when they were young. Dylan was at the same table, but he felt jealous since he couldn't contribute to the conversation. 

A few moments later, Dylan asked we go home early, and he didn't utter a word all the way home. The next day Dylan still didn't speak to Candice. The silent treatment continued for weeks and only ended when Dylan wanted sex. The following day Dylan refused to talk about the silent treatment and pretended like it never happened.'

Undoubtedly, being ignored can be difficult, mostly if you are isolated by control and abuse. In most cases, for you to feel worthwhile and safe will depend on the abuser. Many, if not all, survivors of such abuse say that they hate the silent treatment and they'd rather be with someone who yells and insults them. At least when someone shouts, you know what is in their mind. 

Hostility in the relationship

Some partners will turn cold when their partner's behavior angers them. To some extent, such individuals may be 'correct' in their actions, but they will still end up treating their partners like someone they barely know. More importantly, such individuals will quickly deny what they have been doing when you confront them using phrases like, What do you mean?' Or 'you are overreacting?'

On the other hand, some partners will practice a mild form of silent treatment where they do not entirely go silent but cut off their partners' emotions.

Grace knows when her husband, Clark, is angry because he puts on a 'serious face' that typically communicates to Grace that she needs to be submissive and cautious. Naturally, he will speak to Grace with a cold and impersonal tone. That's how Clark deliberately tries to make Grace feel bad for her actions. Before the silent and cruel treatment, Clark always explodes with anger, followed by a period of silence. Such treatment makes Grace feel anxious, which means she will redouble her efforts to make Clark feel better. Unfortunately, Grace will have to silence her desires and needs to make it work. 

How to respond to the silent treatment

If you or someone you care about is experiencing silent treatment from their partner, use these tips to help your situation. 

  • Avoid isolation: take this time to reconnect with some of your old friends and family members. That will ensure you weather the storm and also reduce the feelings of isolation. 
  • Inner peace is the key: what do you like to do when you are alone? What are your hobbies? Use this time to pick up healthy activities such as reading a book or finishing up your art project. That will help you maintain a stable and robust life, even when facing the hostility of silent treatment from your partner. 
  • Self-awareness; unfortunately, we tend to forget ourselves, especially when we are in a relationship. More importantly, being in an abusive relationship will make you forget who you are. That said, do not allow your opinions, desires, and goals to be erased from your life. 
  • Talk to a professional: if you need help, it's probably the right time to talk to a therapist who understands what you have been through and can give you the correct input. That will help you deal with the situation
  • Understand your limits: you need to understand that the silent treatment is a way of control. That said, you need to decide what your limits are. If the situation seems harmful to you or any of your family members, then talk to a domestic violence advocate. The advocate will help you plan for a safe way out of the relationship. 
  • Ending the relationship: you can't stay in a relationship where your partner is cruel when he decides to be. Whether it's verbal, physical, sexual, or economic abuse, it's not worth it. Contact the local domestic violence advocate to plan for a safe way out. 

Silent treatment Vs. Time out

Both time outs and silent treatments involve a period of silence. However, these two instances are quite different. When you talk to a professional counselor, he/she will teach you a routine known as time-out, especially if you have been abusive in the past. Time out will help you calm down and gather your thoughts before re-engaging in a conversation with your partner during a disagreement period. 

When it's done correctly, your partner will generally ask if it's okay to take a time out and go and take a walk, meditate, read a book, or exercise. Then when your partner returns, you'll both have a productive and much calmer conversation. Typically, time-outs lead to better conversations and collaborations. However, silent treatment only leads to dominance and control. Thankfully, the person who is victimized will quickly tell the difference. 

That's because they will feel much calmer after time-outs, but the victim will feel more anxious about the silent treatment. After a silent treatment, you don't know what will happen next since your partner hasn't said what they would do next. That could lead you to feel insecure, and fear will start to creep in. In most cases, silent treatment will affect your communication patterns with your partner, and it could lead to a break-up.