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How Do You Deal With the Silent Treatment in Your Relationship?

Blossom Tips for Dealing With the Silent Treatment in Your Relationship

Giving the silent treatment is one of the most common ways to avoid conflict in a relationship. Dealing with the silent treatment in marriage or any relationship is difficult because of its very nature! When your husband or boyfriend doesn’t want to talk to you, how do you solve the problem?

“I love my husband, but he withdraws whenever we disagree about something big or little,” says a She Blossoms reader on Why He’s Not Talking to You – and How to Open Him Up. “I know this is a ‘Men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ thing. Men have their caves and they hide whenever there’s a problem in a relationship. But what can I do? There must be some way for me to learn how to deal with the silent treatment in my marriage. I really feel like it’s getting worse instead of better. We’ve been married 6 years. Any advice for me?”

If the silent treatment is taken too far, it’s becomes emotional abuse. The silent treatment is one of the most common warning signs of relationship problems because it’s so easy for couples to fall into the habit of doing. The tips in this post on how to deal with the silent treatment are geared towards couples in romantic relationships, but can be applied to all types of partnerships: work, school, family, or even neighbors.

The silent treatment is part of what’s called a “demand-withdraw” pattern in a relationship. It happens when one partner pressures the other with requests, criticism or complaints and is met with avoidance or silence. Research from Paul Schrodt, Ph.D. at Texas Christian University shows that couples engaged in demand-withdraw pattern experience lower relationship satisfaction, less intimacy, and poorer communication. This research professor also found that the damage caused by the silent treatment can be both emotional and physical.

The silent treatment causes surprising physical and emotional health problems. Couples who often deal with the silent treatment are more likely to cope with anxiety and aggression, as well as physiological effects such as urinary, bowel or erectile dysfunction.

What is the silent treatment?

The silent treatment occurs when someone – your partner, best friend, family member – ignores you and refuses to speak to you. While the silent treatment is a learned pattern of communication that isn’t easily discussed or resolved, it can be “unlearned.” It’s a hard pattern to break, but my tips for dealing with the silent treatment will help you get started. They’ll also help you see your partner’s behavior in a different light.

“Couples get locked in this pattern, largely because they each see the other as the cause,” says Schrodt in What the “Silent Treatment” Says About Your Relationship. “Both partners see the other as the problem.”

The most important tip on how to deal with the silent treatment in relationships is to take responsibility for your part of the problem. The only person you can change is you. You can’t force your husband or boyfriend to stop giving you the silent treatment, but you can change how you perceive and respond to him. Research shows that in marriages with regular occurrences of the silent treatment, the wife is more likely to be the demanding partner. Wives more often complain that husbands are closed off, emotionally unavailable, emotionally distant or remote.

4 Tips for Dealing With the Silent Treatment

Blossom Tips for Dealing With the Silent Treatment in Your Relationship
Dealing With the Silent Treatment in a Relationship

It hurts when someone you love refuses to acknowledge or talk to you no matter what you say or do. Dealing with the silent treatment is frustrating and hurtful; some therapists classify it as a form of emotional manipulation and control. Giving the silent treatment is an immature way to deal with hurt feelings. Remember that it is an immature coping strategy. Your husband or boyfriend hasn’t learned how to deal with uncomfortable emotions in healthy ways.

The silent treatment originated from early cultures long ago, when ostracism or being expelled was a form of punishment. Even today, not being included in a group or community is a terrible thing to experience. In early cultures, being ostracized meant almost certain death because people couldn’t live without the protection of society.

Today the silent treatment isn’t about physical life or death, but it affects the length and health of your relationship or marriage. That’s another reason learning how to deal with the silent treatment in relationships is so important.

1. Learn why he uses the silent treatment

Sometimes people can’t express their thoughts or feelings, so they clam up. Other times their emotions – anger, hurt, fear – are so strong that they simply can’t talk. Sometimes people feel that they aren’t a match for their partner verbally, so they shut down. The silent treatment can be a way for your partner to protect him or herself. The silent treatment is a form of bullying, and it’s often used to get what is wanted in the relationship. This type of passive aggressive communication might be all your partner learned as a child – it may be how your partner controlled his or her world. Why do you think your boyfriend or husband uses the silent treatment in your relationship? Understanding the reasons behind his behavior can help you deal with it.

2. Talk about the silent treatment with your husband or boyfriend

You can’t deal with the silent treatment when your partner isn’t talking to you, but you can bring it up after the storm has passed. Tell your boyfriend or husband how much you care about him, and how important he are to you. Share how it feels when you get the silent treatment and how it affects you. You might even share that you feel like the “clingy girlfriend” in your relationship when you get the silent treatment. It’s important not to “give as good as you get” when you get the silent treatment. Shutting down increases hostility and negative feelings, and puts more of a wall in between you and your boyfriend or husband.

3. Accept his unwillingness to talk

I admit that I’m guilty of giving the silent treatment to my husband. It seemed like a good idea at the time – it seemed to be an appropriate way to deal with him! But it’s not appropriate. It’s actually very harmful to a relationship, even though it seems like “just” silence.

The reason I tend to fall back on the silent treatment as a way of communicating – and it is a method of communication, believe it or not – is because I’m too scared or insecure to share how I really feel. Something is threatening me. It may be real (eg, my husband has legitimately pointed out something I’ve done wrong) or perceived (eg, I  mistakenly thought my husband was still attracted to his ex-girlfriend, so I was jealous).

How to Deal With the Silent Treatment in a Relationship
How to Deal With the Silent Treatment in a Relationship

One of the best tips on how to deal with the silent treatment in relationships is to ignore it (depending on the reason your husband or boyfriend is using silence). Try walking away and leaving him alone during an episode of silence. If you cajole, beg, whine or threaten your partner while he is giving you the silent treatment, he’ll withdraw even more. It’s better to let his anger run its course. Eventually he’ll return, hopefully ready to start talking again.

4. Learn the pattern of the silent treatment in your relationship

Some husbands or boyfriends who give the silent treatment need their wives or girlfriends to make the first move. After you’ve given him time to cool down, maybe you have to be the first to apologize. It doesn’t seem fair, but often the giver of the silent treatment needs to be approached.

What’s the pattern of the silent treatment in your relationship? If you can identify it, then you’re in a better position to deal with it. If your boyfriend or husband often needs two days to cool off, don’t approach him earlier. If your partner refuses to talk until you apologize first, then you need to meet him where he’s at if you want to stay in the relationship.

Quick tips for the silent treatment in relationships

Remember that getting more talkative or vocal when you’re getting the silent treatment won’t help your relationship. Here are a few strategies for dealing with the silent treatment with someone you love:

  • Remind yourself that the problem can’t be solved until your boyfriend or husband tells you what is wrong. It’s not up to you to fix the problem
  • Don’t try to read his mind – it’s impossible!
  • Don’t give the silent treatment back
  • Let your boyfriend or husband know you care about him and want to know why he’s upset
  • Invite him to talk about what is bothering him when he’s ready
  • Don’t engage. Don’t play his game. Try not to get angry or frustrated
  • Talk to a relationship therapist or marriage counselor about dealing with the silent treatment with your husband or boyfriend

These tips for dealing with the silent treatment in relationships are easier said than done. But if you can stay calm and cool-headed, you’re more likely to deal with the silent treatment in healthy ways.

If it’s time to start emotionally detaching, read How to Let Go of Someone You Love.

Help for Difficult Relationships

the silent treatment in relationships

In Toxic Men: 10 Ways to Identify, Deal with, and Heal from the Men Who Make Your Life Miserable, Lillian Glass describes how to identify, handle, and heal from men who make you miserable. You’ll learn tips for dealing with the silent treatment in relationships – plus how to handle all types of men, from the “Sneaky, Passive-Aggressive, Silent-But-Deadly Erupting Volcano” to the “Instigating, Backstabbing Meddler.” Dr. Glass offers ten practical ways to deal with every type of toxic partner.

I list Lillian Glass’ book below because it’s incredibly important to learn how to deal with toxic relationships if your partner refuses to stop giving you the silent treatment. Learning how to communicate better or finding tips on dealing with the silent treatment in relationships won’t help unless you know you’re with a toxic person. Equip yourself with the tools you need to deal with difficult people, or think about breaking up with your partner.

You might also find How to Know if a Man is Emotionally Available for Love helpful.

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58 thoughts on “How Do You Deal With the Silent Treatment in Your Relationship?”

  1. Use the time your partner is being silent to leave the relationship. If they do it once and you never see it again, it may be a mistake. However, if it ever happens a second time, a pattern is already entrenched. This is a strategy that was learned years before as way to get what he wants. It will escalate and your self esteem will plummet to unknown depths of worthlessness the longer you stay.

    Don’t apologize just to get them to stop. If you know you wronged him, apologize, but if it continues, leave for good. It will happen again and again, for longer periods, if you stay. The majority of the time the silent treatment is being perpetrated by someone who has a hole in his soul that is so big, only hell will take care of the problem. The silent treatment is used to make you feel trembling and afraid, wondering what is wrong with you. Once you apologize “for whatever it was that you did,” the silent treatment stops because the abuser has won. He will hold you and tell you he is sorry “too.” He has manipulated you into rewarding him for his abhorrent abusive behavior.

    Leaving is the only way to protect yourself. He will have “the great epiphany” after you leave, and tell you how he has learned the error of his ways and wants to be more loving. Don’t believe him.

  2. Grace,

    This is a great comment. My wife is giving me the “silent treatment” for almost 2 months. I have never given her silent treatment no matter what and I am always willing to talk. I can’t say it doesn’t bother me it does but I just enjoy my life with my son and just let her be. But she is like this all the time the thought of just moving on also comes to my mind often. This time I had to fly out for work but it was her brother’s birthday which I had to skip so things like these.

  3. 1. You HAVE to ignore it, and pretend it doesn’t affect you. No matter how long it goes on (if you choose to stay with the person, that is) especially if this is the first time it has happened, as this strategy will nip this in the bud. Pretending their protracted silence doesn’t affect you, is the only way not to give the person POWER.

    Think of it as dealing with a little kid who’s having a tantrum. The kid runs into his (or her) room, slams the door, and screams “I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU!” Does the kid really hate you? No, or maybe they feel like they do in the moment, but so what? As the parent, you know they’re just angry and hurt. Same with the grown man/woman passive aggressive silent-treatment giver. Their silence is just like that little kid, slamming that bedroom door, trying to make YOU suffer.

    Again, so what. Just shrug your shoulders. That’s the attitude you have to have: Johnny’s in his room again, okay, I’ll go make dinner, or clean the house, or read a book, or watch TV, or talk to some friends, or exercise, or leave the house and go see a movie….basically, just carry on doing your own thing, for however long it takes.

    The one thing that someone giving the silent treatment can’t stand, is seeing you not being affected by it, and actually appearing HAPPY.

    2. I will say this though, that I do recommend that if there HAS been an actual fight (versus just suddenly being on the receiving end of confusion and not understanding “the crime”) but if there has been a fight, just initially give the person some space — physically and emotionally. If there has been a fight, you both need time for your “fight-or-flight” reactions to calm down, and you both need to disengage so you can then come back and try to reset. Sometimes that’s 3 hours, or three days. Depending on “the crime” sometimes it can even be longer.

    3. At that point though, one of you is going to have to make amends, and it is usually going to have to be the person with more EMOTIONAL AWARENESS. Given that the other person is the one giving you the silent treatment, and given that you are the one googling stuff, and reading this now here on how to end the silent treatment, we can all safely assume, that the person with more emotional awareness in the situation is YOU.

    You then need to be the bigger person, because they simply can’t be. Again, think of it as the child and the parent: your romantic partner is acting like a little kid emotionally, because these are the only relationship tools he has. He (or she) simply doesn’t know how to do any better in a conflict situation, because otherwise, they would be doing it.

    You, however, know better and have access to more tools. For that reason, I would swallow your own pride and need for control (because, truth is, you are the one actually controlling the situation here, by taking actual action), and I would apologize by simply saying something like, “I don’t want to fight with you, I want to apologize for my part in things as you are very important to me.”

    And leave it at that!

    Don’t apologize again, don’t beg, pled, or do or say anything else. You’re simply “apologizing for your part in things” and this holds true, even if the person is reacting this way because they feel “slighted” by some unknown, perceived offense where you have absolutely no idea what you did.

    If you really know you didn’t do anything, then it’s no skin off your back to apologize once to the pouting little kid who you can actually feel sorry for, since they don’t have any better relationship tools. “I’m sorry if I offended you” also works.

    Because of their own upbringing, ego wounds, insecurities, people giving the silent treatment are all about CONTROL and regaining POWER, and making you suffer, and PUNISHING YOU because whatever slight, argument, feeling etc that happened (whether you did something that you know of, or not)…caused them to feel powerless and “less than” and they are trying to get control back, so they don’t feel so scared.

    Hurt + Fear = ANGER, and the silent treatment is a HUGE communication of anger.

    But, the key again, is to not let yourself be controlled.
    Don’t show them it affects you.
    Once you’ve apologized for any slight, from that point on, just go about your own business.
    Kill them with kindness.
    Say hello to them if you pass them in the house.
    Make small talk about friends or bills, even if they don’t even answer.
    Smile at them when you see them in the morning.
    And if this is a boyfriend or girlfriend we’re talking about, instead of a husband/wife and you don’t live with them, continue to text or email just chatting as you normally would about your own life.


    See, they expect you to cower and beg and pled and look sad and miserable and scream and cry. They expect you to throw all kinds of negative attention their way, which just makes them feel more STRONG and POWERFUL. They expect you to behave as everyone else in their life previously has behaved (or as they watched a parent behave) to the brandishing of their ultimate weapon: SILENCE

    Don’t play their game.

    So, they want to be hostile, let them be hostile. They want to play at being a 5 year old having a temper tantrum, let them. You have better things to do with your time, while you let the tornado of their emotions work their way out.

    Once you apologize ONCE for “anything you might have done” because who knows, maybe you did do something you need to apologize for, or maybe you didn’t, but they still perceive it that way, but once you’ve actually said that, you’re done! You’re in the clear! You behaved liked a mature adult person who cares about someone, and anything beyond this point, if they don’t immediately accept your apology and break their silence….is honestly the little kid having a temper tantrum, and their problem.

    Just go on enjoying your life. They won’t be able to deal with it. Eventually. You will slowly see them coming out of their room, wanting YOUR attention.

    And, meanwhile, you’ve kept yourself happy.

  4. My ex would give me the silent treatment if I bought groceries or asked a simple question like “Have you seen my shoes?” That’s not demanding behavior. There comes a time when people who give the silent treatment have to accept that they don’t deserve a relationship. They deserve to live alone the rest of their lives for that type of abuse.

  5. I’ve been thru the same thing and it’s constantly and i end up being wrong all the time and have to apologize for something I didn’t do. I made a song because Me and my husband fight all the time and it helps me cope with his silent treatment.

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