Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Silent Treatment in a Relationship Can Spell Doom


A new study that looks at data spanning from 1987 to 2011 on 14,000 participants has made a shocking discovery: the silent treatment in relationships isn’t a good thing. I know! Pick your jaw up off the floor and get a load of this: “a psychology professor at Seattle Pacific University says nothing good comes from the silent treatment because it’s ‘manipulative, disrespectful and not productive.'” If that doesn’t blow your mind enough, there’s this, too: Les Parrott, co-author of The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Bring you Closer, says that “the more this [silent treatment] pattern emerges within your relationship, the greater the chances one or both partners experience heightened levels of anxiety.”

Ok, so how about something you might not already know? Apparently, couples who get locked into a pattern of cold-shouldering can experience physical problems as well as emotional issues. Some of the research found that other effects of the silent treatment included urinary, bowel or erectile dysfunction. Yeah, not good. But! If you’re in a relationship where the silent treatment is a tactic used in your arguments, it’s not completely hopeless. While the silent treatment is closely associated with divorce, there are ways you can break the pattern and save your relationship. A few tips below:

How to break the pattern of the silent treatment

— Become aware of what’s really going on. The person making demands feels abandoned; the silent person is protecting himself. Each needs to ask: “Why am I behaving this way? How does my behavior make my partner feel?”

— Avoid character assassination. It will do more damage to label your spouse as “selfish” or “rude.”

— Use the word “I,” because the more you use “you,” the longer your squabble will last. You can say something like, “This is how I feel when you stop talking to me.”

— Mutually agree to take a timeout. When the cycle emerges, both partners need to cool their heads and warm their hearts before engaging. And some people just need a bit of time to think before they speak.

— Genuinely apologize as soon as you are able.

Also: therapy. Lots of it.

[via USA Today]
[Resources: The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Bring you Closer]

7 comments… add one
  • honeybeenicki August 5, 2014, 4:33 pm

    I don’t think we really give each other the silent treatment in our marriage. We talk most things out. Occasionally (especially if the disagreement is about something emotionally charged, like family) one or both of us will step away (physically and/or mentally) to avoid saying something mean that we can’t take back, but we usually just take enough time to collect our thoughts and come up with a better way to say “Your mom is a huge bitch and needs to be slapped” :).

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    • Portia August 5, 2014, 4:45 pm

      Negotiating that stepping-away thing has been very difficult for me over the years. It’s great that you both can respectfully step away to cool off a bit. I for sure need time to cool off or get my thoughts together and Bassanio freaks out if I need that. It’s gotten slightly better over the years, but it gets frustrating.

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  • bittergaymark August 5, 2014, 6:56 pm

    In other breaking news… Being a real impossible bitch can make many people simply not like you. Then stayed for channel DUH-19’s thorough investigative report that proves once and for all that forgetting one’s anniversary can indeed make your partner very upset.

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    • bittergaymark August 5, 2014, 6:58 pm

      Actually, after my snark, I must admit that in my own field research — I have found it true that many couple simply DO not know this…

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      • Jane63 August 5, 2014, 8:47 pm

        Men can be bitches, too. The silent treatment goes both ways, my friend.

      • veritek33 August 6, 2014, 3:29 pm

        My ex was the King of silent treatment. Oy. What a diva.

  • possumgirl August 6, 2014, 10:58 am

    This one is hard for me; I’ve been accused of giving the silent treatment when generally, I’m just giving myself a timeout. I have a flashfire temper, and would enjoy nothing more than a good rant, but that’s a teensy bit unproductive. Backing away physically and verbally gives me a chance to let the physical reaction of anger subside so that my brain can actually think. Working a middle ground has been a work in progress.

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