Monday, October 27, 2008

The Silent Treatment- Revisited

Posted by Michele Olson

In 2006 we posted a blog on The Silent Treatment and it was viewed frequently. That tells us that people are experiencing this and have an interest level that reaches their day to day lives.

This is the best joke I’ve seen so far on the silent treatment:

A man and his wife were having some problems at home and were giving each other the cold shoulder.

The next week, the man realized that he would need his wife to wake him at 5:00 AM for an early morning business flight to Chicago. Not wanting to be the first to break the silence and lose, he wrote on a piece of paper, "Please wake me at 5:00 a.m."

The next morning the man woke up, only to discover it was 9:00 a.m. and that he had missed his flight. Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife hadn't woken him when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed.

The paper said, "It is 5:00 a.m. Wake up."

Face it. At some point in our life, maybe as a child, we’ve been on the “giving” or “receiving end” of the silent treatment. It’s kind of a no brainer. It comes very naturally to some people. That’s why we should be so wary of it. Basic instincts aren’t always the best way to nurture a relationship.

It’s all about “the power” when it comes to the silent treatment.

You, “Human Being A” have a need for love, respect, approval, understanding and care.

You have done something to tick off “Human Being B”, maybe only in their head, but the bottom line is; you have caused them some kind of discomfort. (Again, this may have no relation to what really happened, but in their mind, it did.) “Human Being B” decides they can get their point across most effectively by withholding every basic element of human interaction from you. No warm and fuzzies for you! The grocery clerk is getting better treatment.

In all fairness, this may be a blessing in disguise if “Human Being B” is about to explode and do some kind of damage, they may just be protecting you from what they are really capable of. Or, they may find the subject so painful that they just can’t talk about it for awhile and they need to sort through everything in their own head in their own way before they can stand to talk about it. “Human Being B” may be so disconnected that they won’t even put the effort in to talk about what you see as monumental and they see as trivial.

The most common reason for the silent treatment usually falls into the category of: Human being B has decided “You must be punished and this is the best legal way I can think of to do it and make my point.”

For human being B, at least in the beginning, this is a delicious, heady almost euphoric feeling.
“I’m King or Queen of the world!”
The problem is, as this goes on it can unravel entire kingdoms, and for what?

Ugly things. Pride. Control. Making yourself more at the expense of another human being.

So, what can you, “Human Being A” do when you are the middle of this unpleasant situation? (Very few people reading this will be giving the silent treatment, they are much more likely to be on the receiving end, if I’m wrong- tell me!)

Here are some tips:

1) When you are not in the middle of a “session” ask your loved one if they would be willing to attend a marriage education workshop with you. They are most likely resorting to this type of behavior because they probably don’t have a “better one” up their sleeve. If you would both take the opportunity to learn how to communicate and resolve conflicts when you feel you have been wronged, you lessen the chances of resorting to the silent treatment.

2) Quit making it so rewarding. First of all (and you really have to put on your maturity hat to pull this off) ask yourself if there is truth in what they are upset about. Try to understand what set off this silence even if the other half of your brain thinks they belong in the Jerks Hall of Fame. Let them know that if something is bothering them you are all ears and willing to hear what it is. During the silent treatment, your temptation will be to withhold acts of love and affection. Resist those temptations and continue to do things like a love note in the lunch box. Actions can speak louder than words.

3) If they won’t discuss or share a reason, ask if they are looking for a certain amount of time to be left alone. Make it known you had no intent to insult or offend them, and you’re willing to talk whenever they are ready. Determine if this is actually just a “cooling off” period, and not a silent treatment.

4) When you have done your best to understand any part you played in your current cold shoulder situation, and you have concluded you can’t do any more, then go about your life as normal. I didn’t say it was easy, but it is necessary. Don’t feel guilty that you can’t read minds. If this has become a way of life in your relationship, you may have to seek outside help to break the pattern.

5) The silent treatment when done repeatedly is destructive behavior that can be seen as emotional abuse, depending on the situation and severity. It’ s mean and it’s no way to live. Don’t buy into it and if your loved one will not go to marriage education classes or seek help, you should still seek help for yourself if this is causing you distress.

6) When you aren’t in the silent treatment, see if you can talk about what you are both feeling during that time. See if you can agree that being right or wrong is not the most important thing, but that loving each other is what’s important.

At the end of the day, effective communication is the key to ending the silent treatment. (Ironic isn’t it?)

Have you been the recipient of the silent treatment?
What have you done when receiving it?
Have you given the silent treatment?


Anonymous said...

wow - great article- great summary of what causes a person to go through this- and how to handle.
from someone who has been receiving the silent treatment throughout my 13 yrs of marriage. Currently on day 8 of the current silent treatment. said...

Sorry for the pain you are experiencing. I've added two more books to the archives of book reading on the right hand column of our blog:

How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It: Finding Love beyond Words Drs. Patricia Love and Steven Stosny

The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships
by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas

I would recommend you read these books, and perhaps, if you can get the lines of communication open, you can read them as a couple.
Here's another great resource with some quizzes that may help too...

If you are comfortable, let us know the outcomes of your efforts.

susanmj said...

This was a good article... but, not sure I can make the advice work - other than going to counseling for myself which I don't feel will ultimately save our marriage.

My husband has always given me the silent treatment, usually after a stupid fight or disagreement and some temper tantrum throwing. The fight itself is usually over something so stupid... he gets so easily defensive... and moody... will not talk, but sulk and stomp and throw things. If I talk, he yells. The silent treatment is the end of the argument.

I use to follow him around... try anything to get him to talk to me... but, after many years, I have learned to just do it back to him. I almost welcome the silence, because it means the yelling and temper tantrum part of our fight is over. We can now easily go days without talking to each other... sometimes weeks.

I know it's not good... but, I feel like I can't change this behavior from him, and I'm sick of trying. We went to counseling years ago... started to make progress and then he woulnd't go anymore and we just fell back into old patterns.

Now, each time, I get more and more indifferent about it. Less and less likely to try to "break the silence" or care. I feel like it's HIS problem... and, I have less and less tolerance for it.

We will probably wind up divorced - won't we? Which sucks... because we have young kids, and have been together for over 20 years. I do think he does love me and I love him... but, I can't go on like this forever. I admit I have put up with it longer than I ever normally would have because of our kids and not wanting to put them through divorce.

- susanmj said...

Thanks for being so honest. It does sound like you possibly experience some verbal abuse in the process before the silent treatment begins...depending on the nature of the yelling. I would encourage you to talk to someone. We specialize in marriage education, but it takes both parties willing to go to the classes...which are now also available online.
I would recommend seeing if you and your husband can go to a program called Retrouvaille

This program specializes in marriages in trouble and on the brink of divorce.
Check into this and talk with someone, for yourself. Yes, you want to do all you can for the sake of your children and that means getting someone to help you think the situation through too.

Hopefully your husband would be willing to do something for the health of your family too.
Take care.

Melissa said...

I googled "silent treatment" and came across this article. It's been very helpful in terms of my perspective. My partner gives me the silent treatment whenever she is mad at me; to her, it is actually a cooling off period. To me, it is painful to the point of being lacerating and debilitating. I think we've finally managed to find a strategy (she's going to tell me that the way she feels about me hasn't changed, she just needs some time to think) and I'm going to try and be an adult and deal with my own reaction. I'd be VERY curious if you know of any resources to help people deal with being incapacitated by this sort of thing....I'm not advocating her behaviour, but my terror seems out of proportion to her actions. said...

Hello Melissa,
I'm glad you found the article helpful. The good news is: you are both talking about it and that is a great step forward. Part of the problem with the silent treatment is...people never move beyond that. They just keep falling into the same old rut. I would recommend you visit which has resources that deal with verbal abuse. The silent treatment is considered verbal abuse (ironically) by many. There you will find advice about "walking on eggshells" and you can take a quiz to help you know more about how you view how you are being treated. I would recommend you explore the resources there, and if you would, let the bloggers here at know what you feel works for you...and what you have discovered. If you and your partner are interested in private coaching (not counseling, coaching) where someone can work with you on stratgies to move forward in your relationship...please email for details on working with a private relationship coach.

sydney said...

Hey,thanks for the Information on silent treatment.At the moment I am a receipient of silent treatment.There is this guy at my work place,we were friends for about a year.He liked me,but I just wanted to be friends.We hang out together a lot though.
Then this summer he asked for a DTRS talk,where I told him point blank that there was never to be a relatonship between me and him.
I actually posted on my status on facebook,something dicing him.Of course that was mean of me,but I anted him to get the message.
Our bosses got to know about this and they asked him not to call me,write to me,or ask me out again.
But he took this too far,he went ahead to totally ignore me.He hasn't said a word to me in close to a year.What should I do? said...

Hi Sydney,
This is a little bit different situation since you are not in a marriage or in a romantic relationship. Because work is involved, do you have an HR program in your company where you can share your concerns and ask for guidance according to the policies of your company?

Not knowing more of your situation, it may be better that he is leaving you alone if he could not be friends with you in an appropriate manner.

Because this has entered into a work situation, I would recommend you pay close attention to the guidelines of your company, and possibly your Employee Assistance Program and HR can give you some guidance.

I would hate to see your job put in harms way because of this employees actions.

Take care!

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for the information. I am currently in the middle of a silent treatment session. Earlier today, I was feeling so depressed I think I was actually feeling physically sick, nauseous, headache appathy as a result of this type of treatment. It has really helped to know that I am not alone and that others are experiencing the same difficulties. I felt so guilty and worthless as my husband is usually very sweet and attentive. I just can't believe that it is the same guy. I can't believe he would want to hurt me so much. It makes me mad and very separated from him. I cna't wait for him to decide he has had enough of not talking to me and then I dread the damage that it has done to my feeling of intimacy. I want to be close to him but i feel so hurt and betrayed, I can't just drop my feeling when he decides it is time. However, I am terrified of provoking any more silent treatment. My life feels like it is in limbo said...

Hello Anonymous,
I'm so sorry for your pain, but I would like to encourage you not to be "silent" in this issue, and continue to work through ways to have a healthier way for you and your husband to disagree.
I would recommend marriage education in the form of a class or workshop if you have access to that in your area...also a website is a great resource for different types of abuses...and "walking in eggshells." Steven Stosny is the author of the site and also has a book called "You Don't Have to Take it Anymore" that you may find helpful. Keep reading, researching and finding out what will work for you to move this to a better situation in your marriage.
We do offer relationship coaching here at if you feel that would be helpful. Just contact us at
Take care.

Anonymous said...

Hi I'm glad I found you article. I'm married 30+ years and my husband used this alot for the first maybe 10 years.

Recently he is doing it again sometimes with only minimum communication for weeks. I have asked if anything is wrong and suggested we get some external help to work through this. Yesterday he spoke about 30 words all day. I again asked what was wrong. He didn't even look away from the TV or reply. When I kept asking,he answered in one or two words saying nothings wrong. I told his his behavour was manipulative and bullying and that we needed help but he disagrees. I could not get myself into my work today. I feel this is not only wearing me out emotionally but also physically I am currently attending the doctor with stomach problems. She asked me if I was experiencing stress.

I am not willing to plead and pamper to my husband the way I did years ago. He would agree that his mother manipulated all her children using the same treatment and it greatly hurt/damaged him. She died this year. I no longer want to live with him if he will not agree to us getting help.

How can anyone treat their 'loved' one like this? I cannot understand.

I have now asked him to leave, he ignored me. If he refuses, I will have to look for somewhere else to live something I don't really want to do. I would appreciate advice thank you. said...

Hello Anon,
It's interesting to know that this is one of our most visited the silent treatment is a way of life for many people. I'm sorry for what you are going through. Since you have talked to your husband with little response,why not seek some help for yourself, even if he won't go with you? Is it possible he is in some type of depression as opposed to just giving the silent treatment to you? Is the behavior just toward you or toward life in general? Something to consider.

Before taking the step of leaving, perhaps you can get guidance from a minister/priest, your EAP at work or services in your area to talk this through. We also offer relationship coaching which can be for the individual or the couple. Know that this is a resource for you as well...feel free to email for more info.
I would encourage you to keep hope and to take good care of yourself during this stressful time as best as you can. You mentioned that he did stop it before, so it may be possible again. Getting some help for yourself to understand what your options are may be your next best step.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe some people dealt with this abuse for so many years. I am in the middle of one, and refuse to allow this to happen again. I am done with my marriage. I will not tolerate him being so hurtfull plus teaching the kids that this is the way to deal with problems. I am taking the kids, the pets, and moving out. said...

Dear Anon,
I'm sorry for your pain. This is one of our most visited subjects, so it's happening a lot. If you have any desire to make a last attempt to save your marriage and your husband would agree, please check into a program called Retrouvaille

for many couples about to call it works. It is possible for him to change if he is willing. My thoughts are with you for wisdom, discernment and peace in your decisions.Please talk to someone, if only for make the best you can out of a difficult situation.

Anonymous said...

I found the post interesting. My husband and I have only been married for 3 months and currently living apart due to educational pursuits. We often argue about issues that I feel are normal to two individuals combining their lives, yet I find myself getting so angry inside. Many times I simply shut down and become silent towards him. I never thought that I was causing him pain or doing so in malice, I simply felt that I wasn’t being heard so why continue to speak or felt so angry that it was better to keep quiet.

I understand the difference between the silent treatment and a cooling off period and while sometimes I needed to cool off and have space there were other times that I intentionally ignored him and proceed to do other things or simply leave the room and cry.

We are so early in our marriage that I would like to find better ways to deal with disagreements. I've never considered the silent treatment to be an issue until I noticed it start to reoccur in our marriage. We will soon be joining homes and I don’t want this to continue especially when it hurts and ostracizes a man that I so deeply love and care for. said...

Dear Anon,
I applaud you for being open to realizing that what you are doing could be part of a problem. None of us are born with great communication and conflict resolution skills, and it doesn't make any sense to think that we would magically have them when we marry. I encourage you and your husband to take a marriage education class of some sort...we do offer online classes and couples relationship coaching which can teach those skills if you don't find something in your area.
Thanks for blogging and all the best as you combine your households for a great future together!

Barbara said...

My husband has used the silent treatment throughout our marriage, but I have only recently come to realize it's a form of abuse. I know that I hate it and that it makes be physically ill as well as an emotional basket case but I don't know how to stop it.
He used to say he just needed time to deal with his anger, now he just says nothing. He hasn't spoken to me now (apart from absolute necessities regarding the kids) for five days. The longer he does it the more it erodes away any love I have left for him and replaces it with anger and hatred for what he's doing to me. He knows it really upsets me but he still continues to do it. Then when he "gets over it," he expects everything to go back to the way it was before, when all I want to do is hit him. said...

Hello Barbara,
Perhaps you can get your husband to speak with a coach or counselor when he is not in the middle of using the silent treatment? Would he be open to that? I would suggest checking to see if marriage education workshops are available in your area, that will help to gain the skills to communicate and resolve conflicts so he has tools other than the silent treatment. If your marriage is near a breaking point, you may want to consider all the resources mentioned in the past comments in this blog. Make sure you talk to someone, even if it's only for your self. Doing something will go a long way in breaking the cycle of the silent treatment.

Dra. Cortorreal said...

Hi; This article its very interesting. Actually I am in a relationship of almost four years and in a few weeks we are suppouse to get marry, i did something stupid but tiny 2 years and half ago he found out and then forgot me, but after two years i remind him in a conversation by mistake what i did, and he got angry with me againg. I'm in the 12nd day of the silence treatment and its the first time in my life. Its painfull i cant even describe how much it hurts, I even feel like if my heart will come out of my chest. The thing is he's french and i'm Dominican (he visits me each month and we talk all the time through web cam). Now he wont pick my calls, he wont came online and only reply with sms once in a while. All he stated is "im upset with you" we havent talk about our marriage in a few weeks. At first i begged him to stop, I cried and did all the things you said its wrong; by emails, voice mails, textsms (cause i didnt know what was going on, I didnt know this torture existed, now i do) then i left him alone, since sunday (3 days) and yesterday he replied one of my mails saying:" wait... you deserve it". today he did text me but nothing important. I dont know what to do, i want this to stop but we're still not living together. I had apologyze several times, but didnt solve the situation. The pain im suffering its huge, Im 24 and newly general doctor, but this is new, plus this is my first relatioship. Whenever i aks him if our relashionship its over he says he's upset with me, and dont answer what i asked him, what should i do? I dont know if the wedding goes or not, I love him a lot. I need help please give me your advice..... said...

I am sorry for the pain I hear in your writing, but this is the time to be working through things and understand how the two of you are going to handle conflict together...before a marriage is always good instead of having it be a surprise later on. I'm sure you would agree you want a healthy marriage, not a marriage at any cost. At we do offer you some resources such as an engaged couples check up
You can access it from our homepage or cut and paste the link can both take that online will show you the areas in your relationship where you need to develop more can also choose to follow up with one of our online classes or work with a personal relationship coach, also online. Also explore and see if there are any healthy relationship resources available in the area where you live. Visit and take some of the quizzes which will give you some answers about your relationship. Another great resource. My best advice is to not go forward in your relationship until you have worked through these issues first for yourself, and then as a couple. Things don't get easier in marriage, they usually get much save yourself a lot of tears and heartache and get these areas of your relationship on track before you marry. You both need to learn the best way to communicate and resolve conflicts and that way is not the silent treatment. Please feel free to email us at if you need any guidance in finding things on our website or want to know more about working with a coach. Take your time with this relationship, you will be glad you did.

Anonymous said...

My husband also likes to use this silent treatment on me. He will pick on things like..oh the house is so messy (btw, i work full time and have a 4 year old, with no domestic help and does nearly all the housework), then accuse me of being rude to him when i told him i will pack up later.

If not for my son, i would have divorce him, cos it is so tiring to live with a person like him.

So my advice to those not married, if your boyfriend does this to you, dun get married. After married, stay financial indep and dun have kids unless u sure the husband is not idiotic material like this. said...

So sorry for the pain you are experiencing, but I hope you will reach out to the resources available to you. If your husband is agreeable, take the couples check up at This could show some areas where you can work on your marriage. Also, visit
and take some of the quizzes. There is also good info on how to deal with a person who makes you walk on egg shells. Get all the knowledge you can to help you make decisions for your future. With some education, perhaps your husband will work on making your marriage better. I urge you to keep working on moving forward in learning more, and if you have access to a family life and marriage counselor, that could also be a help for both of you that could also be very helpful.

Your point is a good one too, before marriage, do the pre marital education we urge, so you know the more about the person you are marrying. Single and engaged couple checkups are also available at
Let us know how you are doing along the way. Don't suffer in silence yourself, get help.