Relationships and the Silent Treatment
One of our readers E. Mailed a question about a friend who uses the "silent treatment." The reader wanted to understand what this was all about. Here is a continued and longer explanation of the answer already provided.
Does your husband, wife or intimate partner use the silent treatment when upset about something? The silent treatment is one of the most damaging relationship problems. Why is this? What is it?
The silent treatment or "stonewalling" refers to someone who is letting you know that something is wrong without telling you why. If you ask if anything is wrong, you are met with silence. There is no explanation, no response of any kind, only stony silence.
Too many people, within the context of their intimate relationship, seem to believe that their partner can read their mind. In other words, there is an incorrect notion that you should know why he or she is upset. Most often, the recipient of the silence is left with feelings of confusion and exasperation as they try to resolve the problem. However, how can someone resolve a problem when they do not know what is wrong?
On a deeper level, there is really a power struggle going on for the partner who has lapsed into silence. The silent treatment is really the expression of lots of aggression. The ultimate goal of the strategy is to win. The silent partner is expressing rage in a way that is passive aggressive. This is designed to get attention and to provoke feelings of guilt. Winning means that the target person admits to having committed some type of offense for which they are now begging forgiveness.
The paradox in this situation is that ultimately gets provoked is anger that then leads to a very loud argument.
Because the use of this passive aggressive weapon is so damaging to relationships it is important that the couple seek marriage counseling. Stonewalling does not promote intimacy, trust or marital and relational happiness.
By the way, there are those parents who use this weapon on their children, refusing to talk to or acknowledge them until they have apologized for some mysterious affront they have allegedly committed.
What are your experiences with the silent treatment? Your comments are strongly encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD