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The Surprising Truth About The Silent Treatment

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The Surprising Truth About The Silent Treatment

The silent treatment is a way to inflict pain without visible bruising – literally.

Research has shown that the act of ignoring or excluding activates the same area of the brain that is activated by physical pain.

The best predictor of divorce isn’t whether a couple fights – arguments are inevitable – but how a couple fights. The key to being closer in the good times lies in the way a couple treats each other during the bad.

The silent treatment can tend to present itself as a response more fitting of the ‘high road’, one of grace and dignity, but research has shown it is anything but.

Kipling Williams, a Professor of Psychology at Purdue University who has studied ostracism for twenty years, explains, ‘Excluding and ignoring people, such as giving them the cold shoulder or silent treatment, are used to punish or manipulate, and people may not realise the emotional or physical harm that is being done.’

The ability to detect ostracism is hardwired in us – it doesn’t matter if you’re being ignored by a group or a person you can’t stand, the pain still registers.

The silent treatment, even if it’s brief, activates the anterior cingulate cortex – the part of the brain that detects physical pain. The initial pain is the same, regardless of whether the exclusion is by strangers, close friends or enemies.

The silent treatment happens when one partner pressures the other with requests, criticism or complaints and the other responds with silence and emotional distance.

Paul Schrodt, PhD, Professor of Communication Studies reviewed 74 relationship studies which involved more than 14,000 participants.

Findings from his in-depth analysis revealed that the silent treatment is ‘tremendously’ damaging to a relationship. It decreases relationship satisfaction for both partners, diminishes feelings of intimacy, and reduces the capacity to communicate in a way that’s healthy and meaningful.

‘It’s the most common pattern of conflict in marriage or any committed, established romantic relationship,’ says Schrodt. ‘And it does tremendous damage.’

It’s an incredibly hard pattern to break because both partners lay the blame at the feet of the other.

‘Partners get locked in this pattern, largely because they each see the other as the cause,’ explains Schrodt. ‘Both partners see the other as the problem.’ One partner will typically complain that the other is emotionally unavailable. The other will accuse his or her partner of being too demanding or critical.

When couples become locked in this ‘demand-withdraw’ pattern, the damage can be both emotional and physiological include anxiety and aggression as well as erectile dysfunction and urinary and bowel problems.

It doesn’t matter which partner demands or which one withdraws, the damage to the relationship is the same. It’s the pattern itself that’s the problem, not the specific partner. 

The silent treatment should not be confused with taking time to cool down after heated or difficult exchange. Williams suggests that instead of reverting to the silent treatment, try ‘I can’t talk to you right now, but we can talk about it later.’

Nobody engages the silent treatment expecting it to damage the relationship, and that’s the danger.

Generally, it’s called on as the weapon of choice because it’s powerful and it’s easy to get away with. There is nothing subtle about a physical or verbal lashing, but an accusation of the silent treatment, ‘Are you ignoring me?’ can easily be denied.

Silence can feel like a dignified, high road response but it’s not. It’s a way to inflict pain but without the physical marks. 

Being noticed is so close to being loved, that sometimes they feel the same.

Being ignored is just as powerful.

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268 Comments

melicah

me and my boyfriend recently boke up because hes cheating on me and he never bothered to explain ,i shouted and sreamed at him but I thot maybe its best I stop talking to him so da best way was to give him silent treatment so all I know is whether should I continue with it or not as a child is included?

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terry

I broke up with my fiancee. I am 33 and he is 35. We were together for 6 years and the last 2 we were engaged. I was the one that left the house because the last months he was has pressure from his job and also he was telling me that I was putting pressure on him. He didn;t want to talk with me and when I was trying to make conversations he was telling that I was nagging and he was leaving.

The day that I left I was calling him to bring some stuff home.I called him around 3 times and he didn;t pick up the phone and the fourth time that he answered it, when I asked him were are you he started screaming at me, then he came home he broke up my mobile and he continue to scream and telling me now I will see how you are going to call me. He made me really upset and I told him that it is enought and I am leaving. He didn;t do anything and he left from the house. I took some stuff and I left and came to my parent’s house.

That happened on 26th of May. After 5 days he deleted me from fb and put on that he is single. He didn;t try to contact me and I didn;t contact him as well. After 17 days he came at my parent;s garden and he left bags with my clothes and other stuff, and he called my brother to tell him that he left at the garden my stuff.Again he didn’t contact me.

Now after 19 days we haven’t talk to each other and none of us made an effort to contact, I am wondering if he decided that it is over and he doesn’t care, and if he was waiting for me to leave from the house. I cannot undertsand how is possible after so many years that he doesn’t care and he don’t want even to talk with me. Please help me…..

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Hey Sigmund

Oh Terry I’m so sorry this happened to you. There are so many reasons that good things end badly. It doesn’t mean that you weren’t the most important person in the world to him but the thing to remember is that people come together to learn from each other and to teach each other and when that growth ends, the relationship will often struggle. For some people, the easiest way to deal with an ending or anything that feels remotely like rejection (even if they are also rejecting) is to completely cut ties. This feels heartbreaking if you’re on the other side of it, I really get that, but people have different ways of dealing with pain.

You deserve someone who thinks you’re wonderful and who brings out the best of you. Even the strongest, most resilient people will come undone if they spend too much time with the wrong person – and someone who deals with hard times like this is the wrong person. It doesn’t mean he is a bad person – it means he’s bad for you. This man has shown you, in a really cruel way, that he’s not able to love you the way you deserve to be loved. Be sad, be mad, be confused, fall apart for a while if you need to, but when you are ready be grateful that he’s moved aside so that the person who deserves you can find you.

It will be hard for a while – breakups are always awful. Your heart will be broken and the world will feel a bit different to the way you’ve known it but it’s all in the process of rearranging into something better for you. Your body is going through much the same process as any withdrawal, so what you’re going through now is physical as well as emotional, which is why it’s so painful. I know it may not mean anything to you at the moment – it’s all still very raw – but this will pass. Your body and your brain will adjust and your broken heart will start to repair. There is a happier version of you than this. Be patient and give time the time to heal you – which is will. Take him off your social media – it will just hurt to keep him there – and spend time with people who care about you.

You may have already read these, but just in case you haven’t, here are some articles that might help:

This is what your body will be going through at the moment http://www.heysigmund.com/your-body-during-a-breakup/

My own experience and what I’ve learnt having been through a breakup http://www.heysigmund.com/dear-broken-hearted-one-when-youre-in-the-thick-of-a-break-up/

The practical things to do after a breakup that will help get you through http://www.heysigmund.com/11-breakup-survival-tips-dont-involve-positive-thinking/

I hope this helps. Much love and strength to you.

Much love and strength to you.

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cheyenne

Hello. I just wanted to say how I thought your reply to this woman was very kind and well given and thought out. The article is very good too but there are a couple things I needed more clarity about such as near beginning of article it says its used as a manipulation or punishment but closer to the end it says something about how nobody expects or intends it to be a damaging thing. Personally, as having a horrid experience with someone I believe to be a sociopath, I believe the person who behaves in such a way with no reasoning or even trying to reconcile is actually a damaged person theirself. Especially if there is eventual pleading from the other party. But I can see why it was written in that way though also, because whomever partakes in that cruel treatment may not actually realize just how cruel and/or damaging it may in fact be. So it was written well with many valid facets and points. In summary, I would say a very though provoking article and also with very wonderful empathic comments.

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Nibuko

I’m going through the same thing, except we are young and were together longer(9 years). Basically told.him that I couldn’t totally trust him, he ended it. We have young kids and he just left and moved on to another woman(married to another guy by the way,they have kids). I’m struggling with the drop too though. He was all I had known for so long. My mother said women want closure, and sometimes we sadly never get our why answered. Stay strong<3

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Lynne

Thank you for your thoughts and research.
My mother used the silent treatment with me, some of my siblings and father. I can remember it starting for me around age 10 and going to age 19 ish…
I am 46 and have suffered with migraines since age 16 and chronic migraines for the past 7 years . By understanding how stress and abuse, like this type, effects not only my emotional person but also me physioligcally has helped me to overcome a lot of heart issues that manifest itself in physical pain. Any thoughts you have on the childs brain and long term silent treatment would be appreciated. Again, Thank YOU! (P.S. Interestingly, the other siblings that she treated this way have severe migraines as well.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome. There is definitely research that has found that children who were subject to emotional abuse (which long term and persistent silent treatment is a form of), physical abuse or both have a higher incidence of migraine that people who weren’t subject to this form of abuse. People who were loved and nurtured as children can still suffer from migraines, but children maltreatment, in particular emotional abuse is a risk factor for migraine. Here is the link to the study http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2009.01556.x/abstract. It’s really interesting that you say your headaches started at 16, because one of the findings of the study was that childhood emotional abuse was associated with younger onset – 16 years versus 19 years (for people who weren’t exposed to emotional abuse). The research has also found emotional abuse to be associated with an increased prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis and pain conditions. It’s not clear how emotional abuse (like long term silent treatment) creates the vulnerability to migraines, but there does seem to be a relationship.

One thing we know is that the brain grows new neutrons over the course of a person’s life and brain health depends on the capacity of the brain to do this well. It’s called neurogenesis and there are many things that can keep this at a healthy rate, and there are many things that will slow it down. When it slows down is when people become vulnerable to ill-health. One of the things that decreases neurogenesis is an unfriendly environment and chronic emotional stress. Angry, stressful or unsafe environments rapidly lower neurogenesis and can make people vulnerable to things like anxiety and depression. I’m not sure if there has been specific research into the relationship between a decline in neurogenesis and migraines, but it’s something to think about if you’ve come from an environment which was quite toxic – it may be one of the mechanisms behind the relationship between emotional abuse and migraines. Things like sugar, high carbs, noise pollution also lower neurogenesis and can compromise brain health. The things that increase neurogenesis and build brain health are meditation, aerobic exercise, turmeric, omega 3 fatty acids, blueberries, green tea (though probably better taken as an extract as you’d need about 15 cups a day to have a significant and the caffeine from this wouldn’t be great). Again, it’s important to remember that while there is a link between emotional abuse and migraines, the exact reason for this isn’t clear. The neurogenesis theory, like so many theories about migraines, is just a theory, but one that makes sense to me.

When you consider what you went through when you were younger, it’s not surprising that you and your siblings are suffering from severe migraines. I hope this helps you to make a little bit more sense of what you’re going through. Thank you very much for sharing your story.

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Linsey

Hi. I found your article very informative. My Husband gives me the silent treatment every time I bring up his lack of showing any love or emotion to me. I’ve put up with this for years, wondering if I’m to blame? I have finally realised that the problem lies with him. He only touches me when he wants sex. I need more. I feel used and unloved. And then when I ask for some nonsex touch or kiss he withdraws and blames me. I have tried everything but nothing changes. It’s emotionally damaged me. I have to end this cycle of emotional battering.

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Hey Sigmund

Having the silent treatment from someone you care about feels awful. For many people who use it as the go-to response for conflict, it’s most likely not intended to do the damage it does, it’s done because they don’t know what else to do instead. Strong feelings can be really uncomfortable and it can be easier to go silent, so know that you are certainly not to blame. You deserve to feel loved and to be treated with love. You sound as though you have a lot of insight into what this is doing to you, and the strength to make the move towards something different. That takes a lot of courage, especially when something has come to feel ‘normal’. I wish you love and strength moving forward.

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Helen White

I know the feeling of being touched only when the ‘other’ wants sex. I too longed for affection, signs he loved me and not only for sex. I didn’t get it. I was affectionate. Kissed him and hugged him for n reason and told him how much I loved him, hoping by doing to him what I wanted him to do to me, he would ‘cop’ on. It didn’t work. He took and took and took until finally I felt emotionally empty and left. I’m glad I did. I know now that the only reason it lasted for as long as it did was because I wanted to believe he loved me too and I “imagined” and believed what I wanted to. He was emotionally “closed”. Didn’t like to talk either. Wouldn’t give me the ‘silent treatment’ but wouldn’t “engage” in discussion either. I wish you courage and strength to break loose so you are free like Sigmund said to allow someone you deserve to find you. Be kind and good to yourself. There is someone out there who will love you the way you wish to be loved but not while you are with the person you’re with currently.
Be strong.
Peace and love
Wiser now

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Inez

I agree about the silent treatment,except for one added thing. My ex used silent treatment as a punishment. It could go weeks. Not one word. But after a time, it was so normal, that it was as if he wasn’t there. That made life simpler. About 2 1/2 years in, he did this for almost 6 months. It might have gone on longer, but I left. It is more fun and less lonely being alone, than with someone like that.

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Hey Sigmund

Being in a relationship with someone who ignores you can be the loneliest place in the world. Sounds like you made absolutely the right decision!

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Viridiana Gonzalez

Great Article. I would love to read more on the research this came out of. Do you you a place on your site where I can find it?

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Hey Sigmund

Absolutely – I’ve added hyperlinks to the research and the researchers in the article, so if you click on that you’ll be able to find the original research article and also more of their work in the area.

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Abird

I know the silent treatment is painful for those on the receiving end but what if he ended it, we said our goodbyes and I’m trying to move forward by not responding to his text messages. I am heartbroken and he wants to be friends. I don’t want to be friends and feel betrayed therefore, I have nothing to say to him and I wish to stay silent. I took my power back on a decision he made and I don’t care if this hurts his feelings, I’m the one trying to recover here.

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Hey Sigmund

When you’re separating from someone it’s completely understandable and sometimes really important that you would want to be put distance between you. One of the reasons breakups are so hard for everyone is because it involves a distancing between two people who who are used to being together. It’s completely ok to decide to cut contact if this will help you to move on and it’s completely understandable in the circumstances. A breakup is like withdrawing from an addiction, and if you are still in regular contact it’s going to make the healing more difficult. It’s why many people very sensibly choose to do what you are doing. You need the time to withdraw yourself from the emotional connection with this person so you can move on. You might have already done this, but letting him know that you need to cut contact might help him to recognise the finality of this.If you want it to feel more final and to stop him from texting you, perhaps if yo

The silent treatment the article is talking about is when it is done in the context of a relationship when there is very good reason to expect a dialogue. The silent treatment cuts away at a connection and damages relationships. If you’ve already broken up, that disconnection is already happening. Keep your power and stay brave. You’ve made a really good decision and I know you’re hurting right now, but you will get through this.

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Teri

I am in a pattern of mutual silence. On my side, it is self protection and a feeling of being overwhelmed by the situation. It concerns a new step mother who became pregnant after a 2 month relationship with my son who is custodial parent of his 3 children, my grandchildren. We had worked, as a family, to gain custody of my son’s children after they were taken from their mother for abuse and neglect. It took almost a year to get them out of foster care.The custody has not been finalized and my energies are all focused upon my grandchildren who have been through so much. I have been very positive with them and they have made good progress in the last months. The step mother has two other small children from brief relationships. When they were alone with their step mother, my grandchildren had told me that she was screaming at them constantly, doing mean things to them, and saying she does not like them. My son has a habit of picking these kinds of partners. I do not understand his choices. He once thought she was the perfect person for his kids. My son is aware of how devastated I am over his new relationship because of its effects on the children. He is now dealing with it by not allowing his children to be alone with the step parent. He has cut his hours at work so that he can get them to school and also to be present when they come home from school. He cooks their meals, washes all their clothes and exclusively provides all their care, asking the step mom to do nothing for them. The step parent has never reached out to me or engaged in conversation with me. I have not had the opportunity to express my feelings to her and I doubt if, under the circumstances, that I could engage in shallow conversation with her. I am too upset and I don’t want to lose contact with my grandchildren, so, I have to hold it in. My son says he is trying to figure out if his new family has a future and he is upset with himself but does not want me to get involved. When I pick up my grandchildren, the stepmom looks the other way and I say nothing. I am thinking that I am not a key player in my son’s relationship and that I should not be the one to break the silence. I am afraid if I do, I will be cutoff from my grandkids. What would you advise in my situation?

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Hey Sigmund

This is such a painful situation to be going through. I wish it could be different for you. The most important thing is your relationship with your grandchildren and it’s important not to do anything that might compromise that. They need you so much – your love, your nurturing, your stability. It’s important that you can see your son’s partner’s behaviour for what it is, and that you can give your children and your son the love and support they need.

If you can, be friendly and civil to her. It’s important not to do or say anything that might cause her to feel threatened by you, or as though you don’t approve of her (even though you don’t). As much as you can, try to avoid giving her reason to come between you and your grandchildren or you and your son. Feel about her how you want to feel, but try to keep those feelings from her.

If there is any way you are able to engage with her in a friendly way, it might make it easier for her to talk to you about the children and be open to your influence, but she might not be the sort of person who is reasonable in this respect. The most important thing is to not do anything to aggravate things. Your son has to work through this and make the decisions he needs to make around the relationship – there’s not much you can do there except gently offer your advice when he asks for it. Let your relationship with your grandchildren guide you. Do the things that will help that and try to avoid anything that might get in the way. That might mean treading carefully or reaching out to try to be civil, but you would know what’s best there. Your son and your grandchildren are so lucky to have your warmth and your support and understanding. I wish you and your family all the best.

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Jojo

I have been reading quite a bit online about the silent treatment and the long term negative impact it holds. Nowhere have I been able to find any advice regarding how to “re-engage” in an appropriate, healthy manner once the silent treatment has ceased. So the question for me is, what do I do after he is done ignoring me? How do I react? How do I set mutually beneficial boundaries? I know he doesn’t realize how this behavior is slowly chipping away at the cornerstone of our relationship and my personal foundation. BUT I can’t allow this to happen even though his previous relationship was volatile.

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Hey Sigmund

What’s important is that you don’t chase him or return his silence with silence. Don’t give him any reason to believe that his silent treatment works for him or the relationship. When he’s listening, let him know what it’s doing to you. He needs to know how much it’s harming the relationship. Let him know that you won’t chase him and whatever you have done to upset him, nothing makes what he’s doing okay. You can’t fix anything if he doesn’t talk to you about what’s upsetting him and all it does is drive you away. He needs to know this. Let him know what is acceptable for you (perhaps it is that you will listen to whatever he has to say provided he does it respectfully), what isn’t (silence), and decide what will happen if he keeps crossing the line. Perhaps it is that you will sleep in another room or ask him to, perhaps you will go away for a while and perhaps if it continues and becomes unbearable, you’ll consider whether the hurt from this is worth staying for. Stay strong, calm and gracious. Give him the message but do it with love. Let him know that you love him and want to make things work and that you miss him when he shuts you out. He needs to know how much he is hurting you every time he does this. It’s also important to remember that you can’t change anyone else, but if you do something differently, it will often mean they have to. I hope this helps. The silent treatment is a really painful thing to go through and you are absolutely right in wanting it to stop.

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Cat

Hi- I am in a two and half year relationship with my significant other. He has admitted that he does not have the best communication skills and has insecurity issues but has never pulled “the silent treatment.” He has major things going on in his life due to some bad decisions he made and will need to find the means to buy a car and find a new place to live for himself and his sons. He is overwhelmed. During this time he works extra on days he usually would see me so I hadnt seen him in a month, although we spoke almost every day. I felt an emotional withdrawal. When I reached out, trying to come up with a solution he got angry, I passively asked him if he still wanted to see me on Thanksgiving for reassurance and he got even angrier that I asked and hung up, I reached out by text that evening, called the next morning, and tried by text again later the next day. It has now been almost two weeks. Complete silent treatment. I am calm and not sure what to do. I dont feel the need to apologize. My friends are great support and recommend that I continue to not contact. One friend thinks that my boyfriend will probably feel insecure at the distance he created and when he is calm, he will ,assume I have moved on. Do I give myself an end date? Do I try another time to contact? What do I do to not feed this behavior? There was no contact on either side as the holiday passed.

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Hey Sigmund

It sounds as though you have wonderful friends who know what’s good for you. The facts seem pretty clear, and they seem to say a lot. You tried to reach out a couple of times and received nothing back. He has not made contact for two weeks and, I expect, would have a pretty fair idea of what this would be doing to you, given that the conversation that started it all was around you missing him. He knows where you are and how to make contact and he hasn’t. Aside from what it does to your connection, what he’s doing to you is cruel. For the relationship to move forward, that would need to be addressed and a commitment for that sort of thing not to happen again. Couples fight – it very normal and there’s nothing wrong with that. What’s important is the way that fight plays out, and this one has played out with an extended disconnection and exclusion of you. It’s impossible to say what’s driving this from his end, but it may be that he is feeling a lot of shame around his circumstances and doesn’t know how to address that with you, even though he still may want the relationship. Alternatively, he may just be ready to pull away from the relationship.

The first thing for you to decide is whether or not you still want the relationship. If you do, make contact and see what happens, but if you don’t get an immediate response, the message he is sending you seems to be a uniform one. If he shows you indifference or a lack of sadness or ownership of what has happened, or if he doesn’t receive your contact, listen to that, because the message will be a clear one. Do what you need to do to feel certainty one way or another – you deserve that. You also deserve to feel loved and wanted and secure. I hope the time away from you has made him realise what he is missing by not being with you. I understand that you’re hurting right now, and I wish you all the very best.

If he

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Heidi

I want to leave my marriage because im very broken inside. I have endured around 10 years of poor communication between us. Atleast once a month when trying to have a what i call a Adult conversation with my spouse he results to both emotional and verbal abuse towards me. Yelling, cursing, calling names, being told to shut up or the conversation is done (when it isn’t )he will say hes not talking to me anymore about this but without allowing me to be heard and my feelings justified and than giving the conversation proper closure . Its so horrible he is scary to me when he gets angry and im afraid of him so i retreat away and than im giving the silent treatment and he will completly ignore me even if im talking he often won’t respond.. He locks me out of our room and leaves without saying goodbye or for a whole day into the late night not telling me what hes doing and when i tell him how much this hurts my soul my spirit he says it’s my fault for making him mad and nagging and complaining. Im so broken and hurt and dying inside. I wish he understood the pain he is afflicting on me. We just did thirteen weeks of marriage counseling and still this is a huge problem. I have just spent the last week including New Years being ignored and mistreated the loneliness and sadness is too much to bear any longer i believe for me to get myself back i need to divorce him. Thank you for letting me share. Im just so sad because someone i love treats me like this. I wish i didn’t love him… But now im thinking i don’t really love myself anymore because im so broken.

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Hey Sigmund

It might feel like love, but it isn’t. Love doesn’t hurt like this, nor is it cruel. All relationships are like an addiction, and that can often be confused with love. The longer you stay with this man and the longer you endure this treatment, the more it will diminish you. As you as you decide that you deserve better, things will change, but it will be up to you to make that decision because he clearly isn’t going to. You might stay together and you might not, but at the moment there is very little in this relationship that is good for you. It sounds as though you have fought hard for this relationship, which is always important, but it also sounds as though nothing is making it better. When you let go of the things that bring you so much pain, it opens the way for something life-giving to fill the space, but first it takes a bold, brave step to expect more for yourself than to stay with someone who constantly hurts you deeply.

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susan

Thank you for this and your thoughtful indulgent responses, so caring ways to everyone here.
I realized as much as I ran farrrr away from the likes of my mother, a cruel person on all levels who perfected the silent treatment even now as I’m in my mid forties suffering the worst times of my life, I still fell prey to the same character types in people particularly my spouses. And I am mad at ME, I know I shouldn’t be, but I am. I know I did it on a level I wasn’t aware of but its still my life, my choices and those choices have almost ruined me being with those people! It doesn’t matter the childhood or the cause or the why behind it or the mother behind it….I have to pick up the pieces. And desperately run like a scared animal from those addictive men or behavior that I’m drawn to or use to. You explained it all in one sentence when you said…the silent treatment is a way to inflict pain without the bruising. You had me at the first sentence.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome. It’s really normal to be drawn to people who remind us of those we have unfinished business with – frustrating and often heartbreaking I know, but so normal. It’s not surprising that you have been drawn to people like your mother. I know you are mad at yourself for that, but there were things for you to learn that could only be taught to you by those people. You have the wisdom now, so do whatever you need to do to get as far as you can from the losers so the people who deserve you can find you. Upwards and onwards for you.

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Jared

There is this girl who i have fallen deeply for. She is currently ‘with’ someone else and is going through identity and self worth issues. I confessed to her and she told me that she loves hanging out with me and loves being with me. However she chose ‘herself’ because she sees me as someone to have a seriously relationship with…. and wants to fix herself before choosing me.

A bit of background, a year ago, she ended a 7 year relationship.She is ‘with’ this guy and she can;t define what her relationship is with this guy. This guy has been through tough relationships and she mentioned that they ‘help’ each other.

She said she views us two as two different things in her mind. And she’ll never marry him. But she said with me… she wants to be the best she can possibly be (shes putting me on a pedestal which is BS because im imperfect too)

When she ‘chose’ herself, i felt happy for her. She needed to focus on finding out who she is as a person and learning to love herself. She made promises that she wants to find her passions and find herself and that we may not talk for a few months at a time in order to focus on work and ourselves. Anyway, after a holiday in thailand, she comes back and rings me 2 days after she comes back. She messages me for reassurance before going back to school. Then she shows up suddenly in a friends gathering and asks me to hang out with her after. My closest friends and family thinks that she is subconsciously using me as an emotional pillow. A ‘feelgood dispensary’. because she knows I’ll always say yes and hang out with her. We hung out one last time and told her that its either me, him or HERSELF. Im not the second fiddle. Im not an option or a second choice. I’m getting emotionally hurt when I hangout out with her knowing shes with someone else. (she said she doesn’t speak deeply with her partner, the way she does with me) Even though we have the best time together, it always hurts when im in bed at home knowing she has him.

I told her we need to give each other space. Regardless of how I feel about her and how she feels about me. She even said… i’ll keep you accountable!!! i wont talk to you! 5 days later, she messages me during the day and asks if I’m okay at work. I work with her old college friend in my accounting job. I have been very stressed and the only way she would’ve found out was ask about me to her friend.

My closest friends and family have told me to ‘respect myself’ and not message her back. That she needs to stop ‘fishing’ for me and do what we asked of each other which is giving each other space. Regardless of whether shes doing subconsciously or not… she is being selfish, according to them/ The message from them was. Do NOT message her. Right now. DO NOT.

I am torn after reading your silent treatment article. I know shes vulnerable and she just messaged out of concern. But my friends are adamant that i SHOULDN’T message her and that she should respect myself and my feelings by making a choice between me, herself or that guy. That i DONT deserve to be a mere ‘feelgood dispensary’ and an emotional pillow. The emotional reassurance that shes not getting from her current partner. Is my silent treatment warranted? Am i doing the right thing for myself or am I being cruel? Please answer.

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Hey Sigmund

You are not being cruel if you have made it clear that you would like the both of you to have some space and distance between you for a while. That’s taking space, it’s not the silent treatment. It is understandable that you would want space. It must be really difficult seeing her and not having the relationship with her that you would like. The only way to fade that is to take some time away.

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Jared

Thank you so much for the reply, you made me feel better. Yes its very difficult to see her when we’re not ‘together’.

What do you think my next move should be? I know its a silly question since there seems to be no next move. Its probably just let time pass.. and for her, it might be hard to differentiate with me giving space.. or me giving the silent treatment..

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Julie

Hi,

I developed a relationship with someone who lives in a different state. We got on so well and planned our future together. Then he started saying that he’s not ready for a relationship even though he thought he was. It stressed him out to have a long distance relationship if we couldn’t be around each other all the time and both of us have commitments that keep us in the state we are in. He said we should cool off for a while, I told him I will wait for him until he can move to my state which is not for a while. He’s a very loyal kind of person and doesn’t mix with many people. I told him on the phone that we shouldn’t keep texting as this increases my attachment, as he suggested to keep in touch as friends. I only said this in the hope of him saying no, he would miss me too much but he didn’t say that. I have texted him several times and he has given me the silent treatment for two weeks now. It would be different if he explained this before but me guessing constantly of his motive is driving me crazy and also I’ve said several times that I’m worried something has happened to him yet he still won’t respond. I know he has strong feelings for me, so I really don’t think it’s that he doesn’t like me.

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Hey Sigmund

Julie, I can hear how much this is hurting you. Whatever his reasons for withdrawing from you, the sad and unavoidable truth is that he has withdrawn from you. He has told you really clearly that he is not ready for a relationship and then he has shown you. I know how awful it is when people just withdraw and make themselves completely unreachable. For your own sake, it is important that you believe what he has said about not being ready for a relationship. He may well adore you, but if he isn’t ready then he isn’t ready. One finally thing to think about – if you are really honest with yourself would be able to shift from being in a relationship to a friendship? This may be possible in a little while but it generally takes some time and distance to adjust expectations of each other and the relationship and the way you relate to each other. I know this is a hard time for you right now but you will get through this.

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Beth

I disagree with Kipling on the point of one not realizing the damage they are causing. My offender/abuser is fully aware of his abuse and has used it successfully for 20 years. I have suffered the emotional and some physical effects of this abuse. Ignoring someone, in my opinion, is the ultimate in letting one know just how easily they can be erased from another’s life.

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Jenna

Great website and article! My mother in law has played games with my husband since childhood and this has negatively impacted my relationship where I have tried to put a stop it. What has somewhat worked for me, is confronting him during an argument where he wanted to go ahead and ignore me. I addressed how much I love him and how ignoring is not the game I will play like his mother did. I refuse to participate in that type of destructive behavior and remind him how his mother destroyed all of her marriages and ask him if that is what he wants for his life as well? Somehow addressing and reminding him about this helps him to realize that he should not engage in this even though this was his “normal” for a big part of his life. Now when we argue I will get quiet for a few minutes and not build up the heated argument, and then I re engage with him a few minutes later and think of how I am coming across to him, and feel this approach works better. Even though he or I may be wrong about the issue at hand..there is no need to escalate the argument or take the other extreme and start ignoring the person. I hope this helps someone out there.. Also remember you need to love yourself first so that you are able to love someone else…and also be honest with yourself of what is really going on. A person will be with you because they want to..and if they want out…you need to be honest with yourself and recognize that chasing someone will only feed the fact that self respect is not something you are honoring and is the opposite of the true values and meaning of love.

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jane

I am wondering…my spouse is not exactly silent. Yet I identify for some reason with this article. He will talk about other things and says he’ll even listen about how I feel and give hugs as long as it does not have to do with his behavior or treatment of me. He says he works very hard to make me feel loved (and he does do a lot at times for me like cooking, running errands, etc) so my being upset is critical and unappreciative. He says I want something different and am not accepting of who he is. The problem is if I am not warm and loving or impatient due to an emotionally taxing event (like taking son to hospital, an illness, death, etc) he is cold. If I try to explain my behavior he is generally preoccupied or wants sex/physical intimacy of some sort. If I decline I eventually find myself feeling unwanted and insecure. Even though I was the one originally struggling I find myself craving attention, affirmation or acknowledgement. This can go on for a week or more. He is not silent…on the contrary very polite telling me I am the one not accepting him and not listening when he says I love you. I have been getting frustrated because I don’t feel understood. Now, though, if I raise my voice he leaves and will hang up on me if I start to raise my voice on the phone. I realize he has a right to calm down or leave if things get loud but there is never an effort to talk later or communicate. If I “need to talk in order to relax and be close to him” then he says he will talk but he will say he has 30 min and wants me to agree that’s it because I belabor a point and he wants to go to bed, work, etc. He is right…I do seem to talk too long. I hardly feel my point is understood or if it is, is respected. So if we do talk, I ask questions and ask for clarifications instead of assuming I understand what he means. Or I will think he is actually appreciating our conversation so will continue to talk but find out later he resented spending the time we spent. IIf I cry he gets either angry or patronizing because he says I am hurt so often. What he doesn’t realize is that his indifference and disinterest in working out a particular issue is what is hanging on. Once I can let that go again we are good as long as I don’t ask for anything emotional beyond the hug and cuddling. I am confused about what to do because I can’t seem to keep just letting things go especially if I have cried and he goes on with things as if I am not there. I have tried counseling but he makes things harder when I am because he says it is not working…he cancelled my last counselor because he said she was too expensive and he would find another. Mostly it was because he said she wasn’t helping because I was more displeased with him and should be less emotional and more accepting since I am counseling. Everyone sees him as so responsible I can’t talk to anyone. I can’t leave because of kids, money and I love him. so my question is what can I do? Is there someone online I can talk to?

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Ann

Did anyone help you with this. I feel I could have wrote this. I am doing the wrong thing though. I cry about it too but then the crying leads to me going silent until he reacts. I know silence is destructive but I crave the emotional response. It seems without the silence my husband is content with little touch or time together. He just goes about his business and says he does like to be romantic or overly emotional. The silence I dish out does not provide the desired outcome though, he says it is hurting him and I don’t want to do that I just want us to be connected and go silent because I don’t know what else to do.

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Jules

Hello,

I just came accross this site and article and wanted to comment/ask for some advice.
I’ve been in a (gay) long distance relationship for almost 15 years now. Although the distance is only 200 km, work has not allowed us to move in together. Next to that my bf is the kind of guy who likes his space. I love the weekends and day-offs to gether. The last couple of years I have seen changes in his behavior. After him selling his company and retiring, we have started travelling more, spending more time together…I still have a my job though. (a pretty demanding one)…Next to that he is a very dominant person and ofcourse now has a lot of free time on his hands. The last couple of years he has started travelling alone, etc… I have never made any problem of this….We have had good and bad moments over the last 15 years. Both made mistakes, but what seems to become a pattern is him giving me the silent treament on a regular basis…and it positively drives me crazy, and he knows it….I’ve read about almost every article that is out there about how to not let it affect you and carry on with business as usual…but I just don’t seem to be able to. Being refused contact is like the worst punishment for me, especially when you haven’t done anything wrong…It has resulted in me walking on eggs around him in order to avoid conflict, letting him call all the shots and make decissions….Worst of all on regular base he likes to tell me that he likes a strong partner, one who does his one thing and is independant! Exactly the thing I was, but am no longer….Usually when he comes out of one of his ‘silent treatments’ he likes to carry on as if nothing happened…leaving me devistated! When I call him on it he just tells me to accept he just isn’t always up to talking or communicating….To make a long story shorter: my head tells me: this is not doing you any good, my heart keeps hanging in there, because I love him and he can be the best and most loving person at other times….We are both in therapy (different psychologists), although we had a couple of couplestalks with his therapist, he seems to refuse repeating it….at the moment one of his silent moment is ongoing and I am drowning in hurt, because once again the insults he has thrown my way were so vicious and hurtfull, leaving me stunned and lost for words…

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Hey Sigmund

Jules I completely understand why this would hurt you. The silent treatment is awful to be on the wrong end of. It’s difficult, but the more time you spend with someone, the more you will become aware of the things they do that feel bad for you. It sounds as though the power in this relationship is a bit unbalanced. That may be nobody’s fault and something that has evolved over time. The problem with this is that it sounds as though you may be be only one flexing to make things work. A relationship can only change if both people are committed to making it work. Is your partner committed to this? If so, there will be deal breakers for both of you. In all relationships there will be things that annoy each of you about the other, but there will be some things you can live with and some things you can’t. The ones you can’t live with are the deal breakers. Work out yours and bring them out into the open. If one is the silent treatment, be clear about what you mean you this. It is ok for each person to withdraw for a little while to cool down and get perspective, but too long and it becomes cruel. Work out what is ok for you and what isn’t and negotiate this with your partner. Also listen to what he needs from you but he also needs to be specific. For example if each of you can do your own thing, that’s ok and healthy, but how much and what isn’t allowed (infidelity?). If he isn’t prepared to negotiate on the things on your deal breaker list then that would be a sign to me that he may not be committed to making things work, or that perhaps you have grown in different directions. Don’t waste your time and your love on something or someone that will only keep hurting you. You deserve a love that lifts you much more than it hurts you.

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nana

My boyfriend and I had a verbal fight 3 weeks ago, after that he could take my calls but we still never saw each other because he would be busy, didn’t know why he was still being distant until last week when he texted and I realised that what I said really broke his heart during the fight.
I tried to get us to sit and talk which he agreed to but did not show up, when I called him, he didn’t pick so I texted and apology and asked if we still had a relationship since he is keeping a distance from me but he did not respond and been quiet since. I have also been quiet, but need to know if silence means I move on…….

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Hey Sigmund

If there has been silence for a long time, I would have to wonder about the intentions of somebody who would put you through that. He has shown you how he intends to treat you – with silence not showing up. To save yourself from further heartache, believe him. This isn’t how you deserve to be treated.

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nana

Thank you for your advice. I have decided to move on with my life and i intend to let him know of my decision soon…..

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Mary-Helen

My best friend sent me this article after my boyfriend erased me from his life three months ago after a minor issue (he felt like I had taken over his life, talked about him too much at work, I needed to give him space and he’d talk to me). I begged him to talk to me for a month, even transferred at my job to give him his workplace back, and still nothing. Went from looking at engagement rings & wanting to marry me to never speaking to me again in 48 hours. He asked my best friend to help him get in touch to apologize after two months, but he never did. Now I’ve got him blocked everywhere because honestly, the coldness that shut me out scared me, but I miss him and the relationship had no real ending so I feel lost. Do you think he’ll ever talk to me again…and why do I even want him to?

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Hey Sigmund

Mary-Helen the unpredictability of this breakup must have been such a shock for you. You have done the right thing by blocking him – you can’t move forward if you keep finding things in social media that draw you back towards him. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever have healthy contact, but for your own sake, wait until you feel strong again. The type of contact will come when you no longer feel you need him. This will happen. I know it probably doesn’t feel like it will, but it absolutely will. The reason you want him to talk to is because when you break up, you mind and body go into a type of withdrawal, similar to a withdrawal from any addiction. This article will hopefully help you to understand what you are going through http://www.heysigmund.com/your-body-during-a-breakup/. It’s so understandable and normal that you would miss him, however much he has hurt you. Be gentle with yourself and keep moving forward. Remind yourself why you blocked him – the coldness and unexpectedness of his pulling away from you sounds traumatic. You will get through this. It sounds as though you have a wonderful best friend watching out for you. Those type of people are the ones that matter and the ones that are worth holding on to. There will be more people like that for you, and one of them will be waiting to find you and fall in love with you – the kind of love you deserve.

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Esther

My boyfriend has been giving me the silent treatment for one day now. We live together, and I love him, but it feels like we’re suddenly strangers. He has done this a few times before, and at first I would “chase” him, trying to fix the problem. He would become agitated and angrier, I would cry and leave him alone. After reading a few articles and wondering if I was to blame, I took advice for a different approach. The last time he gave me the silent treatment, we talked about it while reconnecting. I calmly told him how much it hurt me to be ignored by him, how I felt less safe and less trusting. I let him know, in a gentle way, that I could not endure a relationship where the silent treatment was the norm. I told him I understand that he felt angry, and asked him if the next time he feels angry he would lovingly take space instead of giving me the silent treatment. Taking time to cool down seems perfectly reasonable to me. He agreed, and said he would do that, and that he wanted to work things out between us. He told me he is never thinking about ending the relationship when we argue. Well, yesterday he did not like that I asked him three times to clarify an abstract idea we were discussing. He didn’t want to explain further, and preferred I took a statement he made at face value, even though it didn’t make sense to me. I can see that I may have become pushy with my curiosity, but I was essentially trying to learn something. He believed I was probing to prove that he didn’t know what he was talking about, and he began to blame me in absolute terms for any fight we have. I feel guilty for being pushy, but I don’t believe I deserve the silent treatment that followed. Based on our conversation about the last time he ignored me, he is aware of the hurt he is causing, and chose not to let me know he would talk to me again after cooling down. I have not chased him this time, and instead chose to do things to take care of myself (journaling, singing while painting a wall in the kitchen, reading). I did not want to flaunt my independence, so to speak, but he seemed more displeased whenever he passed me. I felt self-conscious and anxious. The silence continues today, although he gave me a bland “Morning” when I called “good morning” to his back as he was planning to pass by me. It’s like we’re in a power play, and I’m not very good at those. Again, his show of disinterest hurts, and it seems he wants it to hurt. I love him, but I am miserable. He has many wonderful qualities, including kindness and willingness to be helpful. Part of me thinks he will eventually treat me better, which sounds absurd outside my own head. Based on the silent treatment, and a pattern of denigrating jokes about my accomplishments, putting me down in front of others, frequent criticism, and quick temper, I am considering ending the relationship. I suppose I am writing to see if I have valid grounds to do so, even though I know I don’t need permission. My habit is to stay in dysfunctional relationships too long, and I have a hard time weighing the good against the bad. I’m too patient with people who have no patience. Do you think I should end it now? Or let him know I am hurt, and need to sleep in another room while he continues to cross the line with the silent treatment?

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Hey Sigmund

Esther communication is key. It’s important to be open and honest in your relationship because it’s possible that your boyfriend doesn’t realise how much the silent treatment hurts you. Give him the opportunity to put things right. Healthy relationships aren’t about being perfect, but about working through the tough stuff when it happens.

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Sempoa

Good Article. I happened to read your article when I was searching about Silent Treatment.

My husband always gives me silent treatment for small to big reasons. We stay in different countries and meet only in once a month. We contact through video calls and messages. When he gives me silent treatment he will never respond to my calls. Could you please suggest how to deal with this situation? What are the possible ways to stop him and make him understand about it?

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Hey Sigmund

Sempoa sadly there is no magic formula for this. It’s heartbreaking being on the wrong end of the silent treatment, but often the person giving the silent treatment doesn’t realise the hurt they are causing and the damage they are doing to the relationship. Communication is key, but it’s important to do it in a way that your husband doesn’t feel attacked. Let him know that you want things to be better between you both. Gently talk to him about what it does to you when you get the silent treatment. Ask him what he needs from you in order that the silent treatment between the both of you can stop. The main thing is to be open to what he needs from you and to have the conversation in a way that doesn’t attack him. When people feel attacked, they may feel shame or the need to defend their behaviour. Sometimes this will come out as more of what you don’t want – an argument or more of the silent treatment. Hopefully once your husband realises the damage he is doing he will work hard to stop. Be patient though. If this is a pattern, it may take some time to change.

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Catrina

My adult (30s) daughter started giving me the silent treatment about a week ago. Our life situation require that we be in contact with one another because I help out with my grandchildren so I started telling her anything that I needed to say through her adult sister basically poking fun at her because I think her behavior is ridiculous. I don’t even know what she’s upset about or why she stopped speaking to me. When she finally just decided to start talking to me and act like nothing is wrong I continued the behavior to let her know that I noticed and I’m not going to tolerate it from her. The last time she did this I ignored it and when she started talking to me again I just acted like nothing happened so since she seems to feel that that her behavior is acceptable. I felt like I needed to take a different approach this time. I still don’t know what the outcome will be but I figure at least this time I’m not the one who’s upset

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Flavis

Hy Sigmund,
I came across this article just at a time when I needed it and I wanted to shed some light on something I already know. I have a really close friend, and every time something goes wrong he gives me the cold shoulder, and that is anything in his life, wether it be with work or another colleague or anything at all, he just stops answering my texts, cuts my calls off, and I have done so much for him and looking at it in hindsight I have not received or achieved anything back. Yet I don’t know I se to attract this situation going back to how my mum treated me, and I see it but I don’t seem able to reprogram it right now,as soon as someone gets close, I give my all. My mum commited suicide,after she looked in my eyes and said she loved me. How do I unprogram the faulty programme especially when it hurts so much.

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Hey Sigmund

Flavis, the problem isn’t giving your all to a relationship, provided that you are also taking care of your own needs and keeping your boundaries around what is acceptable and not acceptable to you. The problem may be more one of who are a giving your all to. If you feel as though this is something that is getting in your way often, it might be helpful get professional support from a counsellor or therapist to help you to untangle the thoughts, fears or feelings that are driving the behaviour that is getting in your way. You sound as though you a generous, open heart and there will be people out there who handle that heart of your with the gentle love and respect it deserves.

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Damian

Recently lost touch with someone I love. I lied to them over something dumb. It is complicated but, I want to hear her out. Yet she will not respond. I’ve sent texts, also video apologizing and trying to reconcile. Yet she ignores me I understand she may need some time so I’m not going to reach out anymore. There is a lot more to my story I would love to share. I’ve given her a second chance so I’m hoping maybe there is a chance I could to. She ignored me the first time and went m.i.a. When she came back I quickly forgave her. Will you please help! I just would like some more insight. I will explain everything thanks again.

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