The Surprising Truth About The Silent Treatment

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.

[irp posts=”810″ name=”Fighting Fair in A Relationship: How to Get What You Need and Stay Close While You Do It”]

562 Comments

Lynn P

I have a significant other I have known for nearly a year. He was widowed almost a year ago unexpectedly. I have supported him during his grief and continue to. We had no contact for 6 months after a catastrophic breakup. I was and have been devastated as well as quite heartbroken. He recontacted me me nearly 2 months ago to see me. He profusely apologized for his behavior when we broke things off. He “missed me” and wanted to work things out but take things slowly. He used to text me every day throughout the day in the beginning until we broke up. Now that we reconnected not so much. I am the one having to put the effort into contacting him. After reuniting we were intimate and he was happy and content but very frightened. I gave him space he did not contact me after this. I contacted him 10 days after we were intimate to set up a time to talk. We met once again I was told he is grieving his loss (wife) and has not done “”This” in several years. I left more confused than before we met. I met him for breakfast a couple of days later. I can tell he really likes me and the attraction is definitely there but he keeps running away. I have also discovered he is on dating/affair sites seeking out other women. 😌 So here I am again confused, hurt and heartbroken. I truly feel he is using his grieving time to be with other women and I fit the bill when he has an itch to scratch. I want to face him off. What can I do or say to get to the bottom of this silent treatment? He doesn’t realize I am aware of his website activities with other women. Thank you so appreciate any recommendations this hurts deeply….

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Rebecca B

It’s over. Move on! This guy is really cruel. Never contact him again and don’t take his calls or reply to his pleas for sympathy. He doesn’t care about you or your heart. You dodged a bullet.

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Osy

I hate it when men do that.

I had the father of my son, silent-treated me, i left him.
The next boyfriend did the same, i left too.
my recent ex-husband was doing the same, i left.
Then i have a boyfriend who is now doing the same, not texting me or texting me back withno words but this, ????.
I left him today.
I love these men, with all my heart, but i will never allow silent treatment, i am not Charlie Chaplin, i don’t bark, so i want someone to talk to me if they have a problem with me, if they don’t, then bye.
Next!

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Gracie

Leave him. It is not your fault. This behavior won’t go away without tons of work and you will become exhausted and possibly physically ill. If you stay and have children it will become even worse trying to maintain a house of harmony. All your energy will be put into making it up to the kids that dad is sulking and not talking. He will even use the kids against you during his silent treatment days to make you and the kids think that the problem is you. Worse yet when he decides he wants to be back to being a “good” family he will be very cooperative and sweet and then you will really be confused, angry, and have false hope will set in only for a huge disappointment to follow. It will hurt a lot less to get out now. If might think about seeing a professional about this on your own. This is your life, you are the only one that can save yourself. You did great by reaching out with this question.

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Tina

I’ve been married for 41 years. My husband has ignored me the majority of the time. He’s also silent and in his own world of cattle and our farm. I only stayed because I didn’t want to hurt our son and I kept hoping he would change. He has improved some, but it will never be what I want. I’m so alone in this marriage. I’m only staying with him for his life insurance. Sad…. isn’t it?

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Cathy

Yes, that is sad. Reminds me of The Bridges of Madison County. Ever see it? There’s a difference in ignoring someone during a fight, and someone who just isn’t a chatty person. Hopefully you have the latter and perhaps have some aspects you can enjoy about each other.

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Cathy

Jay – can this be a safe place where people come for support or do you have to get your back up and try to defend an entire gender? You know nothing about this woman or her life so if you don’t have anything nice to say – say nothing!

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Linda

Tina,
I totally understand. I spent 20 years in one long silent treatment. The longer you are with them the more like them you become because it is the only way to survive. Don’t pay attention to the negative comments from people who have no idea of your experience. If you feel you still have the spark of life in you, maybe consider leaving him and finding yourself, and maybe a bit of happiness. You don’t have to lose financial security either. 41 years is a long time. You could get a lawyer and look at your options.

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AJ w

In a 21 year old marriage with a sulker who goes silent for days. A few times it’s been weeks. A very lonely life. Zero sex or intimacy for years. I stay because my kids are grown, I’m 66 and have health problems. I’m retired and he has 5 more years til he retires. He works hard at work but isolates himself from 6pm until 9pm when he goes to sleep. He is self serving and self absorbed. Totally uninterested in me. But, I can go wherever I want, whenever. I often go to our vacation home to get away from him. I dread when he retires.

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Sue

@Jay – I guess that I’m the woman with the gold and my efforts to get his attention for long failed because I didn’t flash the gold. With that remark of yours (above), I can say that you’re a misogynist.

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Kyla

Tina, you say you’re only staying with him for his life insurance? But suppose he outlives you? There’s no guarantee you’ll outlive him. And suppose you only outlive him by 1 year? You really need to do what you can to leave. Your kids are grown now. Start planning your escape.

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Jo

I had this boy best friend before. We only had 6 months of being a bestfriend. We had an argument or a conflict, I think, that I don’t even know what’s my exact fault back then. One thing is for sure, he express his feelings through text that if he courted me, would I say, Yes to him? Though I really like him but I really wanted to be like the way we are at that time. I feel so confident that our relationship as bff lasts long because we’re happy, I think so or maybe I’m the one thinking it only. I’m contented on our relationship at that time that’s why I composed another answer to addressed his questions. It was 1 week after my debut and almost New Year of 2011 at that time, he was admitted to hospital because of dehydration. He texted me that he wanted to die and don’t want to feel the pain anymore. I replied that he should not say those words because there are still people who needs him and loves him including myself. It was already 10 years but his reply still fresh on me up to this moment. I admit I’m too insensitive to him that I can’t understand his feelings or behavior towards me. His reply leaves me standing paralyzed that says, please give your love to others because you never loved me..Never! I loved him more than anyone, maybe not in the way he thinks but I do loved him in my own way. That was the start of the silent treatment. I think I deserve that, but it’s already 10 years of silent treatment. Do I still deserved that? I even contacted him via mobile phone, friend requests on FB but I think I was ignored. He never replied. I still have this feeling incomplete of mine until now. What should I do?

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Jacob

JO…. seriously I’m a man and I’m telling you he’s a manipulator. Don’t fall in to the feeling guilty trap! He’s not a good person using emotional blackmail to get you to behave like that after 11 years! That’s not a friend, that’s some sort of narcissistic behaviour.

Move on in life and stop punishing yourself for his weak, self centred righteous attitude.

Do not feel sorry for people like that! Simple

Jacob

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Kathy

My fiancée is currently giving me the silent treatment. This argument started because he had excluded me when his family came down for an overnight visit and I was upset. He then was, in my opinion, rude to me. He has since gone away and has been silent overnight. This is not the first time. How do I handle it?

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Cathy

Sorry Kathy. I’m getting the silent treatment right now. I suggested that my husband park his truck down the block so the plow would be able to clear the front of our house. He didn’t want to bother cleaning off his truck. So I said, oh then maybe just back it up 20 feet and you won’t even have to clean it off. Well he flipped out. Oh I know everything, I don’t listen to him, I’m like talking to a brick wall. So he went and moved it and now hasn’t talked to me in three days. The quarrel was my fault I guess. His father used to do the same thing. And he’d acknowledge how it was unfair to his mother and childish of his father. Yet he can do it to me? 🙁 IDK I think I’ll suggest marriage counseling.

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Mina

OMG!! How old ARE these men? They sound so immature!! REALLY. ARE THEY CRAZY? How is this making a marriage work? DO THEY WANT TO BE MARRIED is my question. Most men are so cowardly.. they won’t even tell you WHAT THE HELL IS REALLY!!! WRONG.. CAUSE IT’S NOT THE TRUCK, THE SNOW, PANCAKES.. trust me.. it’s usually something else. When I finally realized it’s wasn’t the petty little things.. It’s bigger HE RESENTED THE FACT THAT I MADE MORE MONEY THEN HE DID!!!. This happened to me twice!! 1 was a coward.. the other I saw the signs AGAIN! Really pathetic. I had no problem.. but they castrate themselves… EGO.. man’s greatest enemy!! Would you blame me for gold digging! I’m way past that .. TREAT ME GOOD, BE HONEST, KIND TO EVERYONE, DON’T CHEAT just leave. I love myself enough to be WITHOUT you. Guys told me all guys cheat eventually..11 friends. all cheated but 1 guy. After 2 yrs .. you should KNOW FOR SURE if he’s the ONE. YOU HAVE TO KNOW BY THEN!..or you decided to tolerate and accept being SHUNNED .. and that is a form of abuse. NO THANK YOUI need m never fully trusted him BUT HE NEVER CHEATED ON ME .. SHOCKING CAUSE HE WAS GORGEOUS!! but he never thought so. CHEEKS M GEORGIA MGEIFK IT Sbad treatment and friends 35 to 60.. said EVERY MAN CHEATS..BEEN THRU KNOW

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Shinead

Leave him. Don’t marry him.
You deserve someone better.
Even if you did marry him he would drain away your happiness, you will continuously be thinking what makes him happy so he doesn’t give you the silent treatment.
By doing this you will neglect your own happiness.
Surely relationships are a two way street, not a one way street, there should be give and take on both sides. Not just giving by one partner and continuously taking by the other.
My opinion.

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Sue

1) Does he exclude you from meeting his friends and families? and if he doesn’t exclude you, you’re only around a brief moment with them before he whisks you off?
2) Does he make a lot of independent choices on you where you find out later, after he’s done it?
3) Does he go hot and cold with you?
4) Does he do the “it’s my way or the highway”?
5) Is he unable to handle conflicts? And goes off, only to come back and pretend like nothing happened?
6) Is he unable to talk about emotions/feelings?

If your answer is “yes”, don’t marry him. He needs therapy before you marry him.

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Jobie

If you can handle it ….stay. But it is probably a pattern. It is harmful to you, him and your relationship. Tell him that and see if he accepts it. If not, it may be time to break the engagement. He’ll probably continue and the episodes may last longer – speaking from experience.

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S

Run, Kathy, run! It will never get better. That is a RED FLAG! It will only worsen.
Do it for the sake of your future kids and your health – nothing good can come from living with an adult who cannot handle life as an adult. He will wear you down and make you sad. You will be walking on eggshells all the time – would you want your own daughter to be with someone who treats her that way? So how should it be any different for you. Just no – from my own experience.

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Desire

My long distance boyfriend is ignoring me for two days now and am really confuse because we don’t have any issues and we were pretty cool the last time we talked on phone ..so should i chat him up to know whats going on with him?because when ever he ignores me …I always try to start a conversation with him
buh right now ..am really confused

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S

You deserve someone who cares enough to reach out to you and be excited to check in on you. Think about it, would you keep someone you care about wondering? I hope you decided not to chase after him and let him go find someone like himself.

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Tils

Gosh. I have read so many things online recently about the silent treatment and I still cant decided whether my fiance is justified in doing it to me or not.
He has done it before when I have caught him out hiding stuff from me – like planning to have his kids extra long because his ex asked him and not even discussing with me first or finding letters in his bag for unpaid debt addressed to his ex that he then tried to lie to me about. This time though I did something. I looked at his Google search history. Found something on there that once again he’d lied to me about partaking in so I questioned him. Admitted id looked at his Google search history, apologised and explained I knew it was wrong of me but I was curious and for good reason it seems! Anyway he then gave me the silent treatment through the day in the house but acted fine on a night through text while he was working. This lasted 2 days. Last night he messaged asking about our honeymoon and where I wanted to go and to have a look etc. And today has been completely fine! I am massively confused! How can he ignore me in person yet act fine on message and then just be completely normal?! Nothing is resolved. I’ve still found something out about him that he has hidden from me. Seems to think everything should be private but I’m sorry, some stuff when you’re about to marry someone can be done in private but shouldn’t be a secret. And finances especially need transparency but I have no clue even how much he earns a month! Or how much debt he has – or who’s debt he’s paying for that matter. He’ll say he doesn’t know my business either but he does because he knows he needs to give me money as my pay only covers the mortgage. Anyway. My questions are – is he justified with this behaviour as I technically did something that clearly upset him (even though what I found upset me)? And also how do I now go about bringing it up again? He’s acting normal and we always have the kids around. It’s impossible to get time to have a proper conversation to sort anything from other unresolved issues which I believe he thinks I’ve forgotten about??

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Sara

My husband, soon to be ex, behaved in the exact same way, with me being given the silent treatment on a regular basis. Always after him hiding things from me, or lying about what he was doing. I put up with it for fourteen years, until I became so mentally exhausted by his behaviour, as above, and more, that I filed for divorce. My advice would be to end the relationship, because this type of abuse, controlling and financial, will lead onto other forms of mental manipulation, which will continue indefinitely. Such is the nature of someone with narcissistic personality. The silent treatment is one of their most used punishments, when they are caught out, or you question their behaviour.

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Anxiety will always tilt our focus to the risks, often at the expense of the very real rewards. It does this to keep us safe. We’re more likely to run into trouble if we miss the potential risks than if we miss the potential gains. 

This means that anxiety will swell just as much in reaction to a real life-threat, as it will to the things that might cause heartache (feels awful, but not life-threatening), but which will more likely come with great rewards. Wholehearted living means actively shifting our awareness to what we have to gain by taking a safe risk. 

Sometimes staying safe will be the exactly right thing to do, but sometimes we need to fight for that important or meaningful thing by hushing the noise of anxiety and moving bravely forward. 

When children or teens are on the edge of brave, but anxiety is pushing them back, ask, ‘But what would it be like if you could?’ ♥️

#parenting #parent #mindfulparenting #childanxiety #positiveparenting #heywarrior #heyawesome
Except I don’t do hungry me or tired me or intolerant me, as, you know … intolerably. Most of the time. Sometimes.
Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.
When the world feel sunsettled, the ripple can reach the hearts, minds and spirits of kids and teens whether or not they are directly affected. As the important adult in the life of any child or teen, you have a profound capacity to give them what they need to steady their world again.

When their fears are really big, such as the death of a parent, being alone in the world, being separated from people they love, children might put this into something else. 

This can also happen because they can’t always articulate the fear. Emotional ‘experiences’ don’t lay in the brain as words, they lay down as images and sensory experiences. This is why smells and sounds can trigger anxiety, even if they aren’t connected to a scary experience. The ‘experiences’ also don’t need to be theirs. Hearing ‘about’ is enough.

The content of the fear might seem irrational but the feeling will be valid. Think of it as the feeling being the part that needs you. Their anxiety, sadness, anger (which happens to hold down other more vulnerable emotions) needs to be seen, held, contained and soothed, so they can feel safe again - and you have so much power to make that happen. 

‘I can see how worried you are. There are some big things happening in the world at the moment, but my darling, you are safe. I promise. You are so safe.’ 

If they have been through something big, the truth is that they have been through something frightening AND they are safe, ‘We’re going through some big things and it can be confusing and scary. We’ll get through this. It’s okay to feel scared or sad or angry. Whatever you feel is okay, and I’m here and I love you and we are safe. We can get through anything together.’
I love being a parent. I love it with every part of my being and more than I ever thought I could love anything. Honestly though, nothing has brought out my insecurities or vulnerabilities as much. This is so normal. Confusing, and normal. 

However many children we have, and whatever age they are, each child and each new stage will bring something new for us to learn. It will always be this way. Our children will each do life differently, and along the way we will need to adapt and bend ourselves around their path to light their way as best we can. But we won't do this perfectly, because we can't always know what mountains they'll need to climb, or what dragons they'll need to slay. We won't always know what they’ll need, and we won't always be able to give it. We don't need to. But we'll want to. Sometimes we’ll ache because of this and we’ll blame ourselves for not being ‘enough’. Sometimes we won't. This is the vulnerability that comes with parenting. 

We love them so much, and that never changes, but the way we feel about parenting might change a thousand times before breakfast. Parenting is tough. It's worth every second - every second - but it's tough. Great parents can feel everything, and sometimes it can turn from moment to moment - loving, furious, resentful, compassionate, gentle, tough, joyful, selfish, confused and wise - all of it. Great parents can feel all of it.

Because parenting is pure joy, but not always. We are strong, nurturing, selfless, loving, but not always. Parents aren't perfect. Love isn't perfect. And it was meant to be. We’re raising humans - real ones, with feelings, who don't need to be perfect, and wont  need others to be perfect. Humans who can be kind to others, and to themselves first. But they will learn this from us. Parenting is the role which needs us to be our most human, beautifully imperfect, flawed, vulnerable selves. Let's not judge ourselves for our shortcomings and the imperfections, and the necessary human-ness of us.❤️

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