It's more than likely that you have been on the receiving end of the silent treatment, or that you, yourself have used it on your spouse. I doubt that there are many relationships where this hasn't occurred whether that is in marriage, other close relationships with family or in the professional environment. This is not surprising, as research has found that it is one of the most commonly used 'tools' in a relationship. However, it can be very destructive and detrimental. The silent treatment can actually cause emotional and physical distress to you and your spouse and has even been linked to poor mental health. It is an incredibly damaging scenario for obvious reasons, if you are not communicating then you are not connecting. Connection is key for a strong marriage. Sometimes in marriage counseling sessions, couples confess they have barely spoken for days, weeks, months and sometimes even years. Don't let this happen to you!
Couples Therapy - Why we use the 'silent treatment'
Let's first look at why we use the silent treatment. The reason we resort to silent treatment is often the result of feeling hurt or dissatisfied about a situation or disagreement. When we do this we are letting our partner know something is wrong without actually telling them what it is. It can seem easier to withdraw rather than try to communicate effectively with your partner. This is a passive-aggressive form of behaviour and will most-likely leave your spouse feeling confused and resentful.
Sometimes it can be seen as part of a demand-withdrawal pattern where the silent treatment occurs due to demands placed by one spouse. I must admit, using the silent treatment was something I used to do as a way of hoping my partner would pick up on my disappointment and change. But it backfired, it left me feeling worse, not better. It brought up all my doubts and insecurities about the relationship.
Often I find in couples therapy that the silent treatment is a reflection of underlying problems in the relationship such as:
- Dissatisfaction within the relationship
- Lack of intimacy and connection
- Poor communication skills
Unfortunately, due to these common marriage problems, an emotional standoff occurs between a husband and wife. A situation where both think they are right.
Interestingly, this type of behavior seems to be more prevalent in couples that have high intelligence. The silence can persist. An intelligent person, generally more articulate and sure of their conviction and position will feel that they can justify their decision to use the silent treatment because they know they are right. They just know it. Look at the excerpt below from an e-mail I received.
I frequently read and follow your blog on Linkedin and wanted to ask a quick question. Me and my husband are in week two of the silent treatment and it's driving me mad. The argument started over something so small. He's a Doctor and I'm a lawyer, so we should know better... I don't want to back down because I know I'm right. How do we move forward?
This is a good example of where; despite the couple being intelligent, they have chosen the wrong tool to deal with their problems. In a courtroom, or in a medical setting, for example, the need for the professional to be right and justify their decision is paramount. In some cases, it can be a life and death decision. However, it's important to remember a marriage is not a professional setting! Being right and being happy are not necessarily compatible. Your relationship is more important than being right!
This case is a typical example of many silent treatment situations, in that it began with something small, something trivial. Many couples wouldn't be able to remember what had started the initial conflict or may even be too ashamed to admit to what it was! It's so often something that has been blown out of proportion! Sadly, this situation can persist for days and weeks if the cycle isn't broken. As the resentment and sadness will continue to escalate if neither of you choose to change the situation. It is imperative to look to a way of breaking the silence and reaching out to your spouse.
So here is what you can do.
Make a heartfelt apology.
Meaningful apologies are vital for a happy married life.
You may think that apologizing is a sign of weakness where you have had to compromise your standpoint. Well in fact, a genuine apology can be immensely powerful and one of the first steps to healing problems within a relationship. Do not underestimate the influence it can have on your marriage if compassion is shown. The problem is unfortunately, we are not always equipped to offer a genuine apology. As children we're often forced to apologize for things, like snatching a toy, or 'misbehaving'. These apologies are meaningless, as usually at such an age we don't have a good understanding of what we are actually apologizing for!
Apologizing in marriage is a sign of strength
What is useful to understand is that apologies show strength in a person. A genuine apology between two people, or even on a greater scale such as between countries, can heal embarrassment and engender compassion. Regrettable, our needs for success and to win can often work in opposition to this. It actually takes humility and the ability to be vulnerable to be able to admit that perhaps you had some part to play in causing the stand off and subsequent silent treatment.
Apologizing is such an important factor in order to move forward and build bridges. As it opens the door and the line of communication for you and your spouse to reconnect. Many positive things can occur following an apology. Even if the consequences of your spouse's action still remain. The act of apologizing and the consequent forgiveness paves the way to overcoming past hurt and achieving harmony in your relationship. It can prevent both of you holding resentment towards one another. Resentment is really repressed anger and not only does it consume a tremendous amount of energy, it destroys passion and love.
Through my marriage counselling work, I find that the more couples insist on being 'right', the more unhappy they generally are. I know this relationship advice I am sharing with you is stating the obvious. It's basic common sense to apologize. However I find in couples therapy and close relationships that what makes sense we often don't do! So I hope this article inspires you to let go of being right and to choose a better and more effective resolution in the future.
Choose love over being right!
Don't think an apology would work for you?
In the couples counseling I get couples to share, how they would love their partner to break them out of the silent treatment. For some it's an apology, for others it is a hug, kiss or back massage. Then there are those that love using humor. Knowing what your partner needs can help you resolve conflicts and become close again.
If you are disconnected right now and you believe an apology won't cut it - take advantage of my FREE Save My Marriage Consultation where we can discuss ways to help you move forward and become close again. Whether that's the Save My Marriage Online Program - a step-by-step system for making and maintaining love in your marriage, one on one support or something entirely different! I promise I won't leave you hanging. You will leave with real actions you can take to move you forward. As actions, not words save a marriage.
From my heart to yours, Nicola
P.S. Looking for more tips to improve your marriage? Get the FREE Report - 7 Secrets to Saving Your Marriage!
This article first appeared on savemymarriageprogram.com and has been republished here with permission.