The Damaging Effects of the Silent Treatment in Toxic Relationships

The silent treatment. . .  This is when one partner in a relationship puts up an invisible barrier, deliberately ignoring the other partner, either refusing to answer questions or giving evasive, one word responses. This ignoring behavior can go on for hours, days, or even weeks. This person may convince themselves that they’re taking the “high road” because they’re simply refusing to engage in verbal conflict. However, the silent treatment, also called “stonewalling,” is anything but.

The silent treatment is a control tactic.

It is a way to gain power over the other person, sending a clear message that they’re displeased with their partner’s actions. This causes him or her to feel isolated, desperate for connection, out of control, and fearful. The partner becomes fearful because the silence itself creates uncertainty and an overall lack of predictability about what will happen next. It prevents the other partner from addressing, and ultimately resolving, the conflict because the person giving the silent treatment simply will not allow it.

If you’ve been given the silent treatment by someone you love, you know how much it hurts. When you’re being given the silent treatment, you are being punished. You are being treated as if you do not exist. . . and this is exactly how this control tactic makes you feel. You may also feel trapped, helpless, and desperate to please your partner just so things will go back to “normal.”

Narcissists and other emotionally abusive people use this tactic very deliberately and use it frequently, especially if they see it “working” in their favor. They’re sending the message that you must do things their way, or you will be punished. If you surrender to their wishes, they will be satisfied and sure to use this form of manipulation again the next time they’re upset with you. This pattern may continue, slowly chipping away at your patience and willingness to give in.

If you have surrendered to the silent treatment, perhaps time and time again, there is nothing to be ashamed of. You were put in an unfair, scary, and totally powerless situation. It’s natural to do whatever it takes to end the pain you’re experiencing, even if it goes against what you feel is right.

The silent treatment is highly damaging to a relationship.

If you have found yourself giving the silent treatment to someone you love, please know that you are harming this person — your spouse, significant other, child, sibling, or someone else you love. You must learn to stop this behavior and replace it with behaviors that bring your loved one closer instead of pushing them away. Openly sharing your feelings and being willing to compromise are great first steps to mending this relationship! If you’re having difficulty doing it alone, this would be a very appropriate time to seek therapy.

If you are the one receiving the silent treatment, it is time to tell your partner that you refuse to be treated this way. If this person is able to really hear you and make an effort to change, this is a wonderful first step toward healing! If the behavior continues, once again this would be an ideal time to go to therapy either as a couple or individually. It is also for you to decide if this relationship is feeding you in the ways you deserve. You are valuable and worthy of being treated as an equal, respected and cherished by the important people in your life.

If you have any thoughts or experiences you’d like share, please feel free to comment! Feedback is always welcomed and appreciated!