As many relationship stories demonstrate, silence is a weapon. It can be used to punish, control, disempower, or run away from a person or problem.
People who use silence as a weapon often have the following characteristics:
They never learned to express themselves assertively.
They have strong narcissistic tendencies.
They know that silence is an effective way to emotionally manipulate someone, maybe because they’ve been victims of emotional manipulation themselves.
If you know someone who displays these characteristics, and that person gives you the silent treatment on a regular basis, know that you are not powerless against them.
To cope with silent treatment in a relationship, here are the six things you can do:
1. Dig deep into the reasons for the silent treatment.
Sometimes, people who give the silent treatment aren’t doing it out of malice.
They may have trouble expressing themselves, especially when it comes to negative emotions like anger and grief. They may also be afraid of how you’ll react if you knew how they really felt or if they did something they thought you wouldn’t like.
On the other hand, serial abusers don’t care if they hurt you with their silent treatment.
They only care about the power silence gives them — the power to compel you to do what they want, the power to make you grovel at their feet, the power to make you do feel desperate to get back in their good graces.
Before doing anything drastic about the silent treatment, make sure you know where the silence comes from.
Ask the person directly why they clam up, and let them know how it makes you feel. If you are met with defensiveness or a lack of empathy for your feelings, you’ll know you are dealing with a toxic personality.
2. Avoid letting the silent treatment get the better of you.
One way to cope with silent treatment is to act like it doesn’t affect you even when it does.
Remember that people who give the silent treatment are looking to get a particular reaction out of you. If you refuse to play into their hands, they’ll know better than to try to get you into the game next time.
For example, if your boyfriend hasn’t phoned you for days, resist the urge to keep calling and calling him until he picks up the phone.
Instead, act as if the silent treatment doesn’t bother you at all. Preoccupy yourself with other things to keep your thoughts away from the incident.
Once you’re face-to-face with him, talk to him like you normally do. If he insists on not responding to your words, say “I understand. If you’re ready to talk and be close again, please know that I’m here for you.”
Make it clear to him that you won’t allow silence to be used as a weapon against you.
3. Keep calm, and talk to the person kindly but directly.
At some point, you will have to confront your partner, even if your partner doesn’t want to. When that time comes, take a deep breath, clear your mind, and ask your partner to talk in a private, comfortable place.
Then, use the “sandwich method” of offering feedback. Start off with a positive, factual statement. Be specific and matter-of-fact about the things your partner does to hurt you, and use “I” statements to express how you feel. Make an offer of reconciliation.
For example, a conversation with your girlfriend may look like this:
“Honey, I love you, and I want our relationship to be enjoyable and supportive for the both of us. So when you avoid talking to me about things that bother you or just clam up, it makes me feel isolated and unloved. I need to feel connected to you, and I want you to know I’m here to listen if there’s something on your mind.”
4. State your boundaries.
If your relationship has soured because of the ongoing silent treatment tactic, you may want to end it outright.
Or you may want to state your boundaries and consequences plainly before you decide to end things. You might say, “I can’t be in a relationship with someone who manipulates me and shuts me out. If you insist on giving me the silent treatment, I’m afraid I’ll have to break things off between the two of us.”
Your partner might balk at that last statement.
He might beg you to give him another chance. If you think there’s the slightest chance your relationship can be saved, give him one more chance, but make it clear that you will follow through if the behavior continues.
If he goes back to his old, passive-aggressive ways after you’ve made up, break it off and don’t look back. You deserve better.
5. Take care of yourself.
When someone gives you the silent treatment, it’s easy to get thrown off-balance.
You might feel like you’re grasping at straws and beat yourself up for not being able to know what a loved one is thinking. The moment you start to feel like that, STOP.
Stop beating yourself up. Stop berating yourself for not being a mind reader. Stop thinking it’s your responsibility to help an immature person mature.
If someone gives any indication that they want to change, offer to help them. Otherwise, let them be.
Also, surround yourself with positive people. Keep your diet balanced, and exercise as regularly as you can.
Practice positive affirmations daily. Remind yourself that you’re not a terrible person for being in a relationship with someone who gives you the silent treatment.
It’s their issue, not yours.
6. Consider therapy.
Putting up with silent treatment can take its toll on you.
You may become angry, depressed, and anxious because of how you’re being treated.
In that case, seek professional help. If possible, ask the person giving you the silent treatment to go into therapy with you.
Should the person refuse, schedule appointments for yourself anyway. Prepare to pack up and leave if things take a turn for the worse.
Being the recipient of silent treatment is can make you feel crazy and lonely.
Do what you can to get the other person to open up, but if it’s clear the behavior isn’t going away, you need to put yourself first.