The Silent Treatment Blows Chunks

SilenceIt does!

It drives me absolutely nuts (probably why people have done it to me) when someone decides that the best way to solve a problem is to not talk about it. When has this ever worked?

Look, I get it if someone needs a half hour or even a few hours to calm down during a heated argument. That’s fine. There is nothing wrong with calling time-out until rational discussion is again possible. Very little if anything is solved by shouting names, throwing things, and losing your cool in general, but deciding to go days on end not talking to someone just adds fuel to the fire. I’m not sure why anyone would think it could solve anything.

If you’re one of those people who use this ‘technique’, you might be shaking your head in denial. You might be thinking I’m completely wrong and it’s a legitimate form of arguing, but sorry to burst your bubble – the research backs me up.

For example:

Although researchers say the cold shoulder is the most common way people deal with marital conflict, an analysis of 74 studies, based on more than 14,000 participants, shows that when one partner withdraws in silence or shuts down emotionally because of perceived demands by the other, the harm is both emotional and physical.

“The more this pattern emerges within your relationship, the greater the chances one or both partners experience heightened levels of anxiety or may use more aggressive forms of behavior,” says Paul Schrodt, a professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, who led the study published this spring in the journalCommunication Monographs.

Of course they’re going to use more aggressive forms of behavior or experience higher anxiety. Who wants to fight for days? It’s emotionally and physically draining. The person administering the silent treatment is sending the message (although they might not be meaning to) that the other person isn’t worth their time or energy. The person on the receiving end is getting more frustrated as time goes by.

Why not just sit down like rational adults and talk about it?




    • I never really thought of it like that. Usually, when it’s happened to me, they say they just have a hard time with conflict and don’t want to argue.

      It makes sense though, that it’s a form of punishment, sort of like we put small children in a corner and ostracize them as a form of punishment.

      • Well, when it lasts for a few hours or so I could go along with it being because the person wants to avoid conflict. I’m such a person and I do tend to go quiet when tempers flare. It’s usually so I can regroup and contemplate a new approach – or even(shocker) how I might be wrong.

        That kind that goes on for days and days, in my experience, is to bring cause enough discomfort in the other person to make them compliant. After a couple of days the other person would do just about anything to make the tension stop. But that’s just my experience. I suppose I shouldn’t speak for everyone.

  1. My family still relies on silent treatment to punish people, now more than ever actually. It’s a big trigger for my depressive episodes. For me, I know the person is upset. However, I don’t know why, and that makes me go into hyper-criticism of anything I’ve done that potentially is causing the issue.

    It also causes panic attacks for me when it’s done mid-argument. This only happens with family members. I’ve tried explaining to them that what they’re doing doesn’t help, but they don’t listen.

    I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the cold shoulder, when done systematically for years, can cause very unhealthy things to happen to loved ones. It should be avoided.

  2. There were days in my youth I tried this on, fortunately maturity and that I can’t keep my mouth shut for too long, meant silence was broken. For better or worse we need to communicate, body language gets it wrong on some occasions, using our words can be beneficial than negative. 😊

  3. If you’re dealing with a narcissist, sometimes keeping silent is the only way to deal with them. We call it “no contact”or cutting them off. They are not like the rest of us–they TRY to push our buttons and won’t listen to reason and they never, ever are wrong. But with normal, REASONABLE people, it’s always better to discuss things than give them the silent treatment, which is the coward’s way out

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