How to Confront the Silent Treatment: Turning an Uncomfortable Few Days Into an Uncomfortable Hour
How often, when fighting with your spouse, do you find yourself shutting down? Going off to sulk for awhile? Avoiding all contact with them and giving in to that silly routine so commonly referred to as “giving them the silent treatment”?
We’ve participated in this routine since we were children: our siblings would poke or prod at us and we would, in response, withdraw and ignore them in a purposeful attempt to upset them in return.
As adults, it’s probably time to evolve into a better strategy for communication.
Regrouping vs. “The Silent Treatment”
Now, to be fair, one of the most helpful things any couple can do in the midst of an argument is purposefully take some time apart to calm down. As anger, frustration and adrenaline build in our systems; irrational behavior and communication build as well.
The goal of “regrouping” or taking a “timeout” is simple: respect. If both of you understand that the pause in the argument is so that you can approach each other from a better place, respectfully, then “timeouts” can be very effective.
Simply, explain that you need some time to think things through and, a very important step: reschedule a time to come back to this issue. This reassures your spouse that you’re not merely trying to escape the conversation, but that you want to have the conversation when you are in a better, more levelheaded place.
Many find that they are not coherent enough to give a detailed explanation of their need for a “time-out” in the midst of a fight. It can be very helpful to simply just plan with your partner, during a calm time between the two of you, that you will call a “timeout” when needed, and will not neglect to plan a better time to talk about the tense issue.
When considering how you want to handle the conflict when you return, it’s not necessary to let your partner off the hook, completely, for things they’ve done to upset you. Take this time to figure out a way to gently coach them into what’s right for you, rather than approach them critically or abrasively.
Addressing the Silent Treatment
When it comes to the silent treatment, both men and women are offenders. The way men and women approach their silent partner, however, is very different.
As we covered in the article, “How to Let Your Husband Be a Man”, withdrawing from a woman makes her panic. If a man is giving his woman the silent treatment, she will often pursue, question and talk him to death, trying to find the right thing to say, make an excellent point, or find some solution to the conflict at hand.
Women: Don’t do this. If your man has expressed that he needs some time to calm down, let him have some time to calm down. Maybe he hasn’t said it outright; be keen enough to give him some time, anyways.
Use this time to calm down, yourself. Be ready to hear him out when he’s ready. Any point you want to make in the moment of conflict you will remember and can be made later, if it’s important enough.
Guys: When a woman is giving us the silent treatment, we often want to wait it out. This is not always best way to go.
Do give her an hour to calm down. But, after that, say something like, “You seem upset. What did I do?” -or- “Is it because I didn’t do _________”.
You may be wrong. She could say, “You should know me by now!”.
In response, it’s okay if you say, calmly and empathically: “No. Please explain it to me simply.” Because we often don’t know what we did, or what exactly is bothering her. Tell her that she may be sick of explaining what she needs, but to try it just one more time.
Women don’t want to be checked off. “Okay, I did that. I made her happy”. Women want to feel heard. For tips on how to do that, check out: “How to Get Your Wife to Shut Up” (Ladies, you may be tempted to kick me for that title. But you’ll agree with everything I say.)
Should you find you need some additional tips to get through the tough issues in your marriage, the staff at Stenzel Clinical Services is here to help. Relationships can be very difficult, and our experts are well-equipped to help you and your spouse weather the hardships you face and strengthen your relationship. Contact Us to learn more, for rates, or to make your first appointment.