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DEALBREAKING Silent Treatment Emotional Abuse in Romantic Relationships - When to Discuss and Confront

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It took an extremely long time but, finally, I have managed to overcome being dealt the silent treatment by my husband and I have come out at the other end with a happier mindset and improved marriage. Of course no relationship is ever going to be perfect, but I no longer suffer/tolerate silent treatment from my other half and I cannot tell you how relieved I am to be able to say this. These articles I have written on silent treatment detail how eventually I managed to turn things around for the better.

When to talk to your partner about the Silent Treatment

For many cases of the Silent Treatment, the strategies suggested in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series of hubs will prove sufficient in breaking the cycle of manipulation when put into operation consistently for a series of occurrences. To reiterate, the recommendation was to put the strategies into action without revealing to your partner at any stage what you were planning to do - and this still stands. (i.e. do not reveal your strategies, even in the event you find it necessary to have a discussion with your partner about the silent treatment, as outlined below).

Now, if after employing the approaches over 3 or 4 episodes of the silent treatment, the occurrences show very little or no sign of declining, then you are dealing with a very tenacious individual indeed. In this situation it is now worth considering setting aside some time to speak to your wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend about their behaviour, and your feelings, needs and requirements.

Preparing for the Discussion

Ahead of a dialogue, think about what you want to happen next time there is an issue between you which would likely lead to the Silent Treatment. For example, would it be possible to both agree on an upper time limit for a time out/cooling off period, following which neither of you will isolate them self from the other. Further, (once the upper time limit is reached) if knowing what to say to one another feels difficult and awkward to begin with, perhaps have an agreed sign or gesture to perform which you both will know indicates that you are at peace with one another and want things to be right, even if you don’t know the words to say at that moment.

Ask your partner if they have any ideas on the matter but don’t be surprised if they do not in the first instance – but take the lead and be proactive in implementing your own ideas if they have none to put forward initially.

(Also think about what will happen if it is the case that at the end of an agreed cooling off period one person still needs a little more time to calm down. For example, that person could respectfully put this to their partner with a view to agreeing a time limited extension to the cooling off period.)

Do not threaten to do anything which you have not fully thought through and/or are ready to carry out. For instance, don’t be tempted to bluff that you will end the relationship because, when you don’t follow through, it makes things more problematic for the future. (At some point in the future you may have to consider ending the relationship, but just don’t threaten this prematurely.)

Silent Treatment - Too stressed to speak - make your partner a drink and then take a limited cooling off period/timeout (for Mug details, click blue text link in paragraph above.)

Silent Treatment - Too stressed to speak - make your partner a drink and then take a limited cooling off period/timeout (for Mug details, click blue text link in paragraph above.)

During and After the Discussion

Some people believe that the silent treatment is acceptable since it leaves no visible marks on the victim’s body and no words are blurted out which one might want to retract later. However, it does leave scars on the mind, which can be just as damaging, possibly worse. Some abusers are unconscious or in denial that they have been emotionally abusive towards you, whereas others use it as a deliberate tactic to unsettle and/or control you. The significant point to have got across in your discussion is that you are not prepared to carry on tolerating the silent treatment and that you require your partner to take positive steps to avoid such conduct in the future.

Your partner may not be open to acknowledging that they are perpetrating a form of emotional abuse. If they elect to remain in denial, then so be it. Don’t insist on an admission or expect an apology (although of course this would be nice). Neither should you expect, insist or beg that your partner promise to make amends.

Wait for a period of calm/normality to have the discussion (nb: ideally it need not be confrontational ! ) Plan ahead how you will matter of “factly”, respectfully and, last but not least, with much composure, spell out to your other half what they are doing, the effect it has on you and why it is unacceptable:

  • describe their behaviour in detail (e.g. ignoring you, not speaking, being sarcastic, condescending etc and the durations)
  • tell them that such behaviour can make a person feel hurt, desperate, tearful, confused, frustrated, angry, disrespected, worthless etc and explain how you yourself have often felt as a result of repititive episodes of silent treatment
  • Inform them quietly, but in no uncertain terms, that your own self respect will no longer permit you to tolerate the silent treatment
  • tell them it is paramount that you both use alternative new positive methods to resolve issues so that the relationship can grow and flourish
  • talk about what you can both do the next time a potential period of silent treatment is looming
  • listen carefully to their views and, where necessary, schedule another time to further disuss the issues (bearing in mind that your partner may need time to digest and reflect)

Realistic Expectations

Following the discussion, the crucial thing is that your partner makes genuine concerted efforts to try to modify, lessen and eventually eradicate their Silent Treatment behaviours.

Scroll to Continue

Be mindful that changing their manipulative conduct can be a huge challenge for your partner. Don’t assume that they will or can cease straightaway. Be patient but resolute, with yourself as well as with your partner, that you are no longer going to put up with Silent Treatment emotional abuse.

Following the talk, shorter durations of the silent treatment, coupled with fewer episodes overall, are a good sign of progress. If your partner subsequently slips up, be sure to continue to take the pleasure out of them treating you this way by being seen to getting on with contentedly living your life. When things are normal again, have a follow up discussion as necessary although, ultimately, you may decide that intractable silent treatment is a dealbreaker and accordingly decide to end the relationship.

NB: If your partner is a passive aggressive personality type I truly believe the strategies put forward in these articles should help break the cycle of silent treatment if applied consistently. When dealing with silent treatment from passive aggressive partners who are additionally intransigent narcissists, I believe it is still worthwhile applying these methods as, of themselves, the strategies are empowering to the person on the receiving end of silent treatment.

Caution - Obtain certified professional advice instead of carrying out the strategies in this series of hubs if you are already a victim of physical or verbal abuse or suspect your partner may accelerate from silent treatment abuse to physical/verbal abuse.

Silent Treatment - and when you're back on good speaking terms

Silent Treatment - and when you're back on good speaking terms


PART 5 - Is the Silent Treatment Emotional Abuse affecting your physical, as well as emotional, well being? - Many people do not realise how silent treatment emotional anxiety, and stress generally, can affect physical health, causing actual aches, pains and potentially serious health concerns which can land a person in the ER/hospital.

Help Yourself by Understanding Yourself

Is there anything you can do to enhance the relationship between bouts of Silent Treatment?

STOP unintentionally encouraging Silent Treatment from your Partner

Silent Treatment in Marriage - The Marriage Restoration Project

What should I do when my wife ignores me? - The Marriage Restoration Project

Life & Therapy ~ Communicating about Taking Space in a Relationship- An Alternative to the Silence

Do please comment to share your past experiences of trying to persuade your partner to stop ignoring you!

Your experiences on this subject are welcome below and may well influence others when making decisions about what they might consider doing/not doing in the future.

© 2012 Ebonny

Comments - Silent Treatment Emotional Abuse - When and how to Discuss/Confront

Ebonny (author) from UK on July 21, 2015:

Dear Samantha

My profuse apologies to you because somehow your comment from a year ago slipped through the net. I have only just seen it and note you were in a bit of a dilemma and wanted a response prior to answering an answerphone message from your partner!

I do hope that things turned out well for you and I trust you found the right way forward for you at that time, since constantly blowing hot and cold in a relationship can be very disconcerting.

Generally speaking I am not in a position to respond by return, but again please accept my apologies for not responding earlier. Kind regards, Ebonny

Ebonny (author) from UK on July 21, 2015:

Hi Leftout

How about feeling sorry for your brother!!! People who resort to passive aggression may do so from a lack of self belief, a feeling of vulnerability - by making someone else a victim (of their silent treatment for example) I think it can help distract them from their own feelings of inadequacy, low self esteem or whatever and makes them feel better/more important or powerful. Think about it - It’s actually very pathetic really – him ignoring you so that he can be the centre of attention for all the brothers, the one they all to have talk about, confer and deliberate over – the one they all need to win over.

Shame on him and poor him if, even as a grown man, his level of communication and interaction is so lacking that he cannot sit down with you and maturely air his views, listen to yours, agree, or agree to differ or compromise without malice or resentment. So based on this you might try feel sorry for your brother as an alternative approach to help you view the situation in a new light. I have to say that this approach may not “soften him up” and you have to realise that the only person you can be sure of changing is you yourself.

I thank you for the comment and for sharing your situation – although please accept my apologies for the delay in replying. My full response to you ended up quite lengthy and so I decided to make it into an article in its own right and hope to publish it within the next week. Meanwhile I do hope this of help and I think you might find it useful to see my articles concerning passive aggressive partners - perhaps adapt some of the strategies suggested there to your own situation.

I sincerely hope you can rise above your brother’s silent treatment as your emotional health can also negatively influence your physical health. Do see my articles about how to stop emotional stress impacting your well being if you have not already done so. With best wishes, Ebonny.

Left out on July 16, 2015:

Hi. Your pages are very informative. Thank you.

I am a 48 year old man in a family business. I have an older brother who is the most powerful family member in our business, and it's with him I'm having my problem. He has given me the silent treatment for the past year and a half and we've not spoken to each other in all that time. It started over his view of my role in the business and what I'm lacking. We never had a fight about it or any sort of big blowout, nor did we attempt to resolve it. he just stopped communicating as his method of dealing. For the first few months I tried many tactics to bring him around but all failed. I tried provoking him, as well as appealing to his soft side, but he is a stone wall. For the past year I've been indifferent, trying for him not to see the pain and frustration he's putting me though. My other brothers tried to intervene but he's just too strong willed for them to get through either. I believe he must have narcissistic tendencies or some type of personality disorder for him to allow things to spiral out of control to this level.

Anyway, I'm not sure what I can do now. I don't want to leave my business but it's very difficult to face this at work everyday especially being that I have to skirt around interacting with him to get things done. Im in therapy to try and manage my own feelings about this but it's only helping marginally because of how closely associated he is with my everyday life.

Is there any approach that I can take to get him to soften up without enabling him to keep me as a victim for something like this is the future?

Ebonny (author) from UK on May 24, 2014:

Hello Whits End

I am sorry you are in this unbearable situation and can well understand why you might feel worn down, exasperated and degraded.

Yes, it is VERY hard to take our own advice and this is not an easy cycle to break. I think some professional individual counselling support may be in order to help see you through the difficulties in your marriage/life. Perhaps you can find a suitably qualified counsellor in your area. I would also say play special attention to doing things which uplift YOU. Please do this just for you, all the time, regardless of how your husband is behaving. It’s positive and right for you to look after and uphold your own emotional health.

Would it make you feel better to simply state to your husband that you find his behaviour unwarranted, childish and unacceptable. And thereafter continue with the strategies and not allow the objectionable behaviour to overwhelm you.

Thank you for sharing your predicament.

Whits end on May 21, 2014:

My husband uses the silent treatment every time he doesn't get his way or is asked to compromise on a situation that we can't agree upon (from drinking with his buddies to rejoining the military).

He is also emotionally abusive- calling names, threatening to divorce me, belittling me in front of our children, and shows complete indifference towards me and my feelings.

I'm not sure why I'm so afraid to walk away- I guess I'm just not ready. I keep praying for change. But as I type this out I realize what I would say to someone if this were happening to them. Yet, he has this way of making me feel like it's all my fault- I keep thinking if I change , it will get better.

After a recent disagreement about going out for ice cream- he called me a few choice names and reiterated that he can't stand me- now we are in the silent treatment phase. I'm trying to employ the tactics you mentioned, but I get so discouraged as it seems with each passing day he enjoys our separation and is indifferent to the divide that is being created.

Normally, he will eventually approach me sexually when he's done ignoring me, but this makes me feel used and even more degraded. So what do I do next? And how long do I keep pretending that I'm okay with him ignoring me?

I'm drained, I'm broken and I'm exhausted.

Ebonny (author) from UK on August 26, 2013:

Renee - The extremes of such behaviour could make a person an emotional wreck. If you have not consistently done so already, I can only suggest you try some of the strategies advocated rather than continuing to tolerate and unintentionally encourage this behaviour.

I think some individual counselling and/or couple counselling might also be beneficial in your situation.

Last but not least, I do hope you truly believe that you deserve better and that you will resolve to help yourself get off this damaging emotional roller coaster.

Renee on August 24, 2013:

My husband has done this the second time now. He use to do it by getting mad and just ignoring me but I didn't last too long. He would sometimes go and sleep downstairs but I'd follow him and beg him to come back. Sometimes he would and others I'd just give up.

Anyhow he has been staying in Boston for several months now with his new job. I'm in Ohio. I went to visit for 8 days last months and after having a great time and him saying he loves me, he said he hates me and was filing for divorce. Then he ignored me for several days.

He started out by emailing me love songs and then texting. It had been 3 weeks since I had seen him and he came home for a few days. Our son and I followed him to Boston and stayed for over two weeks. We just came home on Monday and we left with hugs kisses, I love you's and he said he had a fun time. 2 hours later he checked in us to see how the drive was and I asked if he missed us yet. He said yes. By 3 hours later, he told me that he hates me and the next morning he said he was filing for divorce b/c he's tired of me. I haven't heard from him yet. It kills me. Help!!

Ebonny (author) from UK on June 08, 2013:

Hi Wondering - Thank you for your comment and question. I think if I had awareness of what was happening the first time I got the silent treatment from my husband, I would, as you suggest, address it once back on speaking terms, rather than wait. So yes, I think it's good if you can make your feelings on the matter known whilst it's still fresh in his mind that you were not playing the game, so to speak.

Establishing ground rules (cooling off period v silent treatment) and making it known what you will and will not tolerate should make him think twice before going down this road again. Really hope it all works out for you. Best regards. Ebonny.

Wondering on June 07, 2013:

Thank you for these posts Ebonny. My boyfriend is in the midst of giving me the silent treatment for the first time for more than a day (he has maybe done it in the past for an hour or so), and I wanted to learn more about this behavior since to me it is extremely childish and upsetting. I have been with my boyfriend for almost 3 years. As I said he has not given me the silent treatment for an extended time until now, but he does seem to have difficulties communicating when troubles arise. He has a way of always turning things around on me to try to make me feel like everything is my fault. He also rarely apologizes. Currently he is completely ignoring anything I say to him, responding only with grunts or shrugs. For the most part I am doing the things described in part one of your article (going about my business, not letting him know this affects me as much as it does). My question to you is this - since this behavior is just starting, my instinct is to address it now by telling him I will not stand for that kind of behavior (once we are back on speaking terms), rather than waiting for a couple or more episodes to see if he will stop on his own. Do you agree with this approach and/or have any pointers? I would like to address this immediately before it becomes a pattern. I love ly boyfriend very much and have often thought that we will end up togerther, but i have no intention of continuing with the relationship if it devolves into a pattern of days, weeks, or months of silent treatment.

Ebonny (author) from UK on January 21, 2013:

Hello QuestioningMyself

Thank you for your comment. Living with a narcissist can certainly be crazy making, and make you doubt yourself, but if you can gather strength and support you can indeed rise above it. In judging whether or not you yourself are a narcissist, as well as thinking about how you relate with your partner, think about how you relate with others. Do they view you are a narcissist, or is it just your partner?

I’m no expert, but I believe narcissists have a way of manipulating others into thinking they are at fault when they are not, and using silent treatment is a typical tool they use. From what you have written, I get the impression that you are trying to objectively examine your past actions/behaviour = NOT typical of narcissists.

I hope you will try the strategies given here as a start at changing your response to silent treatment and believe they will move you in a positive direction. Best wishes - Ebonny

QuestioningMyself on January 20, 2013:

This was one of the best articles I've read on the subject. Thank you so much for restoring some of my peace of mind. I have been in a relationship for 12 years. The first year I was adored and pursued and made to feel very special. Since that time I have been given the silent treatment so many times I've lost count. At least one week out of every month. I have tried fighting, ignoring, explaining,apologizing, defying, and ending it. He has somehow made me feel as though I am the one orchestrating the whole process. It's almost as if I'm spending all this time and energy to prove my innocence. I'm actually reading as much as I've been able to find to see if in fact, I am the narcissist in the relationship. Can he be right? Can this all be my fault and he is just hurt by all my actions and this is the only way he can cope? Also, he has a daughter (24 now) who, I feel, he has parentified and they go on weekly dates to bars . This has been going on for years and I was told that is was the only way they could have time alone (she doesn't care for me and I'm afraid the feeling has grown mutual). He feels there is nothing wrong with any of this and I'm the sick one. When I think I should leave he says that I'm giving up too easily and our relationship is way too valuable to end it. I'm pretty sure I've lost my mind. Is there any hope for me?

Ebonny (author) from UK on January 16, 2013:

Hi MsKarry

How frustrating for you, to say the least. I am wondering how you got on with putting the strategies into practice - hopefully you managed to appear upbeat and ended up actually feeling more positive as a result. If I take it that you did this on approx 4 occasions but found that your partner has not shifted even one iota, and that after your consistent altered responses you attempted to have a discussion and he refuses to participate in such discussion, then I think you will now need to reflect long and hard and decide whether or not this is a deal breaker for your relationship, and if yes proceed accordingly.

Not saying this is the case with you, but if the person on the receiving end of silent treatment goes into the discussion described above too hastily, having the discussion won't help. The abuser needs to have noted for themselves the consistent change in response to him/her giving the silent treatment. If they haven't witnessed and registered an unstoppable change in their partner's response, why would they change what was still working for them in terms of their maintaining the upper hand in the relationship!

I believe that most who give the silent treatment will not admit that they are doing anything wrong. As mentioned above, don't hold out for that. Actions speak louder than words and what is required is to see at least the beginnings of change in their behaviour, and for them to build on that and not slip back into their old ways. It's not easy to be consistent with being upbeat during a silent treatment bout, especially if there are other issues going on in your life. We just have to forgive ourselves and start over asap, re-establishing a consistent pattern of both appearing and being upbeat and positive.

Thank you for your comment MsKarry and I do hope you can find a way forward. - Ebonny

MsKarry on January 16, 2013:

I really liked the fisrt three parts.However i my case my partner gives me silent treatment very often & whenever I do try to have a discussion he doesn't respond & doesn't think he has done something wrong.I try to explain him that this is ruining our relationship but he just doesn't seem to bother.

Ebonny (author) from UK on December 12, 2012:

Thanks for your comment/voting MsDora. Hopefully these hubs will give food for thought to anyone struggling with such issues.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 12, 2012:

Your hub is very enlightening. I haven't seen such detail counsel on dealing with the silent treatment. Thanks for sharing. Voted Up and Useful.

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