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The Dangers Of The Silent Treatment In A Relationship

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what are the dangers of the silent treatment, the silent treatment

Let’s talk about the dangers of the silent treatment in a relationship, along with useful suggestions on how to deal with it.

There’s a lot of contradictory advice on how to deal with conflicts in a relationship. Some say that silence is an acceptable response to certain situations, while others believe it to be a poisonous form of punishment.

With conversations that explore the effects of boundaries, it comes as no surprise to me that silence as a response to conflict is a topic growing in popularity.

Before you jump onto any bandwagon, you’d benefit from understanding the effects of the silent treatment in a relationship.

It may just help to save your relationship or your dignity and well-being.

What Is The Silent Treatment?

It is the act of intentionally withdrawing your participation in a relationship for an indefinite period of time to punish or strongarm your partner into submission or guilt.

The silent treatment is often viewed as a means of punishment, control, or manipulation, depending on the intent and reasons for employing it as a response to disagreements or rejection.

The withdrawal of attention or communication has the propensity to assert value by creating a sense of loss.

The ultimate goal of the silent treatment is to get what you want or to punish your partner for holding a view or action that is contrary to your beliefs.

From my understanding, it is also true to say that silence can be used as an appropriate response to certain unacceptable behaviors.

If, for example, your partner was engaging in a war of words with you that devolves into a disrespectful barrage of adhominem attacks, resigning from the conversation and being silent until cooler heads prevail can be viewed as a fair and acceptable response to ugly behavior.

So, in some cases, silence can be used as a way of expressing healthy boundaries that preserve the overall quality of your relationship.

Related article: Why is he ignoring me all of a sudden?

What Are The Issues With Using The Silent Treatment?

the dangers of the silent treatment, the silent treatment in a relationship

1. It causes emotional distress

As someone who has been on the receiving end of the silent treatment, I’m all too familiar with the emotional distress it causes.

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Anxiety, uncertainty, rejection, insecurity, and fear are the five primary emotions triggered in the partner who is being ignored.

Without safety in a relationship, it’s difficult to cultivate happiness and love that stand the test of time.

Check out this article by PsychologyToday on why being ignored hurts so much.

2. It may erode trust

When the person you trust to love and support you through thick and thin turns their back on you during conflict, it has the propensity to destroy trust.

There’s something malicious and heartbreaking about the intentional withdrawal of communication by someone we love.

Over time, it casts a great shadow over the reliability and dependability of the relationship.

Without trust, a relationship is bound for disaster.

3. It leads to a breakdown of communication

Most relationships end due to a lack of communication.

When communication is intentionally withheld as a means of manipulation or punishment, it creates pockets of unresolved conflict and emotions that will poison the relationship over time.

Most couples are unable to truly grow and move on from disagreements and issues without feeling heard and understood.

This explains why the silent treatment is dangerous in a relationship because one partner is robbed of the opportunity to hold their own views and to be treated with mutual respect.

4. It begets resentment

Most people are forgiving, but it’s difficult to let go of resentment when the person you love chooses to hurt you through silence.

Where resentment really comes into play is when the partner who is being ignored makes multiple attempts to communicate but is met with cold silence.

This behavior is quickly viewed as a form of punishment and a violation of respect.

Even if the partner who is being ignored desperately tries to win back communication, resentment sets in when they realize that it was nothing more than a ploy to manipulate, punish, or control them.

5. It has the ability to escalate conflict

Unless conflicts and problems lead to the betterment of your relationship, they are a net negative.

The issue with using the silent treatment in a relationship is that it can prolong or escalate conflict beyond anything reasonable.

Conflict often devolves into disconnection, bitterness, and dissatisfaction. The ultimate goal of a long-term relationship is a safe space for peace, love, comfort, and support.

You can’t create that type of relationship when conflicts are dealt with so poorly.

6. It can lead to emotional detachment

It’s hard enough to grapple with disagreements and conflicting needs in a relationship without adding a lack of communication to the mix.

People who use the silent treatment get so hung up on proving a point or getting what they want that they overlook the long-term damage it causes.

Being on the receiving end of the silent treatment on a frequent basis will lead to emotional detachment.

When that happens, it’s only a matter of time before the relationship ends.

“Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation.” – Oscar Wilde

7. It prevents the development of conflict resolution skill

When conflict is used as a stepping stone for deeper understanding, relationships thrive.

There’s a great deal of patience, deep thinking, compassion, and communication skills that are developed and enhanced when you work through relationship issues as a couple.

All of this is shoved to the side when someone employs silence as a response to conflict.

The relationship will never reach it’s maximum potential for as long as this behavior recurs.

8. It can diminish respect in the relationship

I think we all can agree that it’s immature and just rude to ignore your partner when they are trying to communicate respectfully with you.

There are going to be disagreements in a relationship, but that doesn’t mean it’s justified to respond with a cold shoulder.

Couples who can maintain a respectful demeanor with each other, even when it’s difficult to do so, have a much greater chance of surviving than those who respond with the silent treatment.

Most people would feel disrespected to be ignored over and over again. Having to be in that position makes a person lose respect for their partner in return.

Remember this: Love cannot exist or persist without respect.

Why Does My Partner Ignore Me?

the dangers of the silent treatment in a relationship, the silent treatment

There are a number of different reasons why someone would use the silent treatment in response to disagreements, conflicts, or differences, and they are as follows:

  • They have an avoidant attachment style.
  • They have control issues.
  • It’s learned behavior from observing their parents.
  • They had to manipulate their parents to get attention or to get what they wanted.
  • They use silence to cope with their feelings.
  • It works on you and shifts the power dynamic in their favor without consequences.
  • They never learned how to communicate their feelings or needs without feeling weak or pathetic.
  • To protect themselves because they feel threatened or weak.

Related article: What to do when your partner ignores you

How To Deal With The Silent Treatment

how to address the silent treatment in a relationship

The ideal way to deal with the silent treatment is to disarm and disengage.

What does this mean?

Most of us react to troublesome situations impulsively and emotionally. Granted, romantic quarrels often evoke a great deal of emotion, but that doesn’t mean they’re the most helpful.

What may feel like the right thing to do could be the least productive and empowering thing to do.

So, you want to react.

To react means to carefully consider your feelings, your thoughts, your values, and the outcome you are hoping for.

Since the silent treatment is a negative experience that poses many dangers for a relationship, we don’t want to enforce or reward it with our reaction.

This is why we want to focus on disengaging and disarming.

To disengage means to move away from an argument, a conflict, or a desperate attempt at reconciliation.

We want to extend an olive branch in the healthiest and simplest way possible.

Hey, I’ve noticed that we haven’t talked properly. I understand that you’re upset, and so am I. But it would be really helpful for us to work with each other and talk this through. We’re a team, and we should be focusing on winning as a team, not against each other. Let’s figure this out.

This kind of olive branch sets aside negative emotions, shifts the focus away from an argument, doesn’t reinforce the silent treatment since it’s primary objective is to open the doors of communication, and doesn’t shift blame onto anyone.

If they begin to communicate, great. You’ve prevented the silent treatment from damaging the relationship without creating a reward since you aren’t chasing, blowing up, or begging.

It also gives your partner a chance to snap out of it if they aren’t known for doing this.

If your partner ignores this attempt at communicating, that is when you have to disengage.

The continuation of efforts that are ignored will enforce their behavior.

You want to avoid that at all costs.

Make an attempt or two at communicating in a good way, but then stop when you are met with more silence.

Then comes the hard part.

If things aren’t improving at all and the silence continues for days or weeks, you have to put your foot down and pose a consequence.

Either communicate and work through this, or I’m stepping away from this relationship for some time.

This is not about threatening your partner.

It’s about protecting yourself from abusive and unappreciative behavior.

Oftentimes, this is enough to wake your partner up and prevent them from doing this again in the future.

If it doesn’t, well then, you have to consider your future because a relationship with someone who weaponizes silence against you is a relationship destined for doom and misery.

That brings us to the end of this article on the dangers of the silent treatment in a relationship. If you’d like to work through this issue with me, visit my services page for information on my email consultation package.

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