Addressing the Silent Treatment

There is a phe­nom­e­non in male/female rela­tions that has had dras­tic impacts upon rela­tion­ships. It effects how a cou­ple com­mu­ni­cates and ulti­mately the trust we have in one another. I am talk­ing about the silent treatment.

Expo­si­tion of the Silent Treat­ment (title sounds serious’)

Let’s take a look at a model con­ver­sa­tion (or a lack thereof):

[Man] ‘Honey, I thought maybe we would go to Chili’s tonight.’

[Female] ‘Yeah what­ever.’

[Man] ‘Would you like to go some­where else?’

[Silence ensu­ing]

[Man] ‘Honey’?

I like the def­i­n­i­tion pro­vided by The Amer­i­can Her­itage® Dic­tio­nary of the Eng­lish Lan­guage, Fourth Edi­tion on the silent treatment:

Main­te­nance of aloof silence toward another as an expres­sion of one’s anger or disapproval.

What went wrong in this con­ver­sa­tion? I have spent much time ques­tion­ing women as to why they feel it is nec­es­sary to use such dras­tic mea­sures in com­mu­ni­ca­tion. I get answers like, ‘they wouldn’t under­stand, I was too frus­trated, I was too embar­rassed, or it wasn’t any­thing impor­tant.’ The prob­lem with this think­ing is that women assume right away that all men have no con­cern for their thoughts and feel­ings. Let me dis­pel that rumor right now. Yes, there are some men out there who deserve to be sin­gle for the way they treat women; but most men do actu­ally con­sider and value the input of their sig­nif­i­cant other.

The worst part is when the frus­tra­tion that a women expe­ri­ence gets buried by a silent treat­ment and then comes out at a later time. Let’s revisit our con­ver­sa­tion one month later:

[Man] ‘Sweetie, I thought it would be good to go to T.G.I Fri­days with the Smiths tonight.’


[Silence ensu­ing]

[Man] ‘Sweetie?’

The man is then left in a per­ilous state of con­fu­sion because noth­ing was brought up orig­i­nally. The worst part is the woman then expects the man to remem­ber the inci­dent that she is frus­trated over.

It needs to be clar­i­fied that I am not pick­ing just on women. Men can act the same way, but they aren’t nearly as effec­tive as women are. Men do things to inhibit com­mu­ni­ca­tion as well in their own ways, but for now I’m con­cen­trat­ing on the dras­tic need to address this par­tic­u­lar issue.

Deal­ing with the Silent Treatment

I have not been in many rela­tion­ships, but I have had enough expe­ri­ence to be the recip­i­ent of the silent treat­ment from a few dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter types. It’s always been the same process, but some deal with it in dif­fer­ent ways. I had one girl­friend whose idea of a silent treat­ment was silence fol­low­ing exces­sive yelling. I had one girl­friend whose idea of a silent treat­ment was not say­ing any­thing at all, and then bring­ing it up months later. I’ve had yet another that was silent, but then opens up shortly after a lit­tle prodding.

I can offer a lit­tle advice to men and women alike (and I’m always open to some).

For Men

Remem­ber men that most of the time the woman just wants to be assured that you notice that she is frus­trated. Through gen­tle exam­i­na­tion you can get most women to open up. Don’t be overly force­ful, and what­ever you do don’t call her stu­pid for not talk­ing. Yelling accom­plishes nothing.

If you have one of those women that har­bors stuff—get rid of her.

For Women

You have to under­stand that most, if not all the time, the man has no con­cep­tion of what has made you upset. So please don’t assume that we will always know. It also helps to acknowl­edge that if you are so upset you can’t talk about it, just let us know. A good man will give you your space to work it out, and then both of you can talk about the issues later.

If you have one of those men who is incon­sid­er­ate of youget rid of him.

The Med­ical Impli­ca­tions of the Silent Treatment

There are actu­ally med­ical impli­ca­tions of giv­ing your sig­nif­i­cant other the silent treatment.

[A] study of approx­i­mately 3,000 mar­ried or cohab­i­tat­ing men and women revealed that mar­ried men were half as likely to die dur­ing a 10-year period com­pared to unmar­ried men. While mar­i­tal sta­tus did not cor­re­late to mor­tal­ity rates in women, women in the study who held back their feel­ings dur­ing con­flicts with their spouses did have a higher mor­tal­ity rate.1

The research focused around coro­nary research, and it showed that restrict­ing feel­ings resulted in stress which led to a higher level of mor­tal­ity in both men and women. That should be a quick moti­va­tion to either (1) stay sin­gle or (2) talk about stuff as soon as it comes up. If not, you could die early!

Psy­cho­log­i­cal dam­age is also known to come about from restrain­ing frus­tra­tion. I think there is a very real rela­tion­ship between the increase of divorces and the rise of the silent treat­ment (although I can’t prove it, but who really believes sta­tis­tics anyway?).

Build­ing Bridges

Let’s work together, both men and women, on improv­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion through the reduc­tion and hope­ful elim­i­na­tion of the silent treat­ment. It really does no one any good, and it only causes frus­tra­tion and some­times even death (I’m not play­ing around)!

[Man] ‘Dar­ling, what’s wrong?’

[Female] ‘You did not con­sider my choices for din­ner tonight, and it hurt my feelings.’

[Male] ‘Ok, that’s fair; let’s go ahead and go to your favorite restau­rant then.’

[Female] ‘I love you.’

[Male] ‘I love you too darling.’