It is completely understandable that if you are having an argue with your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or even just someone that is a friend it is necessary to give not only yourself, but the other person space to calm down and cool off. However, when it comes to the silent treatment there is a very thin line between doing it with respect with understanding, and mental abuse.
In this blog entry I’d like to talk to you about the silent treatment being used as mental abuse, being used with respect, what the silent treatment does to a relationship as well as the person whom you are giving the silent treatment to.
Silent Treatment as Mental Abuse
We all know too well that the silent treatment never feels good at all. Honestly, it’s not suppose to. It’s used by other person as a form of abuse. It is suppose to make you feel bad about a mistake you made, voicing your opinion, whatever the case may be. You begin to doubt yourself. You begin to wonder if you truly are good enough, then you think your love isn’t good enough, and you are not good enough. You will also feel like you are unworthy, unloveable, frustrated, angry, sadness, and depression.
All while you are trying constantly to get a hold of the other person your texts, phone calls, are bringing ignored. The other person is telling you that you are not worth answering and this conveys the message that you are not a human being. While the other person is ignoring you he or she feels empowered and he or she knows that he or she now has power over you.
That empowerment they feel leads to him or her using the silent treatment to control you. The other person might use the silent treatment to make you change your mind about a decision, and/or to make you do something you do not want to do. It can be used in countless ways to control you.
Abusers also uses the silent treatment as a form of punishment, which is all part of their control over you. The punishment ensures that you follow what he or she says next time, that next time you dress a certain way, that you don’t speak unless spoken to, you don’t hang out with a certain friend anymore, etc.
These are the red flags of abuse. It may start out as only the silent treatment, but it could escalate to physical abuse. Once the other person realizes that the silent treatment is not enough with their anger continuing to boil, that other person will come back and physically beat you. Trust me, I speak from personal experience.
The Silent Treatment is a Silent Killer
Stonewalling as the silent treatment is also known by, is the best way to kill a relationship with your friends, family, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc. If you are the one giving the silent treatment you might think you have control, you’re feeling great because you know you are hurting the other person just as much as he or she hurt you, and you are living it up on Cloud 9.
First of all, it kills open communication. It closes the door entirely. How do you expect to work things later? You can’t. If you are the one giving the silent treatment, you are telling the other person that there is no open communication. The other person will never feel safe to voice their opinions, thoughts, feelings, and he or she will be their true selves around you. The other person will also never come to you for help, even if you offer it and genuinely will help him or her.
However, while you are hurting that other person, you are also hurting your relationship. You are killing the relationship and the person whom you are giving the silent treatment to. While you may have him or her doubting him or herself, that other person is doubting you. He or she will begin to keep you at arm’s length, never allowing you to get close to him or her again. This is how the spiritual connection (if there is one in the relationship) is destroyed and it can never be repaired.
Once that spiritual connection is destroyed he or she is doubting your feelings, they are doubting the relationship, he or she may even begin to think that none of it is real. This is where the person who is on the receiving end of the silent treatment leaves the relationship.
The person who is on the receiving end of the silent treatment also has to repair the damage caused by the silent treatment now that the relationship is over. Many people feel and go through many emotions as well as negative thoughts. For some it may take days, months or even years for the damage to be repaired. It all depends what that particular individual has been through prior.
Let’s take myself for example. Let’s say that someone I am dating is giving me the silent treatment. Due to my past and being a long time victim of domestic violence, this is what I go through in the first 24 hours. I got through a lot of emotions; stating with feel that I am not good enough for him, that I am not a lovable person, and I feel like whatever made him mad is all my fault. It may not be my fault, but I feel like it is. I will also feel like my love, my heart are not good enough for him.
During this time I start to take things away from me as punishment. Since Valentines Day is around the corner, I might take that away from myself because I feel like I do not deserve it. Why do I do that? In my previous relationships, that’s what my ex’s did to further punish me after the silent treatment was over.
Silent Treatment = Self-Protection
Even I am guilty of this. Even though I still talk to the guy I am dating, I will never discuss things with him. For example, if he says something that hurt my feelings or made me feel bad about myself, as much as I want to cry and tell him how it made me feel I keep it all inside. I am so afraid to tell him how I feel. I am afraid he will be mad, and the silent treatment will return or worse might happen.
The guy I am seeing is in no way abusive. All of how I feel is all from the abuse I had endured from my ex’s. That is no way a reflection of him, however, it is something that is now a reflex for me. To protect myself. This is something I am personally trying to work on changing.
The person giving the silent treatment might be afraid to open up in fear of you leaving them. Its so much easier for people to keep their mouth shut and protect themselves from all of the feelings than to say “What you did hurt me”. Its easier to run away from it than to voice one’s feelings and work on solutions. That person may also be afraid that once he or she opens up about his or her feelings, that the relationship will negatively change.
All of us are human beings. We make mistakes, word things incorrectly, say something that might hurt someone even if its not intentionally said to hurt that person. Sticking our food in our mouth is part of being a human being.
When on the Receiving End, How to Cope
First thing to remember is try to not to overthink it. The next thing is to keep your mind occupied.
For example, if my man needs his space while we are in a snit I occupy my entire day with chores. Let’s take what I did today as an example. Today, I had to work on packing up my bedroom, and getting it cleaned up because I have the headboard for my bed being delivered on Friday. I am also writing this blog entry periodically throughout the day. I made some phone calls, paid some bills. Later, I will go out for a run and get ready to go to bed early so I can hit the gym first thing in the morning.
You may feel like you absolutely necessarily have to text or call the other person because you just have to talk. That is something you should not do. He or she needs space for a reason. Respect his or her wishes just like you want yours respected.
Personally, when my son is home from school and I am on the receiving end of the silent treatment, I keep my cell phone in my bedroom. My cell phone is on silent, including no vibrate. I also flip it upside down on my nightstand. I do not want to see it light up if I get any kind of notification. I have found that helps me from contacting my man if he is the one who needs space (giving me the silent treatment).
I have also found that this helps me take control of those negative thoughts I have. Which leads me to handling the silent treatment a lot better. Without those negative thoughts running through my head, I can get through my day with ease.
The only time I will have my cell phone on me is when my son is in school, when I leave the house for any reason, and especially when I go out for a run. Those are the ONLY times, I will have my cell on me.
One thing I do if my man and I are in a snit is I call up the BFFs and we’re off for dinner and drinks. The best cure is laughter, and trust me, my three (3) BFFs know how to make me laugh, they know how to make me forget I’m in a snit with my man, and they know how to have a good time.
By doing these things, it allows you take control of those negative thoughts and put them in the trash where they belong. Also, the other person losses his or her reign of power and control over you. This makes your day to day life smooth like the other person is not even giving you the silent treatment, you are doing your thing and he or she is doing his or her thing.
This is what Healthy Communication Looks Like
We all need that space to cool off, and calm down after heated arguments. It does keep us from saying things that we know we will regret later. It keeps us from further hurting each other, and it allows us to come back to the situation to discuss it like adults. It allows us to listen to each other with respect, and understanding.
First thing you do not want to do is stonewall (what the silent treatment is also known by) the other person, give them the cold shoulder, and ignore them. As I have said earlier in this entry, this is an unhealthy form of “communication” as well as an unhealthy way to regain control and power.
When you have a heated argument, or when someone says something that hurt you when they never meant to hurt you the main thing to remember is that it is not about control and power. It is not personal. It may feel like it because as the argument or conversation continued after your feelings are hurt, it can feel very personal. Its not. The other person doesn’t know that he or she hurt your feelings and that he or she did not do it on purpose.
Here are somethings you can do to start to implement and discuss with your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.
1. Discuss how the silent treatment makes you feel, and acknowledge the other person’s feelings. It is important to make the other person aware that the silent treatment is an unhealthy behavior. Talk about how it makes you feel, and also open up the discussion so that the other person can express how and why he or she was giving you the silent treatment. It is important that you make that other person feel safe to open up to you. Do not judge, we all have feelings and we all want our feelings respected. Respect the other person’s feelings like you want yours respected.
Listen, really listen. This is without expectations and without any reservations. Even if what that other person has to say hurts you, remember that it is unintentional. If you have to, politely ask to take a break so that you can leave the room and calm down. Do not get angry and/or hostile and do not use hostile language at any point during the conversation. Remember that it may not get worked out in one conversation, it may take several conversations which is why it is best to always leave the door open to revisit the topic at a later day and time.
These larger conversations can be used to lay the foundation down for trust and it’s also a signal that you are interested in understanding their point of view. You can do this while being honest about how the silent treatment makes you feel.
2. Set boundaries when it comes to the Silent Treatment. Believe it or not, the silent treatment is very good for couples when it is used with respect and understanding. Again, we are humans and we are far from perfect. During a heated argument or if you unintentionally hurt the other person’s feelings, their first reaction is either fight or flight. Most people will choose flight. It is easier to runaway than to confront the situation as well as find solutions to work it out.
I know it may be difficult to remember, but like all things, we get better with practice. Tell your spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend that you are upset, angry, and you need space to cool down and calm down. Put a time limit on when you will check back in with your spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend.
For example, if my man had unintentionally said something that hurt my feelings I would immediately and politely tell him that what he said hurt my feelings, and that I need some space so that I can calm down. Then I will leave the house. I do not slam doors, I do not stomp around either. I do not take the promise ring that he gave me (that I wear daily) and throw it across the room or throw it at him (Yes, I’ve seen friends throw their wedding rings across the room or at their spouse). I continue to wear it like I do even when we are not having a misunderstanding.
I respectfully, and politely get my purse, my car keys and leave. I then send a text letting him know I will check in with him in two (2) hours. I’m usually back home in two (2) hours however, if I need more time to calm down I tell him that I need more time and more space. Since I am home, he knows that I am safe and I always check in with him the next morning or afternoon at the latest. If I need more time, I tell him that I am not ready to talk and I will check back in with him in two (2) days.
By doing this you are not giving him or her to cold shoulder, you are not ignoring him or her, and you are not stonewalling him or her. You are also not keeping him or her in the dark wondering when and if you will ever talk to or hear from him or her. It also does not kill the spiritual connection you two share, it does not hurt the other person, it also does not kill your relationship. It keeps everything intact. It also keeps the door of open communication open, allowing both of you to come together to have a discussion.
3. After the Silent Treatment Suggest the Next Steps. First thing is to set a day and time to come together to talk with no interruptions (that includes both of your cell phones, kids, TV, etc.). Its also good to bring those next steps to the table, as this will keep keep your minds off the blame game (remember, nobody is at fault). Talking to him or her after the silent treatment is extremely sensitive, and its best to keep it simple by stating your boundaries, and avoid the emotional minefields. We all know most of the time the silent treatment is an indication that one of you or both of you need some space in order to sort things out.
4. What if it is an Emergency and I don’t Have My Phone Near Me? This not a problem. While my man and I were discussing the boundaries for the silent treatment, I also let him know that I will have my cell on me while the kids are in school, once the kids are home I will not have my cell on me. That means I will not get phone calls or texts.
We also came up with a plan just in case it truly is an emergency. I told him that if it’s an emergency I always have my iPad near me which notifies me to new emails. All he has to do is email me with “9-1-1”. That will let me know that it truly is an emergency and that I will call him immediately. Same applies to him as well if I am the one who needs space.
We do not send each other messages on our social media accounts either. We respect each other’s space during this time.
How to Start the Conversation after the Silent Treatment
This is a bit tricky no matter what side of the silent treatment spectrum you are on. If you are the person who is giving the silent treatment, and you are not ready to talk about it you might start a conversation like this:
I know I’ve been quiet lately, I know how it makes you feel, and that’s not really fair to you. The truth is I’m hurt and I’m trying to sort some things out. I need some space. Not sure when I’ll be ready to talk, but I’ll check in with you on Friday and we will go from there.
Do not leave it open needed by saying “I’ll be in touch when I’m ready”. Personally, that sounds like a really poor excuse to just not talk to the other person. I’ve seen friends go through it with their boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse. They never heard back from the one who was giving them the cold shoulder. Which is why you never leave it open ended. Always choose to get in touch in two (2) to three (3) days.
If you need some more time and space, just tell him or her that and also tell him or her you will check in with them. Always do a three (3) day max. Any longer and it will be a punishment to the person on the receiving end and that falls under mental abuse.
If you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment and if you don’t know why, you might want to start the conversation like this:
Hey, I noticed you’re not responding to me. I’m not sure why, but I’d like to understand. I know when you stop talking and when you don’t respond it means you’re either angry, upset, or sad. If you’re not ready to talk, or need space I understand. I will give you the space and time you need to sort things out. The silence is hard for me. Maybe we can find a time to talk next week?
I never like to say things like “But, I can’t continue with this relationship if you keep shutting me out.” There are several reasons why. 1) If he or she has no idea about how you honestly feel about the silent treatment, that is your fault and you are hammering a nail in the coffin. 2) You do not know why you are receiving the silent treatment. You do not know what the other person is thinking or what is going on. Maybe he or she is dealing with a death in the family. Maybe he or she is going through a rough patch, had a horrible week at work, etc.
Bottom line, you do not know and if you tell them that you can’t continue with the relationship if he or she keeps shutting you out, makes it sound like he or she is forced to talk. I will bet dollars to donuts, that after reading that he or she will leave the relationship. Honestly, if I read that I would leave and not think twice about it.
Be patient, be there for the other person, truly listen with respect, take the other person’s feelings seriously, and understand their point of view. I promise, 99.99% of it can be worked out. If the guy I am dating and I can work out our misunderstandings after a silent treatment, you can too. Yes, we follow these guidelines.
Hawaiian Girl’s Final Thoughts
Remember, the silent treatment is an unhealthy way to regain power and control, and it is an unhealthy behavior. If you have talked to your spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend about the silent treatment, set some guidelines on it (numbers 1 – 3 as discussed above in Healthy Communication) and it still continues (as in nothing has changed, no notice of effort that he or she it truly trying to remember the new boundaries), it is time for you to leave the relationship. Everyone deserves healthy relationships.