The Silent Treatment Isn't Helpful or Healthy 一 Here's What To Do Instead
Boundary-setting is an important skill in a healthy relationship because it ensures everyone feels comfortable and respected. During a conflict, setting a boundary may look like asking your partner to not raise their voice when speaking to you or to avoid discussing a triggering topic.
Sometimes boundaries entail needing space to cool down. Taking a few moments to gather your thoughts is perfectly reasonable. However, giving the silent treatment—ignoring your partner and refusing to speak to them—is unhealthy and can even constitute abuse.
According to Healthline, the silent treatment can be an emotionally abusive tactic when it's frequent, long-lasting, or used as punishment. Additionally, if a partner ends their silent treatment after their partner begs them to, or if a partner changes their behavior to avoid receiving the silent treatment, that also means it's abusive. The silent treatment should never be utilized to control, manipulate, or ostracize someone.
It's also an all-around unhelpful strategy for managing conflict. When you and your partner don’t express your feelings and needs, you can’t fix or improve your relationship. Explicit, honest, and empathetic communication is crucial to a healthy and happy relationship, and the silent treatment makes that impossible.
If you and your partner are looking for more helpful and healthy communication skills to employ in an argument, don’t worry—plenty exist.
One resource is Therapist Aid’s list of fair fighting rules. Examples include thinking critically about what’s actually upsetting you, discussing one topic at a time, avoiding hurtful language, taking turns speaking, communicating you need a time-out but aren't giving up, and attempting to compromise.
Additionally, “I statements” allow you to express your emotions without the other person feeling accused. It minimizes disagreement because it shows you're expressing your own perspective, and not making an objective statement that can contradict their view. An “I statement” might sound like, “I feel scared when you throw things out of anger because I worry you might accidentally hit me. Can you express your anger in another way instead?”
Lastly, remember to engage in reflective listening. Show your partner that you understand where they're coming from, even if you don't see the situation the same way. Acknowledge that the two of you are working against the problem and not against each other. Fights will feel less heated and personal this way. If you believe you and your partner need couples therapy to work on this, by all means, go for it.
Ultimately, remember the silent treatment route isn't healthy or helpful. Instead, practice compassionate communication, and you and your partner will feel much more satisfied individually and as a couple.