Is the Silent Treatment Actually Abusive?
It’s a pretty common question: is the silent treatment abusive? Or is it just one partner taking time for themselves? Its certainly a complex topic that has a lot of nuance. We’ll dive into what the silent treatment is and isn’t and what that means for you and your marriage.
Why do people give the silent treatment?
Often times, the silent treatment is given in an attempt to take the high road. The intention isn’t necessarily punitive, but the results are. There are two types of people who use the silent treatment: Those who are unintentional about it, and those who ARE intentional about it.
When many people use the silent treatment they are rarely aware of the effects it has on the person on the other side of it. These people do not mean to harm, they are just unskilled at communicating and processing their emotions. They don’t know how else to deal with their marital issues.
On a more subconscious level, the silent treatment can be used as a manipulation tactic. It gives the perpetrator complete control over the situation. While this may or may not be intentional, it is the effect, nonetheless. Sometimes people don’t know they are manipulating you, but in reality, they are trying on a subconscious level.
Control and attempt to take the high road are the two main reasons why non-narcissists use the silent treatment. But when you are dealing with a narcissist, the intention is to control and manipulate the situation, they are incredibly purposeful in using the silent treatment as a weapon to get what they want.
What does the silent treatment hope to achieve?
This depends on the intention of the person who is using the silent treatment. Unintentional users use this in hopes to achieve that it will help their problems go away.
There is certainly nothing wrong with this intention, however it does continue to create problems and lasting affects on their partner’s well-being. Luckily this accounts for most people who use the silent treatment.
With an intentional user, dominance, a sense of superiority, and manipulation are what the user is hoping to achieve. They take advantage of the fact that their partner has feelings and use those feelings as a weapon. They know what they are doing, and the effects that it will cause.
Is it abusive?
The short answer: yes, the silent treatment is abusive. Whether it is used with good intent or bad intent, the result is generally the same.
One partner is taking complete control of the situation, leaving the other person with no options but to just take it.
This leaves the other partner powerless. And taking that away from your spouse is inherently abusive. This is not the same thing as taking a break from a fight and deciding not to talk with your spouse for an hour or so.
The silent treatment is generally done for an extended amount of time. A full day to a few weeks. Possibly even month. The longer it goes, the more abusive it becomes.
Why the silent treatment is deadly for your marriage
The reason why the silent treatment is abusive is the same reason why it is deadly for your marriage: ostracism. When people are ignored, they begin to feel ostracized.
Ostracism activates the cingulate cortex, which is the same part of the brain that triggers physical pain. That feeling you get when you are ignored and you can’t seem to handle it? This is why that happens.
Even in really small amount, the silent treatment can do damage to a relationship. Rather than, telling someone whats wrong, the perpetrator is simply leaving their partner in the dark.
They are breaking lines of communication. If those lines get broken, the relationship is doomed to feel empty. This is one of the most deadly things that can happen in a marriage.
What to do instead.
If your partner is an unintentional user of the silent treatment, the good news is they probably just don’t realize the damage they are causing. There is nothing wrong with taking space for yourself when you need it, but you need to be clear. Tell your spouse “We can talk later, but I need a break from this right now.”
In general it is best to work things out if you can. Breaks are okay, but never use the silent treatment in a confusing manner to your spouse. It is incredibly damaging to their emotional health, and can be detrimental to your marriage. Always be clear and communicative, even if you are taking some time and space to yourself.