Silent Treatment is a Relationship Killer - It is Emotional Abuse
The silent treatment, we have all probably experienced it or given it at some point in our lives. Especially as children, it is seen as the ultimate defiance of our parents or the best way to get back at the friend who stole your crayons. A form of punishment to the person whom you perceived has wronged you. The silent treatment isn’t always as innocuous as it may seem on the playground though. It can be a simple thing that we do to a roommate or to our partner. Maybe they didn’t put the dishes away for the 1000th time and you just can’t take it anymore. They ask you a question, maybe you grunt in response, maybe you don’t say anything. They think you are mad about the question or something from that moment – they have no idea that you are angry about them not putting the dishes away for what you see as being the 1000th time – because – you never told them. There is more to the silent treatment – and in relationships or a marriage, it is a form of psychological and emotional abuse. It is not something to be taken lightly, nor is it something to use flippantly and without regard. We must educate ourselves about what the silent treatment as emotional abuse looks like and how we can be best prepared to work with it if it does show up in our lives.
How Do We Define Silent Treatment?
The silent treatment is a collection of behaviors that ultimately end with one person ignoring the other. This can mean that one person refuses to speak to the other person, that they pretend not to hear them or may avoid them, or they distance themselves from that person. This can also look like your partner refusing to do things that they would normally do (passing you the remote, taking the trash out, making eye contact, etc.). Like the example at the beginning, the silent treatment may seem like almost an automatic response to something when you are angry. Maybe you are saying right now: “But I’d rather not say anything rather than explode at my partner or scream in their face!” and that’s fair. What is not fair is your partner not knowing that that's why you aren’t speaking. Having conversations before this even happens can help let your partner know when you need space without ever having to say something in the moment. This way it is not the silent treatment but simply you taking space in a way that is supportive for you, your partner, and the relationship. It is important to understand what the silent treatment looks like and how you can avoid it in relationships – not only when it is used against you but also for you not to use it against your partner.
Here are 5 Things to Keep in Mind When Looking at Silent Treatment and Emotional Abuse
1. It is NEVER Okay to Use The Silent Treatment
The person may say that they need space – and that’s fine! What isn’t okay is not communicating the need for space and simply ignoring you or not speaking to you. Emotional abuse can come in many different forms and lack of communication is one of them. It can be argued that using the silent treatment can be a way to get what you want or need in a relationship. While that might be true in some instances, it is ultimately getting what you want or need through emotional abuse of your partner. Asking for what you want, stating needs, and open communication is the most successful and appropriate way to meet that same goal. Silent treatment within a marriage or relationship will end up destroying that relationship, sooner or later. No matter what the reason is for the silent treatment, it is merely an excuse for the behavior and should not be tolerated. Communicating is one of the most important parts of a relationship, whether it is a marriage or otherwise, and if a person can’t do that – then maybe it’s time to move on.
2. You are NOT in the Wrong - it's Emotional Abuse!
The person acting on this silent treatment may feel the need to punish you, and maybe you did mess up, that can happen! We all make mistakes, especially in relationships. No one is perfect, and if your partner is asking you to be, then that is a red flag in and of itself. What you didn’t do though, was something to deserve this type of immature and abusive behavior. Emotional abuse is never an appropriate reaction to discomfort within a relationship. Silent treatment doesn’t solve anything, and if anything, makes everything worse. Think about it, would you rather have a partner that doesn’t ever tell you what’s wrong and only makes you doubt yourself? Or would you rather be with someone who communicates their needs? Even if you end up single, singledom should be preferable to the psychological abuse that is the silent treatment. Whatever you did, whatever you said – the reaction to it should never ever be emotional abuse.
3. Are You Giving the Silent Treatment? What Does That Say About You?
Have you had a hard day? Did your boss yell at you? Did everything go wrong today? Are you feeling vulnerable, sad, or angry? Are you taking out those emotional pieces out on your partner? Sometimes we need space and don’t know how to ask for it when we are in the midst of feeling sorry for ourselves (or whatever the emotion might be that day). Silent treatment is not only a way to further isolate your partner, but it is mostly just saying something about your capacity to be in a relationship at all or how much we let that inner narcissist come out. People will use many different techniques to get what they want in a relationship, but most of them, the silent treatment included, are usually based on defense, fear, and insecurity. Our inner narcissist can be very persuasive in telling us that we need to feel validated and loved but only at the expense of the people around us. If you are seeing this pattern in yourself, avoid the emotional abuse part of this and instead explore what your own emotions are and how you can work with those without being abusive towards your partner in this way. Tell that inner narcissist that you are an emotionally mature human being who wants to work on their marriage or relationship in a way that is not a form of emotional abuse.
The hardest but best thing we can do for ourselves is figure out how to respond to our own emotions and to sit with our own emotions, the hard ones, and the easy ones, and let ourselves really feel them. It is from that place that real emotional growth can be found.
4.Silent Treatment Has Real Physical Health Side Effects
You may not be able to see the physical detriment being suffered by your partner, but emotional abuse carries its own form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This emotional abuse can then lead to a psychological imprint that is then easily triggered in the future.
Imagine having someone merely not hear you say something, it is not an intentional form of abuse, they aren’t ignoring you on purpose, but you feel the pain of that perceived slight as if it were the worst thing in the world. That is what it could be like for someone with PTSD from the emotional abuse of the silent treatment. It may seem innocuous in the moment, but it can have long-term side effects that will affect not only the person’s emotional well-being but their physical well-being as well. Emotional trauma can affect people in physical ways such as shortness of breath, chest pains, headaches, nausea, and many other symptoms. You might think that your mind is a separate thing from your body but we are more connected than we think.
Physical trauma can be relived in certain instances (like when the same event arises) but psychological trauma can be relived every single day in both minor and major ways. In a recent study, it was found that 70% of psychologically abused women reported symptoms of PTSD and depression. That means that 7 out of 10 women who have been exposed to some sort of psychological abuse, report that they have relived that emotional abuse at a later date. This includes the repercussions of the use of the silent treatment.
Scientists have also found that the part of our brains that lights up during pain lights up during someone on the receiving end of the silent treatment. These are real physical reactions to this emotional abuse.
A really scary way in which this can turn physical is the fact that psychological abuse or emotional abuse can often turn into physical violence. Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is any kind of sexual, physical, or psychological violence inflicted on someone by a former partner or a current one. That being said, statistics show that 95% of men who use physical abuse in their relationship also use psychological abuse. And it is important to note that former partners are also culprits of this behavior – stalking and harassment, even after the relationship or marriage is over, is still a form of IPV. The silent treatment may seem innocuous enough starting out, but these “small” behaviors can escalate into something much more sinister over time. Researching how to respond (or how not to respond) is important when in these situations.
5. How to Respond to the Silent Treatment
So, what do you do? Well, if you are the one using the silent treatment to get what you want – stop doing it immediately! Use your words. And if you can’t find the words you need or want, try seeking psychological help from a therapist. Your marriage or relationship may depend on you working on this piece of yourself. Whether or not you are a narcissist, there are plenty of factors that can contribute to someone not being able to properly communicate. And remember – you’re not alone in this. The silent treatment is not a new phenomenon. This is something that people have used for many years as a means to an end. But we are now learning how to respond to emotionally hard communication hiccups within marriage and relationships without using emotional abuse, without using psychological warfare on our partners, and without the narcissist within us taking over our lives. Reach out to a therapist or counselor now before this piece of you takes over and doesn’t allow you to have loving and fulfilling relationships in the future.
Do you think your partner has been using the silent treatment on you? How to respond to that is a hard one as well, but when taking everything into account, should be an easy decision for you to make. Take care of yourself and make your voice heard. Whether it is by asking for what you need, calling out the emotionally abusive behavior, educating your partner on the detrimental effects of the silent treatment within your marriage or relationship, or simply leaving that partner – you need to stand up for yourself and understand what is really going on.
Here’s the thing, psychologically speaking, those that are the victims of emotional or psychological abuse in one relationship are more likely to move on but still end up in psychologically unhealthy relationships where emotional abuse of one form or another is present or even prevalent. That being said, the abuser in this case, isn’t the only one who gets the advice of going to see a counselor. As someone who has been putting up with this type of behavior, you have to ask yourself why? Why have you chosen to be with someone who treats you this way? Maybe the person doesn’t even know they are doing it, but it is never an excuse for the behavior itself – merely a reason. There is still something within you that knows that seeing a counselor for yourself or for your relationship is a healthy and helpful next step. But remember, it is NOT your fault.
The Narcissist as a Utilizer of Emotional Abuse
The last thing to consider as a victim of emotional abuse is the fact that it is possible that your partner is a narcissist. The textbook definition of a narcissist talks about how he (and it is almost always a “he”) is emotionally immature, very self-involved/self-centered, he can have an exaggerated sense of his self-worth, and often doesn’t care about other people as much as he cares about himself. This can look like your partner sweeping you off your feet initially, making grand plans for you and them and your future together, but as things progress you slowly begin to realize that all the plans are theirs and your opinion isn’t taken into consideration – if it’s even heard.
Your partner may spend all of their time talking about themselves and their perceived problems and they don’t have time for you or to listen to what’s going on in your life. When you try to give any kind of feedback, your partner becomes angry and may lash out but often may end up giving you the silent treatment as a way to “teach you a lesson”. The narcissistic partner keeps you at arms length all the while making you feel like it is your fault and in the end, you end up apologizing for something that you don’t even remember doing. The narcissistic partner knows that by making you feel confused and devalued that they have some sort of power over you and will use these same emotionally abusive tactics over and over again.
If any of this is sounding familiar, please take some time to research this some more, reach out to a counselor, keep a supportive group of people in your life, learn how to respond, and leave the relationship if you need to. Nobody deserves that kind of emotional abuse within a relationship or marriage.
Silent Treatment, Emotional Abuse, and Moving On
Emotional abuse comes in many forms. The silent treatment isn’t the only way in which people abuse their partners. If you suspect that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, seek help immediately. There is never an excuse to abuse another person whether you are in a relationship, marriage, or otherwise. Sometimes we can make mistakes and hurt other people, and that is a part of life, but using manipulative or psychological tactics to get what you want or hurt another person is never okay. Spending some time with ourselves can help us find the difference between honest mistakes and intentional actions that may hurt the people around us.
Moving on from a relationship is not an easy thing to do, but living with emotional abuse, psychological warfare, or a narcissistic partner is not only not fun in the moment, but it can have both long-term and short-term physical and psychological effects. Make the choice to put yourself first. Don't let those words go unspoken. Don't let emotional abuse be a part of your life. Choose you.
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. – Rumi