10 Effective Ways To Respond To The Silent Treatment In Any Relationship

Learn how to cope with anyone giving you the silent treatment & respond to emotional abuse in a healthy & effective way to get your relationship back on track.

By Caitlin
10 Effective Ways To Respond To The Silent Treatment In Any Relationship

What To Do When You're Caught Up In The Silent Treatment

Your loved one hasn't spoken to you in days. You can feel the tension in the air and every minute that passes weighs on your heart. You feel discarded, worthless and even a little guilty. At this point, you feel like you would do anything to get them back. The silent treatment can have a toxic effect on relationships if not handled appropriately. It has the ability to turn something small into something devastating. In a sense, it is a form of emotional abuse and should be handled with care, as escalation to physical abuse could be a potential outcome of mishandling the situation.

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Relationships are complicated, to say the least. Dealing with conflict between you and your loved one can sometimes create more hostility than was originally there. One of the most common unhealthy communications during relationship conflicts is the silent treatment. It can have a terrible effect on both members of the relationship, by cutting off any means to arrive at a resolution. The silent treatment is very painful for the victim to endure, making them feel worthless, discarded, and ultimately unloved. It can emotionally damage the victim and strip them of their self-worth entirely. So, how does one resolve a fight when your spouse, parent, or other loved one isn't allowing even a sliver of communication to pass between you? Let's discuss 10 things you can do to respond and resolve conflicts with all your relationships that have hit a stalemate with the silent treatment. By following these strategies, you will be able to resolve conflict peacefully and get back to a peaceful, loving relationship.

Stay Calm When Being Hit With The Silent Treatment

It may drive you crazy that your loved one has completely shut down all avenues of communication, but it is important to remain calm. The silent treatment is an emotional defense, and even though it can be infuriating to not be able to defend yourself in return, getting upset will only fuel the fire and make your loved one feel more threatened. Try to slow your breathing and relax your body. Remember that as you get to know people, relationships will take some effort. You are bound to rub each other the wrong way eventually. Let yourself be an observer of the situation rather than a participant. Staying calm will help you see the situation clearly and respond to your partner or loved one in an effective and supportive manner. You also don't want to fuel the juvenile tantrum of the silent treatment by showing that you are upset. The manipulator is trying to punish you, and seeing you upset will validate the effectiveness of their tool. If you stay calm, it will demonstrate not only the proper way to behave in a dispute but also that their abuse is not going to work on you.

Try Not To Respond With Aggression

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The silent treatment is a passive aggressive manipulation tactic, but passive aggressive is still aggressive. If you try to meet the silent treatment head-on with aggression, you run the risk of things potentially becoming physically aggressive, which could terminate the relationship. The best thing to do is to remain calm and take a step back. Try to remind yourself it is not personal even though it is directed at you. Acting aggressively will only worsen the situation and justify to your loved one their reasons for punishing you with the silent treatment. They will see you getting hostile and feel like they made the right choice in pushing you away and isolating you. Try to remember, as I said before, to respond with calmness throughout the dispute. By keeping your cool, you can maintain clarity over the situation and hopefully be able to finally work out a negotiation with your difficult loved one. Instead of being aggressive, try to be understanding. Hold back your own hurt for a minute to acknowledge that your loved one is lashing out and closing you off because they are suffering. It is not the easiest thing to do, especially when all other attempts to communicate are shut down, but responding with aggression won't help one bit.

Don't Take The Silent Treatment Personally

When it comes to the silent treatment, it isn't about you, it is about them. The manipulator is trying to deflect their pain onto you. By shutting you out, they are showing you that they are one, upset and two, going to punish you for it. However, it has nothing to do with you; it is all about their ego. Something happened between the two of you that made their ego feel slighted. Maybe they were pushing your boundaries, and you stood up for yourself, causing their deep-rooted fear of abandonment to surface and triggered the need to implement the silent treatment against you. Whatever the cause, the silent treatment is not a healthy way to handle conflict. It is not OK for your loved one to cut off all forms of communication. It is a form of abuse and should be handled with care.

The individual giving you the silent treatment is attempting to make you feel guilty and worthless, but do not fall into that trap. This is an unhealthy and even abusive form of communication, and should not be tolerated in relationships. If we remember that our spouse, friend, or child is feeling emotionally vulnerable, we can take a step back and not allow their immature behavior to get under our skin.

Respond Immediately By Giving The Person Space

It is important to give your loved one space. Time and physical distance lessen the intensity of the situation. The silent treatment is a defense mechanism that creates emotional distance because the person is feeling threatened. By giving them their space, they have time to cool down. Often times, people make rash decisions when under pressure. If you give your spouse or loved one some physical distance, they might realize once the threat is gone that they are actually overreacting. They might even realize that they miss your presence and decide to make amends with you, or try to rectify the situation.

Understand That The Silent Treatment Comes From A Place Of Pain

Underneath the angry sheath of silence, the manipulator is hiding legitimate pain. Whether or not you are responsible depends on the situation, but your loved one is still experiencing emotional pain. If you keep that in mind, it is easier to navigate their aggression and can help you create a more empathic relationship between you two. Think about the moment the silent treatment was triggered. Perhaps you can uncover the sequence of events that led to your spouse or loved one to switch over to emotional abuse. If you know what incident triggered them to use the silent treatment, then you might have a shot at opening them back up for communication again, but don't be surprised if they lash out when you get close to uncovering their insecurity. Be gentle about it. Let them know you just want to help them feel better and that you want to be able to understand them better as well.

Try To Identify The Actual Source Of The Pain

If you can figure out why the person giving you the silent treatment is really angry then perhaps you can efficiently resolve the dispute. The person giving you the silent treatment might be trying to throw you off regarding the actual source of their emotions. Chances are, they don't actually want to talk about why they are mad because it is too uncomfortable for their ego to handle. Your spouse might give you the silent treatment claiming it is because you didn't hold the door open for them, but in reality, the underlying issue is their irrational fear of you leaving them behind. Abandonment issues are usually the cause of all silent treatments. The abuser is terrified of being abandoned, so he or she pushes people away before they themselves have a chance to be rejected. Often times, you will have to read between the lines to figure out why your loved one is trying to push you away. What was it that triggered that deep seeded insecurity.? If the source of pain is something you can fix, either through a legitimate apology for a legitimate wrongdoing or by reassuring them that they need not cling to their insecurities and that they are unconditionally loved, you may be able to resolve the conflict and end the silent treatment immediately.

Disarm The Silent Treatment By Offering Channels Of Communication

One of the best ways to respond to the silent treatment is to respectfully offer safe and healthy communication for when the person is ready to set their fears aside and discuss things politely. Remember again to try not to take things personally, and offer them your love and support. They may not accept right away, but as time allows them to cool down from their emotional tantrum, they will likely soften up and be more open to the idea of safe, mature communication with you. Letting them know that you are available to talk peacefully is also an important first step in setting up your boundaries. It is a loving way to express that their behavior is not appropriate and even abusive, without making them feel like you are attacking them. It also offers them a safe way out of their commitment to the silent treatment by giving them a more loving alternative. Let them know that despite their anger, you are there for them whenever they are ready to talk.

Be Clear In Stating Your Boundaries

It is crucial that you clearly state your emotions during the silent treatment to the individual who is pushing you away. Let them know that they are disrespecting you by shutting off all forms of communication with you, instead of working through the problem in a loving manner. If you do not let your loved one know that they are being abusive by disrespecting your boundaries, then all your responses to the silent treatment thus far will fail to make a difference in reconciling your relationship. Remember that the silent treatment comes from a place of pain and people can lash out in response to pain. If your loved one is hurting you through this unhealthy form of communication, it is important to let them know that you will not tolerate it. Let them know that you love them but that you also love yourself and that you will make the difficult choice to stop loving them if they continue to disrespect and discard you. It is never easy to say "no" to someone you love, but it is impossible to love someone healthily if you do not allow yourself respect.

Only Respond With An Apology If You Were Genuinely Wrong

If you did something wrong, apologize, but never apologize if you did not actually do anything wrong. If you say sorry when you did nothing wrong, then you are validating the manipulative tactics of the abuser, and will surely guarantee a repeat of this behavior. Apologizing when you don't actually mean it also does nothing to reinforce your boundaries. The manipulator may try to convince you that you deserve their abuse because of something that you did. This is not true. Two wrongs never make a right. In the case that you wronged the person, you are responsible for apologizing, but your loved one is still in the wrong for using the silent treatment to punish you instead of informing you about their hurt feelings. If you did nothing wrong and your spouse or loved one is lashing out at you because you stumbled upon one of their insecurities, you do not have to apologize, nor should you. Remember to stay true to yourself and don't allow your loved one to abuse you because they are feeling upset.

Set Rules Later With Your Loved One To Respond With Healthier Communication

To overcome toxic cycles in your relationship, you will need to guide your loved one by offering them healthier alternatives to express their insecurities. Let them know that it is safe for them to express their pain without having to inflict it in return.

Once you have made peace and have opened up the lines of communication again, you need to let your loved one know that there are other ways to express their pain that are healthier and less abusive. Be direct in reminding them of your boundaries and provide them with well-defined rules for healthier communication. After you establish guidelines for dealing with hurt effectively, you must remember to be positive in your reinforcement. Be vocal about your appreciation for their efforts in avoiding unhealthy communication. Transparent and open love is the key to helping people recover from their insecurities and allow themselves to open up to initially uncomfortable but healthy communication habits. If you remind them that there are more peaceful ways for them to be understood, it will help you disarm and unravel their tantrum the next time they attempt to give you the silent treatment. Keep in mind that the abuser will try to make you think that you are actually the one doing the abuse by playing the role of victim, but the silent treatment is actually the true abuse. It is emotionally belittling and disrespectful. Whatever you may have happened to do that triggered the abuse does not justify the actions of the abuser.

Always Remember To Stay True To Yourself

No matter how hard you try, and how strong your boundaries are, it may be impossible to avoid emotionally abusive individuals in your life. Your parents, children, or spouse may be irrational and difficult to deal with, but in the end, you need to stay true to yourself and remember that an abusive relationship is not worth investing your emotions into. Let your loved one know you love them but that you won't tolerate abuse. As you start setting your boundaries, you will begin to find yourself drawing healthier and happier people into your life. You will find yourself able to create more meaningful relationships. If the person is not someone you can cut out of your life, you still don't have to be shy about giving them space. Sometimes narcissistic children lash out for no reason to their parents. If you find yourself in relationships with difficult individuals that you cannot walk away from, you will have to learn that you cannot force someone to show that they love you. By loving yourself and maintaining your healthy boundaries, you will learn a difficult lesson: that it is OK to love someone and not receive love back from that person. It isn't the happiest thing to deal with, but when you let go of the need for that person to love you, it will free you from their ability to control, manipulate, and belittle you with the silent treatment, as well as other forms of abuse in relationships.

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