Your husband is giving you the silent treatment, and it hurts. A lot.
He completely ignores you.
When you ask him what is wrong, you are met with silence, or he says that nothing is wrong.
All you can think of is how to get him to talk to you again.
You have thought of begging and pleading.
But, will it work?
And giving him back the silent treatment will just create a cold war.
So, you are confused and exasperated.
What can you do to reconnect with your husband again?
You are not alone
A study carried out by Faulkner et al. (1997) revealed that 67% of the participants admitted to using the silent treatment on their loved ones. 75% of the participants said that they had been on the receiving end of the silent treatment by a loved one. Also, the study revealed that the silent treatment is used more often to terminate a spouse’s behaviour than to elicit behaviour.
Why does your husband give you the silent treatment?
According to Dr John Gottman, although both men and women use the silent treatment, men use the silent treatment accompanied by emotional withdrawal more.
Dr Michael Wayne indicates that a man may use the silent treatment for a variety of reasons:
He is stressed about work
If your husband is stressed about work: maybe he is not getting along with his boss, or he is not able to meet his targets, or he feels like he has stagnated at work, he will retreat to his man cave.
You must understand that if it were you having a difficult time at work, your first instinct would be to talk about it and seek comfort from your husband.
However, men don’t operate this way.
When a man is going through a complicated issue, he needs to pull back and work through it alone.
He, therefore, requires the space to do this.
If you pester your husband, you will only be another source of stress in his life.
If your man is having a hard time from external sources, you have to allow him to work through it on his own.
If he wants your advice, he will ask you for it.
Issues to do with your relationship
Your husband may result in the silent treatment thinking he is keeping the peace.
Maybe you are too needy, and he is feeling suffocated, and he doesn’t know how to express himself without hurting you.
If your husband feels like you need him to fill some emotional void in you, he will panic and instinctively pull back.
A man wants to be wanted and desired, not needed.
Your husband enjoys being in a relationship with you, but not at the expense of losing his freedom and feeling trapped with you.
He could also be expressing anger.
The silent treatment is a form of a power struggle by your husband.
He is expressing his anger in a passive aggressive way to make you feel guilty for an offence that you have committed against him.
Your husband could be dealing with his own perceived ‘inadequacies.’
Is your husband where he wants to be in his life?
Has he achieved whatever he hoped to accomplish by this stage of his life?
Does he feel successful? Does he feel capable of achieving his goals and dreams?
Are his confidence and self-esteem intact?
A man’s feelings of value and self-worth are closely linked to his achievements.
If your husband is taking stock of his life and feeling like he is a failure, he may want to pull away until he feels better emotionally.
Do you know why your husband is giving you the silent treatment?
In most cases, you cannot tell the reason why your husband is giving you the silent treatment, and you can only guess.
The following questions can help you pinpoint the cause for your husband’s silent treatment:
- Have I validated my husband’s feelings or rejected them?
- Have I been a haven for him emotionally?
- Have I consistently put my emotions before my husband’s?
- Do I always seek to win an argument over finding a solution?
- Have I really addressed my husband’s concerns or have I been preoccupied with mine?
- Do I cry a lot during arguments, thus resulting in emotional blackmail?
The point is to examine your side of the street to see how you may have contributed to the situation.
This will help you know whether you may have mismanaged your husband’s emotions and whether he trusts you to honour his vulnerability.
Did you know?
The reason why spouses continue to use silent treatment even when they know how destructive it is, is because hurting people hurt people, and the silent treatment is an effective method of hurting people.
How to break the cycle of the silent treatment
Experts indicate that how you react to your husband’s silent treatment is crucial because it will either change or reinforce this behaviour.
Do not assume that you know the reason for the silent treatment.
The causes of your husband’s behaviour can be varied and complex.
Making assumptions will cause you to become defensive and angry, which might extend the silent treatment.
If your husband feels you are oversimplifying the situation, or you are arrogant, it will only compound the situation.
Disengage and carry on with life normally.
It may be difficult to ignore your husband’s silent treatment, but marriage therapists insist that this is the way to go.
Let your husband know that you are available when he is ready to talk, but meanwhile, life goes on as usual:
- Stick to your usual routines
- Keep up your responsibilities and hobbies
- Do not take up the extra slack created by your husband’s disengaging
If your husband finally opens up, continue to have a healthy conversation with him about the issue.
Express your appreciation to your husband for sharing with you.
This will help to reinforce positive behaviour.
Don’t be sarcastic when your husband finally talks; ‘Oh, you figured out how to talk after all!’ ‘It’s about time you talked again’.
Be gracious so that you can both move forward.
Explain to your husband the impact his silent treatment has on you.
He might be downplaying his behaviour, or he may be genuinely unaware of how upsetting his silent treatment is upsetting for you.
If you have children, it is especially important that you emphasise your concerns over what the two of you are teaching them about communication.
Prepare your husband.
Let your husband know that the next time he shuts you out, you will just acknowledge that he is upset, but you will leave him alone until he is willing to speak again.
Let him know that you will be ignoring his stonewalling until he decides to re-engage.
Be ready to apologise and ask for forgiveness.
If you discover that your husband’s silent treatment was as a result of unspoken hurt that you have caused unawares, do not be defensive.
Instead, own it and ask for forgiveness in a meaningful way.
In future, stop trying to win arguments.
Bear in mind that sometimes if you win enough arguments, it’s because your husband has given up and in the process, you could actually lose your relationship.
Understand that you cannot change your husband’s behaviour, only he can.
As such, your focus should be on your needs and those of your children; everything else is up to him to fix.
You can support him to the best of your ability, but ultimately.
He has to decide whether he wants to manage himself differently or not.
Silence is a lethal weapon that has no place in a healthy relationship.
What are your experiences with silent treatment?
By Randy Skilton