The Silent Treatment vs The Cooling-Off Period

In relationships, not all silence is the Silent Treatment.  Sometimes, one partner needs more time and space to think than the other partner does.  This is perfectly fine; however, if you are left wondering what your partner’s silence means, then something very important has not been communicated.  You should not have to ask the question, “Am I getting the silent treatment, or is my partner cooling off?”  If you are asking this question, then it is time to work out a new way for you and your partner to communicate.

It is perfectly legitimate for one partner to need some quiet time to “cool off” after a heated discussion or argument.  While it can be frustrating if you are the type of person who wants to hash things out until there is some sense of resolution, your partner may be the type of person who needs time to absorb the content of your discussions. Neither of you are wrong in your desires, but some accommodation is needed from both of you.  As hard as it may feel, the person who needs time and space to think still needs to use their words to state their need for a cooling-off period, rather than just withdrawing and expecting to be understood.  The person who wants to hash it all out in one sitting needs to sit on their hands a bit while their partner thinks.

Let’s say that you just brought up some issues with your partner that were hard for you to share, but also hard for him or her to hear.  The conversation gets heated, and your partner is feeling tempted to clam up and withdraw.  Rather than clamming up, your partner might state, “I feel like clamming up right now, and that means that I need some uninterrupted quiet time to think about this.”  The two of you can then decide a time to check in about this.  If your partner isn’t fully ready at your agreed time, then you both can arrange for another check-in.  These check-in times are important, so that you aren’t left dangling on the hook, wondering when your partner plans to break the silence, and your partner isn’t wondering when this time will be interrupted.  It is also important that the matter get discussed once your partner has taken the time to think: dropping it altogether is not okay.

If you are the one who is waiting for your partner to think about things, you are very likely to be feeling some anxiety.  This is because you are not in control of what is happening, and you can’t influence what your partner is thinking about.  You may be having some trust issues- wondering if your partner is blowing you off rather than thinking about things.  You may have some abandonment issues because in the past, silence from a partner, or parent, or sibling meant something terrible.  All of this anxiety gives you plenty to attend to in yourself.  Notice when your attention goes away from your own feelings and into the attempted mind-reading of your partner.  Bring your attention back to yourself, over and over again, because only you can attend to the fears and issues you are having in this time.

For more on the silent treatment, please go here:

Is It Okay for Parents to Give the Silent Treatment to Their Children?

Disengaging from the Silent Treatment

Not All Silence is the Silent Treatment

Communicating about Taking Space in a Relationship- An Alternative the the Silent Treatment

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