Why do People Give the Silent Treatment?
There are all sorts of motives for and styles of the silent treatment, but they all boil down to one commonality: people give the silent treatment because it gives them control over the person they are treating with silence. If you ever got the silent treatment as a child, you can probably remember just how frustrated you got. I can remember getting the silent treatment from my older siblings. I’d get increasingly frustrated, trying hopelessly to get them to break the silence. This only made them more determined to keep silent. I was giving them exactly what they wanted- the loss of control over my frustrated energy. I imagine that it made them feel powerful with very little effort. All they had to do was sit quietly and watch me squirm and get heated, and lose more and more control of myself.
The silent treatment is about control. It only works if the person being given the silent treatment relinquishes control to the one being silent. The more you try to get your partner to break their silence, the more you are allowing yourself to be controlled by him or her, and the less likely it is that they will talk. After all, you are giving them exactly what they want, and you are exposing all of your vulnerability while they expose none of theirs.
As difficult as it may be, it is important not to engage in this dynamic. Give yourself the attention that you are tempted to give to your partner. Let your partner know that you are not willing to try to read his or her mind, but would be glad to talk about whatever the issue is that caused the silent treatment to begin with. The ball is no longer in your court, and it is up to your partner to pick it up. Take your attention away from this passive-aggressive dynamic, and focus on your own feelings and needs.
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