The Silent Treatment is About Control (Formerly Titled “Why Do People Give the Silent Treatment?”)
*3/26/2014* This post was originally titled “Why Do People Give the Silent Treatment?” The previous title was not accurate in describing the contents of this post, since this post is really about only one aspect of the silent treatment: control. This post is directed toward the person on the receiving end of the silent treatment and how they can gain a sense of control for themselves. What I haven’t addressed here is why the person giving the silent treatment feels the need to be in control.
I have received feedback from people who give the silent treatment because they feel that it is the only way to keep the peace in a relationship, or because they feel they have no other choice. I address this part of the silent treatment in this new post titled “When the Silent Treatment Feels Like Your Only Option” and I have partially addressed this dynamic in another post called “Swallowing the Conflict to Keep the Peace.” **
The original post about control begins here:
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 a feeling of 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 dynamic, and focus on your own feelings and needs.
More posts on the Silent Treatment:
More posts that may be of interest: