Not All Silence is the Silent Treatment

I’ve written quite a few posts about the silent treatment, and have gotten very many responses from people who are on the receiving end of it.  I also have had a few responses from people who believe themselves to be silent treatment givers.  Some of the people who are on the silent side of things are not actually participating in what I am describing as the silent treatment here, but tend to retreat into silence when they are overwhelmed or scared.  For the silent treatment to be The Silent Treatment, a person must be being silent AT someone with an intention to hurt them with that silence.  Not all silence qualifies.

There are different reasons a person might be silent in a relationship, and not all of them are bad.  The cooling off period after an argument is one example.    There is also the silence that comes when a person feels overwhelmed by a partner who expresses emotion more passionately than he or she is able to.  There can also be a pacing issue in relationships, where one partner is able to process and verbalize their emotions much more quickly than the other.  The silence in this situation comes from the slower-to-verbalize partner needing to think before talking.  Silence can stem from a person’s need to have more personal space in a relationship than their partner.  Silence also happens when a person is truly listening to their partner and thinking about what was said.

Whatever the reason for silence in a relationship, the crucial factor is communicating about it.  If you just withdraw into silence and expect your partner to understand why, then you are asking them to mind-read, and that is not fair. Instead, you can say that you are feeling overwhelmed, or that you do not process things as quickly and need some time to think, or that you want to let what you’ve just heard sink in.  Then, respectfully let your partner know just what kind of silent space you need and for how long.  Understand that you are asking for something that may be very difficult for your partner to give.  And, if you are the one being asked for this space, also understand that it was probably very difficult for your partner to ask you for it.

Other posts on the Silent Treatment:

When the Silent Treatment Feels Like Your Only Option

Is It Okay for Parents to Give the Silent Treatment?

The Things We Do To Avoid Asking Questions

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

Swallowing the Conflict to “Keep the Peace”

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