The Silent Treatment vs Stonewalling

Occasionally, I am able to respond to comments on this blog, and today is one of those times.  In response to the post “Dealing with the Silent Treatment,” Meltdown asks what the difference is between “stonewalling” and the silent treatment.  Here is the gist of the comment:

“My husband shuts down, walks away or completely ignores me if he even begins to sense that I am talking about any kind of real life issue. Sometimes he will respond with a simple, I forgot or I didn’t know, which is then sufficient and so begins the silent treatment….

Like Louise above, my behavior completely escalates into verbal abuse – I am then “an abuser.” In fact, he has a book all about verbal abuse in a drawer. By reading these blogs, I realize that I am attempting to inflict pain back on him. Though, I’m not sure he cares.”

The silent treatment is a form of punishment meant to inflict pain.  Stonewalling is a delaying tactic meant to buy time.  The stonewaller hopes that if he or she ignores the issue being presented, then that issue will go away.  Of course, as in the above comment, the opposite often happens: the presenter of the issue gets increasingly frustrated and the issue escalates.  The stonewaller shuts down even more.  This is a common relationship dynamic with two equal partners that I have described in this post.  One partner tends the relationship more assertively, the other more passively, and both get something out of this dynamic until the inevitable conflict arises.

Meltdown, your husband passively retreats into silence, and you react with verbal aggression, which does not get your husband to open up, and this only frustrates you more.   You both seem to be seeking out help- he’s hoping to find it in the book he’s reading, you are hoping to find it on this blog.  This desire for help is a positive sign for your relationship.

I am impressed with your willingness to see that your verbal attacks come from a desire to inflict pain in reaction to the pain his silence is causing you.  This awareness is powerful, because all that you have control over in a relationship are your own actions.  If you change how you react in conflict, the conflict itself will change.  If, during a more peaceful moment, you are able to tell your husband that you feel hurt by his silence, and that your reaction comes from a desire to inflict similar pain onto him, you invite him to admit his role.  If the two of you are able to have this conversation, then you can strategize ways for both of you to respond in future conflicts.  If you aren’t able to have this conversation, I recommend that you seek out counseling with someone who can help facilitate this conversation and give you strategies for how to communicate with each other.

Other posts you might find interesting:

Disengaging from the Silent Treatment and Engaging with Each Other: An Experiment for You to Try

“Handling” Conflict by Ignoring the Problem

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

Share if you are inspired.