If you're reading this, chances are you're asking yourself the same question: "My partner gives me the silent treatment – what should I do?"

It can be extremely frustrating and confusing when your partner suddenly stops engaging in conversation and giving you the cold shoulder or “silent treatment.” While it may seem the silent treatment is meant to punish, often partners use this tactic when they feel overwhelmed and don't know how to openly communicate. However, constantly experiencing the silent treatment in a relationship is unhealthy and breeds resentment over time. So what should you do?

Reasons Why Your Partner Is Giving You The Silent Treatment

Before diving into solutions, let's first unpack the why behind the silent treatment. While reasons can vary, here are some common motivations:

Here are some common reasons why a partner may give the silent treatment in a relationship:

1. They feel overwhelmed by emotion.

Some partners withdraw and use silence as a way to calm down when they feel overwhelmed by anger, hurt, or vulnerability during a conflict. They have trouble processing intense emotions.

2. They want to punish or manipulate.

Unfortunately, some partners use stubborn silence in order to deliberately punish the other partner and make them feel guilty or anxious. It can be a tactic to exert control.

3. They feel insecure and afraid.

Partners who have been betrayed or hurt in the past may resort to stonewalling due to fears about getting emotionally close or relaying difficult truths about themselves or the relationship. Silence feels safer.

4. Differences in conflict resolution styles.

Some people need time alone to cool off and reflect on the conflict before reengaging, while others crave immediate resolution. Mismatched styles can lead to assumptions of rejections.

5. They don't feel "heard."

When emotional concerns are routinely minimized or criticized, some partners learn to retreat inward rather than make themselves vulnerable by communicating needs that aren't getting met.

6. Learned passive aggression.

If one or both partners grew up in families that tended to avoid direct communication and default to silence during tensions rather than address issues, this can condition maladaptive responses.

The Impact Of The Silent Treatment On The Relationship

The silent treatment can have an extremely damaging impact on a relationship over time if left unaddressed. Some negative effects include:

1. Breeds resentment and erodes trust.

Being ignored repeatedly makes it difficult to have faith your partner cares about your feelings or the relationship. Unresolved tensions simmer.

2. Emotional isolation and anxiety.

Not knowing why your partner refuses to communicate fosters insecurity about their feelings, uncertainty about the relationship status, and a sense of abandonment.

3. Loss of intimacy and damaged bond.

Partners start blocking off emotional availability to each other and lose that closeness that initially drew them together as withdrawal becomes the norm.

4. Feelings of helplessness.

Attempts to reconnect or understand why communication has broken down are met continuously with more silence, which is invalidating and disempowering.

5. Escalating tensions.

Barriers to addressing, listening, validating, or compromising on issues through open communication makes small issues grow over time into deeper rifts that become harder to heal.

6. Partner withdrawal.

The partner experiencing the cold shoulder repeatedly eventually protects themselves from the pain by pulling back emotionally as well, at first temporarily and later more permanently as emotional damage sets in over months and years.

Without mutual willingness to take responsibility for how silence negatively impacts the other person and make concrete changes to communication habits, recurring cycles of the silent treatment frequently lead relationships down an increasingly isolating then hostile path that eventually proves unsustainable without counseling. The emotional toll mounts steadily unless underlying issues get unearthed and reconciliation occurs. In most cases, by the time one partner starts considering leaving, irreversible hurt has accrued through the absence of life-giving communication that both parties failed to nurture along the way.

What To Do When Your Partner Gives You the Silent Treatment?

1. Examine the Dynamics Behind Your Partner's Silent Treatment

First, reflect on any patterns to your partner's silent treatment. Do they tend to withdraw emotionally after arguments? Does it tie back to certain triggers connected to past issues or fears? Understanding more about the function their silence serves will help develop empathy. For example, past betrayals could make opening up feel unsafe, certain topics may touch on insecurities or vulnerabilities they struggle articulating, or your communication styles may simply clash in arguments. Tell your partner you'd like to understand what's really driving their withdrawal.

2. Use “I Feel” Statements to Convey Impact of Silent Treatment

During a calm discussion outside tense moments, tactfully communicate how their silent treatment affects you using “I” statements. For example, explain, “I feel confused and lonely when you don't talk to me for days after we argue. It's very painful because it makes me feel like you don't value this relationship.” Framing it by speaking from your experience helps them grasp how their withdrawal takes an emotional toll on you and the relationship without placing blame.

3. Set Boundaries on Acceptable Communication Behaviors

Establish mutually agreed upon boundaries for how to resolve conflicts without dysfunctional tactics like the silent treatment which harms intimacy long-term. Make a pact that you will both strive to avoid emotionally or physically withdrawing for over 24 hours no matter how upset. Or institute a policy where you agree to calmly revisit arguments that trigger shutdowns after a short break. Setting these rules holds both parties accountable.

4. Validate Their Perspective and Ask Them to Compromise Too

While you want your needs to be heard, also offer to compromise in return. Demonstrate you empathize with what may be driving their tendency to stonewall, but emphasize that relationships involve balance. For example, say “I know tense conversations make you want to retreat inward and process on your own. But completely shutting me out for days makes me feel abandoned. Can we agree on taking just a few hours of space before reconnecting? I'll try to give you breathing room too."

5. Suggest a Structured System for Timeouts and Check-ins

Institute an explicit system where it's acceptable to briefly take a timeout of set duration (like a half hour) to cool off from heated arguments before you commit to reconvene. But set alarms on your phones to come back together at the scheduled time. Taking an explicitly agreed upon finite break can feel safer than a freefall shutdown to partners who stonewall. When you regroup, both agree to focus discussion on understanding each other’s perspective rather than accusations.

6. Therapy as a Tool if No Progress

If your partner stonewalls frequently and you've had no success communicating boundaries or empathizing with root causes, don’t keep suffering silently. Consider involving a professional couple’s counselor who can mediate productive dialogue. Many struggle to express vulnerabilities, history of betrayals, family dysfunction or gender socialization pressure play into communication breakdowns. An experienced therapist can uncover sociopsychological dynamics at play and teach tools to nurture intimacy. With commitment on both sides, empathy and new relationship skills, the silences can turn to meaningful connection. But you deserve support before wounds between two become irreparable. Know it’s no weakness to get help.

7. The Reality - You Have Power in How You Respond

While you can compromise and validate their feelings, also own that you have full control over your responses and, ultimately, whether to remain if the dynamic becomes emotionally abusive long-term. Establish self-respecting boundaries for how you allow others to treat you moving forward, no matter what they have endured. Though relationships inevitably involve work, mutual willingness to grow, self-reflect and learn positive communication habits together is foundational.

Self-Care During The Silent Treatment

Here are some tips for taking care of yourself when a partner gives you the silent treatment:

1. Don't blame yourself.

Your partner's choice to withdraw from communication says more about their coping mechanisms than you. Avoid self-criticism about your worth.

2. Connect with supportive friends and family.

Social support protects against feelings of isolation and loneliness during stonewalling. Confide in trusted confidantes to process emotions.

3. Engage in comforting activities.

Do things that nourish your soul when tensions are high, like journaling, crafting, exercising, being in nature or playing with pets.

4. Establish your own routine.

Follow your regular schedule as much as possible regarding work, household tasks, sleep and healthy lifestyle habits, rather than fixating solely on tension with your partner.

5. Limit numbing behaviors.

It’s understandable to want to escape emotional hurt, but unhealthy numbing mechanisms like overdrinking provide only temporary relief and exacerbate issues.

6. Let some emotions flow.

Crying or appropriately venting anger to yourself occasionally serves an adaptive purpose in processing pain related to withdrawal from an attachment figure. But aim for moderation in rumination.

7. Set boundaries around acceptable treatment.

Reflect on how much effort you’re willing to expend with minimal reciprocal investment before needing to reevaluate limits.

8. Use the relationship pause to reflect.

Times when a partner pulls back provide opportunity to reflect on your own attachment style, ways this relationship meets your relational needs, and consider any changes worth discussing when communications resume. What could improve mutual understanding?

Practicing regular self-care helps mitigate the sting of rejection while keeping you grounded in worth outside your partnership during periods of suboptimal relating. You will get through this.

Remember, the silent treatment is not about you. It's often a symptom of a deeper issue within your partner or within the dynamics of your relationship. By approaching the situation with compassion, clear communication, and a willingness

About the Author

Sheravi Mae Galang is a Filipino psychometrician and writer who delves into the complexities of love and relationships. With a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a current pursuit of a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology, she explores human relationships, focusing on the psychology behind attachments, communication, personal growth, and more. Sheravi aims to increase understanding of the factors that influence relationships in order to help people nurture stronger bonds.

You can connect with her through email (sheravimaegalang@gmail.com).