How I Learned to Stop Giving the Silent Treatment in My Marriage

by | Jan 12, 2017 | Marriage, Resolving Conflict | 14 comments

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We’ve been talking about conflict resolution this week, and getting communication to be stronger and healthier than it was before. I really believe this is so important as we’re starting off the New Year–everyone’s pumped about improving themselves and their lives and where’s a better place to start than with our marriages?! So today we’re talking about the silent treatment. Ladies, hear me out–the silent treatment is not a wise move when trying to communicate something to your husband. If you’re in the middle of conflict, it’s not going to help at all. And Britney does a great job of explaining why.
Is the silent treatment slowly destroying your marriage? Here are some things one blogger learned when she really examined how she was dealing with conflict with her husband! My husband and I had been married for about a year when we were driving home from a family function. The drive took about 15 minutes and we sat in silence…the whole way home! The reason for this (I cannot remember exactly) was basically because he either didn’t talk enough or he talked too much. That was the constant argument we battled after every time we met up with my family. He comes from a vocal family, where they say they’re mad and why. I, on the other hand, come from parents that are masters of the silent treatment. We had gone through some small arguments when we were dating but I wasn’t prepared for the difference when we got married. Every time a subject came up that I didn’t agree with, I would shut down, sealing my mouth tight and pasting a scowl on my face. Looking back, I feel a bit of shame at it but the past is over. Here’s what he taught me about the silent treatment:

I needed to grow up

Communication seems to be a dying art. With technology now, there are so many ways to communicate without saying anything. And yet, not saying anything can be the biggest mistake you make in your marriage. The silent treatment isn’t for adults. It shouldn’t be for anyone, and especially not for long-term. Kids might sulk and pout but within minutes or a few hours, they’ve forgotten why they were so mad. When adults fight like this, it usually grows for days or even weeks. Can you imagine having to deal with a sulking kid for that amount of time? Don’t be the person that everyone avoids because you’re so mad. Using the silent treatment is something you do when you want to “punish” someone for something they did or said. But you shouldn’t be punishing people in this way for disagreeing with you or even pointing out flaws you have. Grow up and talk through your problems. It might be a miscommunication that can be cleared up in a matter of minutes. Or it could be an opportunity to work on something together.

The silent treatment creates distance instead of unity

Marriage involves a lot of decisions, big and small. The small ones may not seem like a big deal but each choice you make as a married couple, helps to prepare you for any of the bigger decisions that come your way. Talking to my husband is something that I now look forward to. We have different viewpoints on some things but we’ve gotten to the point where we have more similar opinions. He’s like a sounding board or a place I can vent about the little things that I’m going through and vice versa. The silent treatment would stop all of that. It would take those little decisions and put up a wall. The trust in our relationship would be smaller and we would be on a course away from each other instead of towards one another. I’m not saying that you need your spouse to help you decide on what breakfast cereal to eat or what to wear for the day. I’m saying that talking about whatever can help you decide the little things together. Don’t give up a day of valuable conversation for your pride. The closer you are to your spouse and the closer you are to God, you will know how to make those decisions and have a more fulfilled life.

It hurts more people than just your spouse

There were times my parents wouldn’t speak to each other for a week or two at a time. Picture a young child or a teenager trying to get through life and your role models aren’t speaking to one another. You end up being the go between for the thoughts and questions of each parent until they finally work out their differences, or just forget about them without acknowledging it. The issues are never resolved and then more compound on top, making the next disagreement even worse. If you have children, imagine their life as adults. Do you want them to act the same with their spouse? If that is how you react to things that cross you, that is what they will learn and will be the only thing they know from years of conditioning on it. Not only is it uncomfortable for children, your friends and other family that are around you can feel uncomfortable. One spouse will talk to one person about the problem while the other does the same to someone else. In the end, the problems are being talked about but with the wrong people!

It’s all about progress

Obviously we don’t have it perfect yet, but we’ve made a lot of progress. By my husband showing me that he would love me no matter what I thought or how I felt, I was able to understand that it was okay to speak my mind. No, it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t even happen in a year! But overtime, I realized that talking was the way to make things easier and get past disagreements faster.

Have you been guilty of using the silent treatment in your marriage? What are some communication mistakes you’ve made?

Britney Mills co-writes with her husband over at Marriage & Family Strong. She is wading through life with a 3yo and triplets and loves to curl up with a book. Warm chocolate chip cookies are her weakness and volleyball is her new favorite thing. Someday she’ll travel the world with her family.
Is your husband the one who gives the silent treatment? Maybe try sharing this post with him (in love, of course). Say something like, “When you shut down and refuse to talk to me, it really hurts me and it hurts our marriage. I want a marriage where I can be intimate with you, feel connected, and where we’re an unstoppable power-team. Can you please read this post about the silent treatment, and we can talk about some ways we can fix this negative cycle we’ve gotten into?” Remember to always frame it positively, because in a marriage you’re working together, not against one another.
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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Michelle

    Shiela, do you have any posts on having a workaholic husband? I am struggling being content with my marriage lately because of it. My husband is military police k-9.He is an extremely hard worker, and very competitive, so he puts countless hours (I’m talking 60 to 80 hours a week) into training with his dog. He also goes above and beyond to be there for the troops he supervises, staying hours after work sometimes just to help them with things. It’s pretty heart breaking that he works so hard at work, then has nothing left for my kids or myself. When he is home he is either exhausted and playing on his phone, or stressing about/thinking about/wishing he was at work. Please point me in the right direction towards any helpful posts. I want to find a way to love my husband despite this.

    • Illuminated 1

      Anyone here needs to know is a fraud! She will not allow a comment or reply that tests anything she has to say. She isn’t qualified to give advice to anyone! Now let’s see this comment get approved.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        The reason none of your comments have been approved is that you make really blanket statements about women, and you’ve over-the-top insulted other commenters. If you want to just talk about your marriage, that’s fine. But I don’t allow comments on that say that “all” women are like this and make all women sound awful, and I don’t allow comments on that say that “all” men are like this. If you want to just have a conversation without being hateful, that’s fine, because I know so many people on this blog are here and coming from really hurting places, and it’s only natural that they’re angry.

        But when I allow comments on that are over the top angry and bitter, it only poisons the conversation, and then it’s no longer fruitful for those who really do want to work on their marriages.

        So, please, comment again if you’d like. But just don’t disparage “all” women, me, or other commenters. Just talk nicely, as if we were face to face.

  2. Angie

    My husband Probably WISHES I’d give the silent treatment! Lol. After growing up in a family where I wasn’t allowed opinions or feelings I don’t exactly mince words. But then we spent years of hubby making decisions without me Or against my judgment like I didn’t matter at all. He doesn’t do that anymore, for the most part.

  3. Kay

    One thing to note about husbands giving you the silent treatment… if it is in the middle of the argument, he is probably “flooded,” as John Gottman calls it. He needs more time to sort out his thoughts and feelings. He isn’t punishing me by shutting down; he is just trying not to say something hurtful that he will regret.

    Also, I’ve learned that my husband needs more time to answer difficult questions. I used to think it was the silent treatment, because sometimes I truly wait more than 5 minutes for him to answer, but if I ask the question and have the patience to sit in silence, he will surprise me with the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of his answer. So at least in my house, what I used to think was the silent treatment actually isn’t.

    My parents were masters of the silent treatment. I’ve worked very hard not to be guilty of this, but there are times when he is extremely quiet and I have had to work up the courage to ask my husband, “Are you mad at me?” Almost always he is completely taken aback because he was just tired! I have to continue to work hard to unlearn the patterns that were modeled to me.

    • E

      The first part of this comment is so me! I need time to process and formulate my answers, and I don’t communicate well under pressure! Unfortunately, my hubby is the opposite in arguing style. I used to hate that, and wished for him to be different, but I’ve since worked out that I ‘need’ someone like my hubby, who will talk a problem to death, otherwise I would have so much stuff swept under my rug, I wouldn’t be able to walk on it!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So interesting, Kay! It also sounds like an extrovert-introvert problem, where some people process by talking out loud and others need to think for a bit. That can lead to a lot of misunderstandings when we don’t “get” the dynamic!

      • OKRIckety

        It’s possible it is actually an extrovert-introvert dynamic, but I believe men and women typically process issues differently, and, although it is not always true, it is more common for men to process internally rather than through verbal interaction with another. Many women may be uncomfortable with this, thinking their husband is avoiding the issue, if not actually avoiding emotional intimacy. How about giving him the gift of time to consider and respond, rather than the disrespect of insisting on an immediate answer?

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Great point! I’ve noticed that gender dynamic quite a bit as well.

  4. E

    “By my husband showing me that he would love me no matter what I thought or how I felt, I was able to understand that it was okay to speak my mind. ”

    Yes. This. I am still working on speaking my mind (it’s not so much a silent treatment punishment as me not feeling capable of speaking my mind, or not even knowing my own mind). My parents divorced when I was young, and then Dad stopped contact completely a while later. I think this is one of the main reasons why I have found it so hard to speak my mind, because I have had people ‘up and leave’ on me. Before becoming a Christian, I ranged from trying not to put a foot wrong in my relationships (including my marriage) to being an absolute cow, and doing horrible things, things a lot of people would consider unforgivable. Trying to make sense of my actions, I think I was insecure, and in a way, testing my husband. Thankfully, he ‘passed’ my ‘tests’, and he really has proven that he does love me, no matter what. I am amazed at this every single day. I still find it difficult to share my needs and insecurities with my husband, but I am working on it! In the mean time, I am so thankful that my Heavenly Father is always listening, and I can be completely transparent and vulnerable with Him, because He already sees, hears and knows everything about me, and loves me anyway. He will never turn His back on me, and that has given me a huge amount of comfort. The more I lean on Him, the more I gain faith that He is able to get me through anything.
    My husband may ‘fail’ me sometimes (he is human after all), but in those moments, I have learnt to rely on God, and give my husband the grace and forgiveness that I am called to. Luckily for me, my husband does the same for me.
    All that to say, that sometimes the ‘silent treatment’ is not a punishment, it’s because your spouse is scared (probably irrationally, like me!), or just cant find the right words to say, and they might need a ‘soft, gentle answer’, and a lot of grace.

  5. Lisa

    When we were first married, my husband did the stonewalling. It often lasted a few days. I finally learned to just go about my life. His childish way of addressing an issue left me with no other healthy option.

    After awhile, when he stopped getting attention for it, he stopped doing it. It was holdover from his childhood. His mother was a people pleaser and would cave any time her children were angry with her. Then we both had to learn what TO do, not just what NOT to do. And I had to learn to be vulnerable.

    Stonewalling/silent treatment is abusive behavior. It’s an attempt to exert control. People can learn healthier ways, though, and it’s well worth the effort!

    There’s a book called “Love Busters” that has steps to help people stop stonewalling along with other destructive behaviors.

  6. TPSmith

    My wife is a good, loyal, reliable wife and mother. However, she is also unable to control her anger, and is stubborn and cruel to not only me but the children.

    My biggest problem with her is that although we do have sex… I must always initiate and she enjoys it, but I must finish in her time frame. And worse than this… I come from a family who hugs and touches and kisses.. not sexually but with love and comfort. The world is hard and negative… affection from those who love you softens that. I am the bread-winner… I work my butt off for her and the kids…. so she gives into sex and always says she enjoys it… but she never initiates and it is SOOOoooooo hard to get her to hug, kiss, and just hold one-another. I never had this type of relationship… and I love her so much I just deal with it. We have had times over the years when I just let my guard down and tear up asking for affection.. then she does it.. like it’s a chore. I don’t know if she is on the Autism spectrum or just a cold person… I don’t know how to handle it and anyone I talk to say they can’t understand how she would stay with me, take care of the family, have sex happily with me, but not be kind and affectionate… What do I do?????

    • Conja

      It sounds like your love language is physical touch.. So you feel loved the most by hugs, kisses etc. Your wife however has another love language – that’s how she feels loved (and understands the love). I would advise you to look into that and both take the love language test. Then read the book from Gary Chapman!


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