How to Overcome The Silent Treatment

The silent treatment. Need we say more? Most of us have experienced this at one time or another – either as the giver or the receiver. Spouses can become out of synch; one is ready to tackle the issue, while the other has completely backed off to the point of silence. Regardless of who is the culprit, the silent treatment can be devastating and may feel like an impossible feud to handle. After all, silence makes no sound – but says so much.

So what should you do when your spouse gives you the silent treatment? How should you respond? It’s important to look deeper into the issue and understand where both of you are coming from, and then take steps to solve this hurdle. Today, we are discussing the silent treatment and ways to overcome this.

Don’t use the silent treatment as punishment

The silent treatment is often used as a tool for punishment. This by no means should be used for this purpose. When one person is withholding themselves and their words intentionally to hurt someone, they are essentially saying “I don’t want to connect with you.” The silent treatment sends all kinds of negative messages. On your spouse’s end, it’s hurtful and hard to process. Especially if they are ready to talk.

There is a difference between needing time to process before you speak, and not speaking to punish someone. Arguments can strike up all sorts of negative messages, and if you are punishing your spouse, you are only adding to the fuel.

If you need a moment to cool down before you speak, then communicate this with your spouse. You can simply say, “I need to cool down first before we talk” and then remove yourself from the situation or room altogether.

Recognize differences

It’s essential to recognize that each of you are coming from a different problem solving standpoint. Your approaches may not completely align. The silent treatment is hurtful, but it may also be your partner’s way of saying they need some time alone to ponder and not talk.

Some people have a more aggressive approach to problem solving. They want to jump in and solve the problem – urgently and now! Other people are more passive and need events and thoughts to unravel over time before they are ready to hash out the situation. Passive people often need clarity and thought before they speak.

Recognizing personality differences is key. If your spouse is passive, the silent treatment may not necessarily be intentional punishment, but rather their way of handling an argument. It’s important to understand and know this about your partner, and provide them some space until they are ready to talk. However, it’s ok to express that this is hurtful by saying something like “I know you need space now and this is painful, but I am feeling sad as well and would like to discuss this when you are ready.”

If you are passive and your spouse is not, it’s crucial to let your spouse know that you are needing space to process; that you are not trying to intentionally hurt them. Be sure to have a conversation with your spouse once you have processed things. Sweeping things under the rug is no way to solve an issue, and having productive conversation is likely on your spouse’s mind as well.

Putting it together

The key is to communicate, even if it’s a few short words. Needing space before you speak is by all means ok, and is how many people are been hard-wired by God. But by using silence as a tool for punishment, or not communicating your intentions, you are only relaying an intense negative message. This makes situations worse.

Be sure you are communicating your silence before it sets in by clarifying your intentions. And if you are a spouse who is ready to talk “now”, respect that your spouse needs space when they relay this message to you. Don’t blame or guilt your spouse, simply acknowledge the situation and clarify content until you are ready to have a productive conversation.

If you want to learn more about your talk-styles and communication as a couple, check out our Better Love Assessment here!

Have you been a victim of the silent treatment? How did you feel, and how did you handle this? We’d love to hear from you!


  • Michael says:

    My wife and I vie for the extreme need to be heard, and seem to be in a season of our marriage some have called power struggle. Our arguments often seem to blow up out of a South wind where We’re not even talking about the same thing anymore, as she just takes the ball and runs with it. “( I retreat out of a need for safety, feeling disrespected and annoyed that she won’t or can’t stay focussed long enough to hear me out, as I explore what I am trying to say. She is under a lot of stress teaching elementary school and talks to six year old children all day, but when she gets home she brings that all with her and doesn’t seem to recognize how she speaks down to me, corrects and manipulates for control, until I just can’t take it anymore and retreat into silence until I feel it is safe to come out. Trouble is, it isn’t and I feel I’ve never been so lonely in a relationship as now. She’s retiring from full time teaching soon, and truth is, I’m scared. Lately I feel so beat up by her flipping out on me that I am ready to retreat to my own place and get out of the rancor, it bums me out so. I wrote out an exercise on peaceful conflict resolution and shared it with her yesterday. Today is her last day with her students before summer vacation. We would covet your prayers that we might have the patience and gentleness to give each other the space we need and the 1uality time for rest and restoration. Thanks

    • Dawn says:

      Hi Michael – your wife sounds similar to me. When these behaviors were brought to my attention, three things happened. The first was. I experienced sadness as I listened to my husband’s experience with me and I asked for forgiveness. Secondly, I thought why is it so difficult to disconnect from work and is it possible given that I’ve been doing this work for almost 19 years. Lastly, after I listened to myself and the answers that came i realized that the Principal hat comes on when my physical and emotional needs are not met at home. Sooooo I started asking for help with not being continuously put in these vulnerable situations. I also realized that there are times when wearing that hat is valuable to my husband. But I just refused those situations. It’s a lot of work. I would ask you to consider when she pulls out her hat and what’s happening during those times. I also found it helpful to ask my husband to touch me gently and say something to help me recognize what was happening. So he will touch my hand and say you’re at home babe…I got you…just rest.

  • Cheryl says:

    On day three of the silent treatment, I am giving him, my husband does two things that absolutely get under my skin and he knows them, and continues to do them even though I have expressed to him so many many times I have lost count in almost thirty five years of marriage, almost every time I get on the phone he talks about the person that I am speaking to badly so they will hear him, or he will start talking with me and be mean so that the person hears it that I am talking to, also my husband is so unaffectionate, I always have to ask him for love, he does have diabetes and shoots insulin, but surely he knows a woman has needs, which I have shared countless times to him, yet he will never roll over and make a move on me unless their is something said to him harshly by me because of waiting so long for him, I don’t know why he ever married me because I feel like his friend not his wife. I have had so many arguments and bad fights about these two things that he continues to do, with all the years with him you would think he would of did something about this, read a book or something to help him. But he doesn’t. Do not know how much more I can handle.

    • Charles says:

      Be more affectionate with him and that may open a door to affection in his mind that he did not know how to unlock. Also, if you feel like his friend follow that and enjoy the friendship. Laugh together often and that may bring more love and connection. A marriage should be a friendship first and foremost. It makes the difficult times a little easier. I think couples believe that they have to become enemies once married is out of selfish desires.

Leave a Reply