Advice on Silent Treatment in a Relationship

silent treatment

Are you giving the silent treatment in a relationship? Is that the best way to handle conflict? Check out this question to our dating coach. Find out the tools to improve your relationship and what might work better than the silent treatment to communicate your feelings.

Silent Treatment in a Relationship

Reader Question

I've been in a relationship with this guy for 11 months. We have been having some arguments over the past weekends. Usually I get upset and give him the silent treatment. Well, on Valentine's Day I expected more than 2 roses and a card that he just handed me, and he didn't even sign. I was so hurt. Therefore, I gave him the silent treatment again. He apologized to me, but I was acting stubborn. At the beginning of our relationship, he showered me with bouquets of flowers and I guess that's what I expected. Well now, he says he hasn't felt the same for me in the past 5 months. I am so hurt. He says he needs a break. We used to go to church together at the beginning of our relationship then we drifted away. This past Sunday he drove out of town and went to church. He said he was uplifted, and he needs time. I am so hurt, and I love him so much. I don't know what to do. We even had talked about marriage several times. We are in our late 40's. He is divorced, and I have been a widow for 3 years. I don't know what to do. It is hurting me so much. How can you love somebody and then all of a sudden stop or is that just an excuse? What should I do? Give him his space and for how long? We even had a trip planned and paid for to go to Hawaii!! PS. I have been texting him and telling him how I feel and he was ignoring my texts.-- Contributed by: Cathy

Expert Reply

Dear Cathy,

You stop loving someone when the negatives of the relationship out way the positives. It doesn't "just happen," it builds over time. In relationships like marriage, where there is a long history of positives built on trust, honesty and shared experiences, it can take a while before the negatives begin to outweigh the benefits of the relationship. This is not the case with dating. Most couples, whose dating relationship begins to fall apart within a year, haven't built a solid foundation. Therefore, the negatives can begin to surface shortly after the infatuation phase begins to wane, usually around four to six months.

You are aware of what your boyfriend did that frustrated you enough to give him the "silent treatment." Are you aware of what you do that frustrates him? What behaviors does he demonstrate which let you know he is bothered by your behavior? If neither of you talk about what upsets you, how can either of you clear up any misunderstanding or work to resolve the conflict? Conflict is not the problem most couples face. Not having the skills or tools to address conflict is more likely the culprit. This seems to be the case in your situation. When couples use one or more of what John Gottman refers to as the Four Horsemen to deal with anger, disappointment, or annoyance, they run the risk of alienating or turning off their partner. I am guessing this is what happened in your relationship.

Then to make matters worse, instead of listening to your boyfriend's request that you give him a break, you bombarded him with text messages. It is likely that he feels little respect by you. The mounting negatives of this relationship are outweighing what once were the positives of the relationship. If you continue to try to force the issue you will succeed in turning your boyfriend completely off.

My suggestion is to back off for a bit. Use the time to learn healthy tools and skills for addressing conflict in a relationship. Once you have spent some time working on yourself, then give your boyfriend a call. Let him know what you have learned and see if he is open to trying the relationship again. It may be too late by that point. If this is the case, consider the end of this relationship as one of those painfully learned lessons and an opportunity to avoid the same mistakes in the future. If on the other hand he is open to trying the relationship again, consider yourself lucky and remember that conflict in a relationship is normal and natural. Not having healthy skills or tools to work through the issues couples face is what gets you into trouble.


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Advice on Silent Treatment in a Relationship