Dealing With the Passive Aggressive Silent Treatment

You had an argument that ended with no real resolution, just fatigue.

You want to go into another room, watch TV, read a book, take a shower, go to bed… whatever.

You want to do something – anything – to get away from your partner in that moment, if for no more than an hour.

You just want a break from the back and forth.

They start with the passive aggressive silent treatment again.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? How about this one: You’ve won the argument, but you are still not satisfied. The apology didn’t feel genuine; it felt more like an attempt to pacify.

Or maybe this passive aggressive silent treatment scenario:

You planned a lovely day out, but something got in the way. Something often gets in the way, it seems, and this makes you really upset. You haven’t spoken with your partner about it, at least not in great detail, but the missed outings and broken promises are starting to impact the way you feel about the relationship. When you are together you think about addressing the situation, but can’t seem to make yourself open up. Your anger is coming out in different ways, like snide comments and cutting sarcasm and that is uncharacteristic.
We may not be aware of why we have the feelings we do during these tumultuous times, but we know they are there. Knowing how to control those emotions and take actions that will help rather than hurt is an important skill to learn.

In all the instances discussed, there is a choice to be made. What do you do when all you want is a little peace and quiet or when you didn’t get exactly what you wanted out of an exchange? Do you begin the conversation again in the hopes that you can make your needs more clear, or do you give them the silent treatment?
Both options have consequences (as do all actions), however, some are more detrimental than others. Giving someone the silent treatment does more than buy you time or help you organize your thoughts. It impacts the person on the receiving end far more than you might think.

Passive aggressive silent treatment is a common practice in relationships, and is also the source of deep rooted problems. The interesting thing about passive aggressive silent treatment is that it is a function of low self-esteem and interpersonal communication skills, not the result of an argument. While the problem might have stemmed from a misunderstanding, a slight, or any variety of issues, handling the discussion that occurs with silent treatment is a direct result of poor communication skills.

Don’t worry. With a little effort on your part, this is something that can be fixed.
Think about the reasons you choose the silent treatment. In most relationships, the drive to go quiet is avoidance. You think if you don’t say anything, the other person will walk away, giving you the reprieve you desperately want. Avoiding further conflict gives you the instant quiet that you are looking for to either gather your thoughts or calm down.

The first reason is followed very closely by the desire to control the situation. The desire to revisit the discussion on your timeline or using the silent treatment to get what you want, whether gifts or affection, is an attempt to manipulate your partner.

Finally, there is another driving force that makes us choose the silent treatment: fear. Voicing an opinion that is contrary to your partner’s can be a scary thing to do, especially if you are uncomfortable with conflict. The fear that the argument could challenge the stability of the relationship is very real for some people.
When we engage in passive aggressive silent treatment, we create uncertainty for the other person. When we are part of a relationship, we seek validation, approval, security, and love from each other; it is the basis of the connection. There is no other time than during and after an argument that we need this connection with our partners. Removing it and putting up a wall between you, effectively ostracizing them from your emotional presence, if not the physical, strips away at their sense of acceptance. Over time, this effect can be damaging to your partner’s psyche and to the relationship.

To avoid giving your partner the silent treatment, trust the bond that you have is strong enough to withstand conflict. If you want time away, tell them you need to process the problem alone. If you don’t think the apology was sincere, tell them what you think and why. If you are afraid to speak up about something that is bothering you, trust that your partner cares about your feelings and wants to make changes to ensure your happiness. Choose talking instead of the silent treatment and enhance your emotional connection.

About

I'm Ken and the author of this website. I'm a father of 1 boy and divorced as a result of the silent treatment I was giving my wife. I've learned and moved on and I'm here now to help others avoid the mistake I made.

Posted in Silent Treatment
3 comments on “Dealing With the Passive Aggressive Silent Treatment
  1. Mark says:

    Ken:

    I liked your article…thanks for posting. I’m not an expert or even remotely considered a “therapist”, but because I’m dealing with a passive aggressive family member right now that is exhibiting behavior that you mention here. I have also researched a lot of this lately and from what I can tell you are not passive aggressive. Passive aggressives are usually always right, never admit guilt, and have this keen ability to blame all those around them for all of their problems. You have definitely not done this…you have admitted a passive aggressive trait and are obviously doing something about it. Major kudos for you…you will probably do well in life as a result of this, if not solely because you are able to self-reflect, which is an excellent trait.

    My experience dealing with a passive aggressive family member has been rocky to say the least (I moved in with my younger brother to help him out financially in 2008) and it is proving to be the biggest mistake I made. I had no idea he was a major passive aggressive and we have had 3 arguments since 2008. What I did not realize is that the result of the first argument in 2008 started his “silent treatment”. I was working a lot of contract work out of town so initially I was not really here all the time, but after I returned more permanently it took me a long time to realize that he was indeed giving me the silent treatment. I would initiate conversation and he would indulge, but for the most part he would scurry from room to room, or house to studio to work (he works at home) and not say a word. Did I mention that this has been going on for over 5 years? I just attributed this to him being busy and a workaholic, but one day (in 2011) I decided to give it a try because my girlfriend noticed a few things about him that she did not like. I felt compelled to experiment…talking to him was proving to be the wrong approach.

    My plan was to not say anything to him either just to see how often he initiates a conversation. He never spoke…ever. It was a very interesting experiment and observation. I have not seen that behavior since elementary school.

    It wasn’t until our last argument (about a month ago) where he he actually revealed to me that he was “punishing me”. I was at first somewhat put off by the whole thing…but then I broke out in laughter (away from him of course) because I realized then that he had been “punishing me” for about 5 years and I had no idea LOL. Obviously it did not have a big effect on me :-).

    However, you have reinforced my research here by pointing out that this silent treatment has more to do with self-esteem and poor intercommunication skills than it does with anything else.

    The only other thing that has bothered me about my brother (and this is definitely another passive aggressive disorder behavior) is that he cannot let go. He holds on to the most minute things that bother him sometimes for decades. In our last argument he was bringing up things that were said and done here more than 5 years previously…things that I had put aside and had forgotten 2 days after they had happened. He holds on to grudges and pain for years, which is also a horrible way to live.

    When growing up (there are 3 brothers in total) we were abused by a majorly abusive passive aggressive mother; however, my older brother and myself do not exhibit those behaviors. My younger brother obviously is much more affected by this than anyone could have thought, but one can also not approach him to discuss it because, well, he would never admit to having a problem…it’s going to be everyone else’s fault, which is exactly how my mother would deal with it as well.

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing though…it is helpful

  2. Dee Fors says:

    I been married for 25 years to a man who gives me the silent treatment just about all the time. When I try to talk about our marriage he shuts me down by saying he doesn’t understand me. He will accuse he of yelling when I’m clearly not, then he yells at me. Nothing resolved then endless silence. Not days, endless. All other women are treated with smiles and good humor. Car rides: hours of silence coupled with acrimony. This has beat me down and caused me so much pain. He calls me crazy. A time is coming when I may be able to get out. Right now no money for a lawyer. Why do I feel bad about taking half our assets when he hurts me everyday? I feel like a fool.

  3. alicenorman says:

    I have been in a relationship with this guy for 3years and I noticed that each time we had an argument or something is bothering him, he just shuts me out, when we chat (because he works abroad), he will read and not reply, when I call he won’t pick up till he is probably cool enough to talk and that could take days. I just believe if anything is bothering him or if I did wrong, he should be able to talk to me about it not hold it in like a child and keeping malice. For heaven’s sake, you say you want to spend the rest of your with me and you intentionally shut my out, who does that? He’s a really nice guy(when he is not all silent) with a bright future too but I don’t know if this is enough reason to leave or stay beacause it just makes me feel really exhausted and thinking what am I doing. I have stayed this long because I always say nobody is perfect and we can’t always have it all and who knows if my next will be better or worse. We are planning on getting married next year and I’m beginning to wonder if/how I can deal with that one issue for the rest of my life.

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