IT is impossible to be in a relationship without conflicts because men and women are different with different backgrounds, temperaments, needs and sexuality.
Partners attempt to handle their problems differently- some by revenge, some by compromise, by accommodation, some through third party intention and some through resolution.
One common way partners handle problems is silent treatment, when one person in a relationship ignores the other person, refusing to acknowledge them verbally or through any other method.
Silent treatment usually happens after an argument, when one partner presses the other with requests, criticism or complains and the other responds with silent distance. It can also happen when the silent partner is angry and the other person doesn’t know why.
Silent treatment usually drags on for a considerable length of time and it shouldn’t be confused with taking time to cool down after an argument.
What you must know
Research shows the act of silent treatment activates the anterior cingulate cortex, the same area of the brain associated with pain. Being on the receiving end is therefore painful and frustrating. It’s a form of ostracism and conflict pain but without physical marks.
When couples are locked in ‘demand-withdrawal’ pattern the damage can be both emotional and psychological and may lead to aggression, urinary and bowel problems and even erectile dysfunction.
Interestingly studies show it does not matter which partner withdraws; the damage to the relationship is the same. It is the pattern itself and not the partners.
Kipling Williams, a Professor at Perdue University, explains that silent treatment is a form of punishment or pressure to get a response to criticism or submission to a request.
Studies also show men use silent treatment more than women. Men suppress their emotions and don’t talk about their feelings.
Silent treatment is an attempt by men to resolve fear of being exposed as the guilty partner – as not being man enough to take control of difficult situations in the relationship. They wait for the women to initiate reconciliation before they open up. Men and their ego!
Ways to respond to silent treatment
Take time to cool off. Sometimes when we feel waves of anxiety, panic or rage, our bodies become saturated with adrenaline.
This is called “flooding,” and it happens when intense feelings, thoughts or sensations are just too much to integrate in the moment. When one lover gets flooded, he or she chooses either fight of flight.
In this case, flight would be the silent treatment or stonewalling. If your partner is flooded, separate for a period of time to calm down.
Give your partner space to think. Avoid trying to figure out what your silent partner or spouse is thinking. You’re not a mind-reader. The silent treatment is a passive-aggressive form of communication.
If you do their thinking for them, they won’t learn how to be direct when sharing their thoughts and feelings.
Give your partner space to think
Find out if it is just a personality difference. Is your partner an introvert while you are more of an extrovert? Introverts need more time to process their emotions, especially when things get intense or they feel that they’ve been attacked or insulted in some way.
Emphasise you want to resolve things. Openly tell your lover you have noticed he or she is not responding well to you and you want to understand why. Think about whether you really may have done or said something to hurt your partner or make them angry.
Admit and acknowledge any wrongs that may have caused offence and apologise sincerely. Empathise with your partner by saying you understand that he or she is upset or angry and that you would like to bridge the gap that has come between you. Have the humility to apologise even if it may not be your fault.
It may be the only thing your lover may be waiting to hear from you, whatever sacrifices you make to reconcile is worth it. Talking about your issues in diplomatic ways is half the solution.
The dangerous pattern
The silent treatment is the commonest pattern of conflict for lovers. It is hard to break because both partners lay the blame at the feet of the other. One complains the other is emotionally unavailable and the other will accuse his or her partner of being demanding or critical.
In whatever way you look, findings from Prof. Schrodt, a psychologist, show silent treatment can be ‘tremendously’ damaging to a relationship. It decreases relationship satisfaction for both partners, diminishes feeling of intimacy and reduces capacity to communicate in a way that is meaningful and healthy.
It is also known that silent treatment may lead to mistrust, suspicion, tension, fear, loneliness, anxiety and hurt and these may give rise to physical, mental and spiritual problems.
Silent treatment can never be a solution but the problem in relationships because it is an immature and unhealthy coping strategy. No lover deserves to be ignored. Your problems can’t be solved until you talk about them.
It is important to break this communication pattern, deal with difficult situations in healthy ways to enjoy the beauty of true love.