When Couples Give the Silent Treatment

They say that "silence is golden," but when it comes to marriage, we simply call it a "marriage killer."

And as if there isn't already an epidemic on the quandary of making time to be with your spouse – let alone actual quality time – there continues to be a stigma that has not been heavily addressed: the issue of giving your partner the "Silent Treatment." And this topic alone will demolish what little time we actually do spend with our partner.

What Is the Silent Treatment?

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The Silent Treatment, also known as ignoring, giving the "cold shoulder" and similar idioms, has the technical term of "unresponsiveness," and is also considered a form of psychological and emotional abuse.

A few ways of abuses are:

1. It is a form of manipulation.
2. It breaks into pieces the opportunity to communicate
3. It asserts total dominance over the circumstance while disrespecting the spouse

While many factors take part in causing such behavior and response towards a spouse, it is very apparent that continuing such behavior will lead to deeper wounds and scars in the relationship.

It could be assumed that the one who gives this hurtful treatment to their spouse may not be fully aware of the implications it has towards their future relationship.

We highly recommend that those currently practicing this type of abuse, yes even in Christian homes and marriages, find alternative methods of dealing with the issues and possibly avoid a future meltdown in your marriage.

A few of the many messages that the Silent Treatment often gives the partner are:

• It tells the partner that they are not important
• It is punishing the other in retributive style
• It tells the partner that there is no compromise – Either my way or the highway
• It brings insecurity and lack of trust

Mort Fertel, author and founder of the Marriage Fitness System for Relationship Renewal, writes, "it doesn’t just eat away at your marriage; it eats away at your stomach. The stress on your body and the tension in your house…it’s the WORST."

According to Fertel, "Silent treatments ensue when both people feel they’re RIGHT. Silent treatments are usually the result of spouses having too narrow a view of the truth. Just because you’re right doesn’t mean your spouse is not right ALSO."

In all honesty, many resort to ignoring their partner and giving the Silent Treatment as a method of protesting not only their spouse's refusal to give-in, but in some cases because they have felt so slighted by their spouse's stubbornness, that they do not feel that they can say anything without it being rejected. It’s a type of defense; or protection against continued rejection.

Margaret Millar once said, "Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness."

Used as Punishment

As we mentioned, one of the ways the Silent Treatment is used for abuse is as a tool of punishment.

It's interesting to note that research has shown that children would much rather be yelled at than ignored. Purposeful silence is truly one of the horrific methods of punishment, and some adults seem to have carried this childish method right into their adult years and into their marriage as a way of dealing with issues that are beyond the tools they currently have.

In fact, it is considered to be one of the harshest methods of punishment towards dangerous criminals to wear out their very fabric of human nature. It's called "Solitary Confinement."

In 1890, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Freeman Miller found "A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide..."

God makes us with the very need for fellowship, friendship and human interactions. We are by God's design – a socialite. This is who we are. And when a partner decides to cut off this need – they are putting their entire marriage at jeopardy by denying a God-given identity of that person, and it is not an action to be taken lightly.

Dr. Seth, a Los Angeles television psychologist & relationship expert, gives his perspective on how the Silent Treatment affects couples today: "Often men and women who issue the Silent Treatment know it hurts their partners – and that’s part of why they do it."

He continues, "If you are guilty of resorting to the Silent Treatment, I must call a spade a spade –it’s a cheap and easy way to hurt your partner. All the while, it turns you into a child who is incapable of communicating in your relationship like a grown-up. If you’re in a relationship, do the honorable, adult thing and give your partner a chance to talk to you. Talk to your partner – share – and work productively on your relationship."

Ways to Deal With It

If you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment, one thing you can do first and foremost is to think of how you may have contributed to your partner's reaction.

Understand that hurtful actions are usually negative RE-actions towards an event or something said or done – or not said or done.

• Think back of when this behavior started.
• Trace your steps and words to see if there was anything you did or said that contributed to your partner's reaction – and then deal with it.
• Apologize, make amends and explore how it hurt them. After all, you're in love – you most likely didn't mean to purposefully hurt them.


While certainly this is only one of many offensive and hurtful behaviors that sabotage our marriages, it is also one of the worst ones because it shuts down any possibility of working it out. It builds instant walls that are virtually impenetrable.

So, in prayer, love and compassion, learn how to effectively deal with this "marriage killer" and watch how life will be sweeter and more vivid with all that God has for you.

Mike and Trisha Fox are Christian marriage coaches and authors of Marriage For Today: A Practical Guide for Couples. To find out more visit:

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