A lot of Silence. And more silence. Followed by more silence, possibly days of silence. Ok, you understand it is the “silent treatment.” The feeling of loneliness, disengagement, and hurt alternate with anger and resignation. You are not happy, you want to reconnect, to restore the good dynamics in your relationship but it feels as if you are banging your head against the brick wall. Communication at its worst!
Stonewalling is oftentimes a tactic learned during childhood. It may have been a behavior their parents used to “keep the peace” or to gain dominance in the family.
Even if the stonewalling appears intentional and aggressive, remember that it’s often used by people who feel powerless or have low self-worth. It may also be a defensive mechanism used to compensate for these feelings. In my research, I have also learned that this could also result from how one was communicated with as a child.
Being on the receiving end of silent treatment after getting into an argument with your partner, only to have them completely shut down for days or weeks, stinks. All you want to do is fix things immediately when you’re dealing with conflict and unhappy feelings in a relationship only to find out again that your partner is not receptive to dealing with their feelings. Your feelings are dismissed and your perspective is never heard.
We all know that any conflict is best resolved with healthy communication. However, we may be in a partnership where the other will not talk. It is way too tempting to resort to similar behavior yourself but one needs to resist the temptation because you know that someone has to keep the communication lines open, or you will both sink deeper into the conflict. I have been there and experienced this and it hurts like hell.
Conflicts are a normal occurrence in any relationship. What makes them different is the nature of the conflicts and how quickly they are resolved. Any conflict can be worked through with healthy communication. Stonewalling or the silent treatment destroys relationships. It can make one partner feel abandoned and rejected. It can even cause you to question your own self-worth.
The domino effect of the silent treatment is significant. It damages the relationship for both partners, diminishes feelings of intimacy, and increases the risk of suffering from anxiety, and depression. It reduces the capacity to communicate in a way that’s healthy and meaningful. Both sides should be heard and some sort of “agree to disagree” and or understanding of both sides should lead to a resolution and or compromise.
I have worked with many clients on communication, yet I fell into the “lack of communication” in my last relationship. I am human, and I learned a lot, but it has hurt like hell. I always pride myself on being able to communicate but found myself getting defensive and feeling completely criticized over everything in my life. Things were not talked about, but yet a view or opinion was shared and my feelings were dismissed. I could not explain myself or my feelings without being told I was challenging my partner which in turn caused her to shut down, me to feel dismissed and two people left with hurt feelings. Needless to say this relationship failed. It failed because WE didn’t learn to communicate together. It is sad how many end or lose a great thing because communication is work and it is something that you have to “unlearn” and “relearn” with respect to how your partner communicates. We can question, “Do those that stonewall, truly realize they do this”?, is it too late if this is all they have known their entire life? I think communication therapy could be one of the most powerful and amazing tools in a relationship.
For the partner who adopts silent treatment, it is often a way to avoid dealing with the problem, to control the situation and exercise power, to punish another person, or it is used as a way to express anger. Sometimes those that Stonewall do not realize their behavior because sadly this is how they were treated as children. This ends up being a poor choice in their communication thinking that they are just avoiding a confrontation when in reality they’ve gone about it the wrong way causing a deep confrontation. Whatever motives are behind it, giving your partner silent treatment only makes things worse – it is one of the quickest ways to end your relationship.
The person receiving the silent treatment grows more frustrated and it hurts to have that lack of response, which will lead to even more demands that in turn frustrates their partner who withdraws even further. There is no win/win in communication when both can not talk through things. The issue at hand never gets resolved, there is never a resolution and it causes the relationship to fail.
In a partnership where one partner often resorts to stonewalling tactics, both partners may benefit from a revision of communication tactics learned in couples therapy or a life coach like myself. It is important for both partners to understand why the stonewalling takes place, and a couples therapist and or life coach can help find the root cause. In a relationship where communication and cooperation are lacking it is unlikely to be successful in the long term. Both partners have to be open in improving their communication instead of being stubborn and only seeing one side. A relationship is work, and when you bring in two people, two backgrounds, two worlds along with two lives of experiences communication is key. No one said it was easy, but if the stonewaller is not willing to work on it, the other partner will feel mentally drained, hurt, and resentment will follow. Do not allow yourself to fall into this rut. Everyone deserves to be heard and problems are meant to be solved with compromise and or just a simple agree to disagree.
Becky Shaffer-Life/Fitness Coach/Author
Living In Confidence/Moving in Confidence