The Silent Treatment

Although we have known for some time that giving your loved-one the silent treatment  (can do more harm than arguing) is potentially destructive, indicative of a deteriorating relationship, this short article attempts to explain its toxicity.

It is a tactic every couple knows but new research has found that people who give their loved-one the silent treatment end up only making themselves unhappy. Being withdrawn is a form of emotional behaviour known as “disengaging” and leaves people with seething resentment about their relationship. And expecting a partner to somehow know what we are feeling – known as “passive immobility” – also leaves people dissatisfied prevents us from making up after a tiff. They warn the latter is almost as bad as withdrawal. Psychology Professor Keith Sanford at Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences, Texas, said: “Withdrawal is the most problematic for relationships. “It’s a defensive tactic that people use when they feel they are being attacked, and there’s a direct association between withdrawal and lower satisfaction overall with the relationship.” “Withdrawing when a partner criticises or complains is a way of avoiding a perceived threat and is more characteristic of unhappiness. “Just about everyone does that from time to time, but you see more of that in distressed relationships. There’s a desire to maintain autonomy, control and distance.”

Meanwhile, those who expected a partner to know what was wrong without being told were believed to be anxious, feeling neglected rather than threatened. “You’re worried about how much your partner loves you, and that’s associated with neglect. You feel sad, hurt and vulnerable,” said Prof Sanford. “Often, you have one person who withdraws and the other demands. The more the one demands and complains, the more the other withdraws, and so on. “It’s an issue both of being aware of when these behaviours are occurring and of finding an alternative – a more constructive, polite approach to resolve conflict. “And at times, that’s easier said than done.”

The research, published in the Journal of the American Psychological Association, was split into three sections. In the first, 2,588 married or cohabitating people completed a questionnaire in which they answered questions about how they dealt with an argument. They were asked whether they used withdrawal or if they waited for their partner to read their mind. Afterwards were made to answer questions about how happy they felt about their relationship. In the second, 223 adults in committed romantic relationships were made to assess how they felt about withdrawal, expectations of mind reading, attachment, and relationship satisfaction. In the third, 135 undergraduate students in serious relationships wrote about a disagreement with their partner then responded to questions about disengagement, communication and emotion during the conflict. It was revealed that there was a strong link between those who sulked or expected partners to mind read and being unhappy in a relationship. And researchers believe that withdrawal was most often used as a way to avoid dealing with criticism, which led to poor communication and ultimately unhappy relationships.

Credit: The Telegraph