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Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.
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up with the Silent Treatment?
relationships are marked by overt expressions of anger; yelling, shouting and
the like. There are also those conflicted relationships that are marked by
silence. Silence though, doesnít mean the same thing in all situations.
Silence can mean at least four different things:
people go silent amidst an interpersonal conflict to upset their partner even
more then he or she might already be. When someone is waiting upon a response by
the other, keeping silent is an effective way to punish or wreak vengeance for a
perceived wrong. The silent treatment or withholding, keeps the other person on
the hook, so to speak, waiting to settle some matter. This is indeed nerve
wracking for the person awaiting the response. This is retaliatory behaviour,
the goal of which is to discharge anger by making the other person upset. This
is not necessarily meant as abusive behaviour, but may speak to an immaturity or
limited capacity on the part of a person to effectively express anger appropriately.
these situations, if the non-silent partner has been guilty of untoward
behaviour, silence may be the silent partner's only available means of response,
but it will be ineffective in the long run unless the untoward behaviour is
actually addressed. If the silence and the behaviour both continue, both
partners will continue to be distressed.
silent treatment can also be used as a form of bullying in that it is used to
manipulate an outcome in favour of the one engaging in the behaviour. Not with
the goal of discharging oneís upset, but causing the other person to acquiesce
to oneís preference, this form of bullying works because the victim cannot
tolerate the other personís withdrawal. The victim feels abandoned and likely
has their own issues of self-worth which in turn makes this an effective
strategy for the bully. The victim, needing to feel connected, acquiesces to the
demands of the bully to abate the silent treatment. These relationships are
often lop-sided in favour of the bully. The bully gets what he or she wants, but
at the expense of a wholesome relationship.
folks go silent amidst an interpersonal conflict because they either cannot cope
with the conflict or are no match in a verbal battle with their partner. Seeing
the futility of arguing, this person goes quiet to avoid an escalation of
conflict or to resist being overwhelmed by the other personís verbal repartee.
In these situations, the silent treatment serves as a means of
self-preservation. In situations such as these, it is common to see the other
party as excessively verbose, often defensive and certainly with much to say.
Given the difficulty of getting these people to listen and stop arguing their
case, their partner simply withdraws. This is most like giving up. These persons
are often more sad than mad.
some instances, both persons go silent towards each other. This mutual silent
treatment is like a Mexican stand-off with each seeing who gives in first. The
mutual silent treatment is almost childlike in appearance with stubbornness and
pride at the root. With neither party willing to back down, these situations can
go on indefinitely typically creating even greater distress for those friends,
neighbours and loved ones who likely see the folly of both personsí ways.
though of why a relationship is marked by the silence, silence always spells
some sort of difficulty resolving conflict. Be it to wreak vengeance, a strategy
to bully, a means for self-preservation or pride, silence in a relationship is
indicative of unremitting conflict.
as a strategy to manage either oneís feelings or anotherís behaviour is
self-defeating. In lieu, people are encouraged to find their reasonable voice
and learn to express their needs, wants and issues verbally, non-judgementally
we tell our kids, use your words.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
thanks to Steven F. McMurray of McIntyre, McMurray, Kitchener, Ontario,
for raising the issue of the silent treatment and for his contributions to this
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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