Any Advice on Dealing with the Silent Treatment from Your Partner?

Updated on January 21, 2019
L.M. asks from Ypsilanti, MI
17 answers

Good morning!
Has anyone had their spouse of sig other give you the silent treatment after a fight, big or small, and how did you snap them out of it or change the way they handle things?

My boyfriend who is 35, goes right into his "cave" anytime he is upset or overwhelmed. He won't tell me he needs space or a break, and won't speak to me for days. Today is day two. We don't live together, so my anxiety is going insane. We have been together for 3 years, and this has been as issue from the start. I know guys tend to need more space than us women do, and can talk for days, while men don't like to show their feelings.

I have attempted to talk to him post silent treatment about what it does to me and ask why he thinks it's a good route to take. He can be so amazing and willing to work through things with me, but then there are times like now where he shuts down. Of course I worry that he is going to leave, or just simply ghost me. It's hard not to let your mind go to dark places.

I am not sure what direction to turn. Knowing guys need space, but feeling disrespected is very hard to separate.

Our fight started on Thursday. We have a trip to Mexico planned for my birthday and he still hasn't submitted his time off. He claims that since he is the boss, he doesn't need to answer to anyone, but in the past he has had to. He paid for the whole trip, and it's not a small amount so I am not sure why he would risk it. I told him it just seemed like I wasn't a priority to him, and once I said that he ignored me the rest of the day. Friday came and he lied and said he was going to come over after work and he ended up staying at home without letting me know. I went over to make sure he was okay and he didn't want to talk and went to bed. Saturday I tried reaching out to him and he didn't say a word to me at all. Today is Sunday and there still has been not one word. We had plans this whole weekend and they were all canceled and not even talked about.

This is his MO and I am not sure how to have him see how damaging it is to our emotional connection. He reminds me of my father, being very stubborn and unwilling to communicate. It scares me because we plan on buying a house this summer as well as wanting to get married. Please give me any advice! And no, I am not looking to up and leave him due to this. I would rather try and fix it than give up on the man that I love.

What can I do next?

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C.W.

answers from Los Angeles on

This is manipulative behavior meant to punish you. Please look up “narcissism and the silent treatment”. It is a tactic used to punish someone. This is not always intentional as narcissism is often a generational, learned behavior. You will both need therapy to work through this for long term success. What he is doing is not ok and will get worse as time goes on.

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S.B.

answers from Houston on

I have been married over 32 years and my husband has NEVER behaved like this. This isn't "guys need space" this is a "your boyfriend is an jerk".

He knows this bothers you. He is counting on that. Stop. He doesn't care how damaging this is to your emotional relationship because there are no consequences. You seem to believe you deserve this and have to fix it. Honey you CAN'T FIX HIM. He has to want to FIX HIMSELF. You have two choices. Accept this behavior or leave.

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M.P.

answers from Portland on

First, know you cannot change him. You can change yourself which might enable him to make changes. Even if you decide to leave, the following information could help you to be more confident in yourself.

I suggest you read about codependency. A codependent relationship is one in which one's happiness depends on the other's behaviour.

I was obviously codependent when I started counseling in my thirties. My counselor recommended I read a book about codependency. At first, I was very upset declaring I was not codependent. Gradually I began to accept that I was.

Similar to you I was afraid that someone I dated would leave/ abandon me. I dated several men who were "healthy" enough to leave. I was clingy and was upset when they didn't see me and didn't let me know they wouldn't come over when they had said they would. I would feel frantic and kept trying to get them to understand how I felt. Looking back, I think at least a couple understood and chose to withdraw because I was needy and depended on them for me to be happy; a behaviour they weren't able or willing to live with.

Of course not calling when they changed plans and being unable to talk about their leaving was not healthy. They just stopped calling which frightened me more. I depended on them. They did not need my anger and unhappiness.

Unlike you my relationships usually only lasted 3 months. Not continuing our relationship was a healthy thing for them. They knew how to protect themselves. My expecting them to understand and take care of me was not healthy. That's codependency.

Another important change for me was to realize how my way of talking to people, not just those I dated, often started because I accused them of not caring etc. A book entitled Nonviolent Communication helped me understand how I reacted in anger or with tears was a large reason we had fights. This was especially true with my adult daughter.

I learned first to start comments using I words. When I said you hurt me, they had to defend themselves. When I said I feel hurt it opened the door to the possibility of a conversation. Read the book to learn other ways to get better communication.

I also learned it takes two to fight. Once I finally accepted that I could take care of myself by walking away, I could stop a painful and angry fight by not participating. Often I just literally walked away. My daughter and I have a good relationship now that I stopped trying to fix things. We agreed that when she just wanted me to listen that I would listen. We both gradually learned how to not fight.

I don't know your boyfriend. Perhaps he goes into his cave because he is hurt, angry and overwhelmed. It's likely that both of you have difficulty communicating. I suggest couples counseling might help.

It's also possible he isn't able to work through to better communication. It took me years of counseling to have enough self esteem/confidence to change how I communicated. Change is hard work.

I suggest you start counseling with it without your boyfriend to find out if your relationship is worth keeping. I suggest, because your relationship has lasted 3 years, it's worth trying to make changes before leaving the relationship. I also suggest not buying a house and not getting married until you have better communication and know that marriage will work.

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G.♣.

answers from Springfield on

Giving someone the silent treatment is a very immature and controlling way to deal with a disagreement. He's not talking to you about what's bothering him. He's just trying to teach you that if he doesn't feeling like dealing with problems, he won't.

He knows that this is upsetting and damaging to your emotional connection. He's counting on that. He's hoping that you will be so concerned about that that you will choose the emotional connection over whatever is upsetting you and then he never has to deal with that. This is a form of emotional control.

If this is not a deal breaker for you, the way to deal with it is to ignore the baby. If he doesn't get any attention from you, he may learn that giving you the silent treatment is not going to end with him getting his way. This strategy works with toddlers. It's one of the most effective ways to teach them that they won't get their way by throwing a temper tantrum.

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S.T.

answers from Washington DC on

because it affects you so deeply, this comes off as very manipulative. if you just shrugged and went about your life until he decides to quit sulking and come talk with you, would that change his behavior?

i don't know that you can change him. but you should sure work on changing your reaction to it.

he sounds like a big sulky baby to me. and you sound like his perfect foil- someone who will come unglued and do somersaults to get his attention back.

you can't 'fix it' until you fix you. figure out why you are so reactive to a man who is deliberately pushing your buttons.

khairete
S.

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D.B.

answers from Boston on

I think you make a fundamental mistake when you say that "guys need space" and that all men handle things a certain way. Why would you assume that? What's true is that men who behave as your boyfriend does are excused for it, and women who can't take it still stay with the men because they think the men can't help it. There are women who do the silent treatment too, women who don't show up or call when they say they will. The point is, we each have to choose partners whose behavior we can stand and deal with. You haven't done that. You've stayed with a man for 3 years who "damages your emotional connection" all the time. You say you went over "to see if he was all right" but the fact is you knew he was giving you the silent treatment because he always does.

My advice is, stop trying to fix him, and stop making plans. Stop making weekend plans and vacation plans, and for heaven's sake, don't buy a house together and entangle yourselves financially. Do you think that will make the situation better?

Get counseling. Go yourself, and ask him to go with you if he will. You both need to learn to communicate more effectively and to "fight fair." I don't know if you can salvage this or not, if you two can learn useful skills or not. What I do know is you won't fix a thing by continuing to do things the same way that doesn't work. You don't change him. You change how you act and react. Maybe that's to stay in the relationship, maybe it isn't.

Your underlying problem is that you are afraid he will leave you. So you say you won't leave him over this, no matter how damaging it is to your self-esteem, anxiety and happiness. That is unacceptable. You have to have a better sense of yourself, you have to advocate much more effectively without putting him on the defensive, and he has to find better ways to treat someone he supposedly loves. Do not plan a wedding or anything else until you work on this. And it's not going to take 3 or 4 sessions, so if you're not in the counseling for the long haul and the hard work, then don't enter a long term relationship which is also a long haul and hard work.

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L.H.

answers from Abilene on

There’s no justification for his behavior. He is punishing you. That wouldn’t work for me.

Please see a counselor. This environment isn’t normal or healthy. Do not buy a house, marry or have kids until you understand why you don’t value yourself enough that you would settle for this. Love is respectful, kind, giving, and nurturing.

If your best friend came to you in this situation, how would you advise her?

7 moms found this helpful

D.S.

answers from Phoenix on

And you're with this guy and going to commit yourself financially why? You want to fix him? Really honey. You need to look out for yourself better. Lotsa luck.

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J.C.

answers from Philadelphia on

Wow. You must think this is somewhat acceptable behavior since you put up with it. I’ve been married 23 years and my husband has never given me the silent treatment for more than 10 minutes while he gathers his thoughts.

Your BF has also ruined this weekend and honestly imo he’s upset over something really ridiculous. You had a valid point about him putting in vacation time.

I would not settle for this. Also, I think you should re-evaluate your thoughts on why you think this is a normal man thing. I can’t imagine living with someone who I had to walk on eggshells around. Best of luck. You will need it!

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T.S.

answers from San Francisco on

People don't change, they show you who they are, and he has been showing you for three years. You choose not to accept it or believe it.
So congratulations, this is how it's going to be for the rest of your life! Since you aren't willing to leave, and would rather continue to beat a dead horse, you may as well just settle in and enjoy living with stress, anxiety, disappointment and disrespect.
Though I really hope you don't bring any children into this very dysfunctional dynamic :-(

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M.G.

answers from Portland on

I don't think this was handled great on either end - no offense.

I've had some doozies of arguments with my husband. However, we've never gone to bed mad. Thankfully, we can talk things out.

The thing is - I think you hurt his feelings by saying you don't feel you're a priority which he would take to mean you don't matter to him. He's just paid for this vacation/trip for your birthday. This is over a time/sheet/off concern of yours - not his. If it's your anxiety, than that's yours to deal with. It's not his. You escalated it to saying I'm not a priority in your life. Ouch. That would confuse/hurt my husband.

Then he wanted space. You didn't really give it to him. When he didn't get an apology (I take it?) he didn't come over ..kind of understandable... so you went there? I would not have. That's just me. I would have taken that as a 'sign' that he wasn't ready to talk. That's kind of pushing in on a boundary.

That's just me though.

Then he doesn't want to see you now. Well ...

I think this has just turned into ... kind of a mess at this point.

I think you've both got some communication issues - not just him. That's what I'm trying to say.

I think you could have communicated your concern over his requesting time off (does he need to? I'm not clear on this) in a different way ... without saying you're not a priority. That's making quite a statement. Men can be very hurt. How would you feel? Know what I mean?

That's kind of like saying "If I mattered, you would submit your time off request ...". Or maybe that's how he took it ...

Anyhow .. counseling ?? maybe for you on your own too .. if you stay with him. Boundaries for you both personally, are important. Self respect for you too.

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B.F.

answers from Philadelphia on

If you were to marry him can you imagine putting up with this immaturity for the rest of your life? He needs to grow up and MAN up and deal with what's bothering AND for making YOU suffer with HIS problems that he isn't willing to share with you.

Could you stay with somebody else for a while? That way you could think things over and it would send a serious message to him that HE needs to do something.

Again, is this something you could put up with him doing more of in the future? He sounds a little arrogant to me. Not telling you to break up with him, but YOU really need to think about what his behavior is doing to you--both yourself and your relationship together. I don't think he is READY for any of the things you talked about. You BOTH need time away from each other. That may bring things back to reality.

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J.C.

answers from Anchorage on

Needing space is not an excuse for lack of communication, the silent treatment is just rude and plain immature. Sounds like your BF still has a lot of growing up to do for a 35 year old man. I would contact him and tell him that you feel you both need to work on your communication skills, especially after a disagreement, because the silent treatment has got to go. It is one thing if a partner needs 30 minutes or an hour or something to think issues through before talking, but days is just not acceptable in a committed relationship IMO.

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T.K.

answers from Rapid City on

If you have had issues from the start, this is definately a warning sign. It sounds like he is very immature. Remember women are more mature than men. Most men will not discuss things like a woman. If you have doubts it is better to cut your losses now. Typically things get worse before they get better. He sounds like he is very insecure. My advise is not to go rushing into anything financially. Not a good idea.

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M.D.

answers from Pittsburgh on

He is not mature enough for a serious relationship, IMO. This would be a deal breaker for me.

For clarity - I would consider it ok if a partner said "I'm really upset about this and I don't want to say something I don't mean, so I need some time to calm down before we talk." Some time meaning a few hours or until the next morning. But total silent treatment, without explanation, for days? No way.

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R.L.

answers from Chicago on

You can’t fix him. I think that people can change, but only when they really want to and are willing to put in the work, which for him would include understanding what he is afraid of and how he developed this coping strategy, and then developing a better way to express himself. It’s nice that you recognize that his behaviors remind you of your father. But you couldn’t change him and you can’t change your boyfriend either. Counseling would help you understand yourself and your choices better, whether or not you decide to stay in this relationship.

If you really want to stay in the relationship, I think you have a couple of options. You could try talking with him about this issue, when he is in a more reasonable state, and make it clear to him that the complete silent treatment is not acceptable to you. If he wants or feels that he needs space, you would be happy to give it if he can articulate that need, but silent treatment is very immature behavior and not OK for a 35 year old man. Lying that he was going to come over, and then not coming over, that is really a problem. If he is not willing to try to change this, then I would have to agree he is not good marriage material. I suppose if you are OK with him not changing, and can go off and have a good time with your friends and family when he is behaving badly, and feel fine whether or not he is behaving badly….then I guess you could remain in the relationship. But don’t stay thinking you can change him, because you can’t.

4 moms found this helpful

C.T.

answers from Santa Fe on

Stop making excuses for him...this is really immature behavior on his part. I am guessing he did not learn healthy ways to deal with problems growing up. When he has snapped out of it I would have a serious talk with him about how he cannot do this and it's an immature way to deal with problems and that you insist on marriage counseling. He also needs his own one on one therapy to start learning methods to deal with being upset that do not involve giving someone the silent treatment. If he is unwilling to work on this then you need to consider ending the relationship. Keep in mind we all improve over time and if he is willing to work on this he can make it a thing of the past and become better at dealing with problems. But it is up to HIM. He has to decide he wants to do this for the sake of your relationship.

3 moms found this helpful
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