How to Deal with the Silent Treatment?

Don’t you just hate it when someone gives you the silent treatment or stonewalls you? Stonewalling is more than just freezing someone out. It delays or obstructs a person’s attempt to reconnect by being evasive or refusing to answer questions. To the person being stonewalled, it can be a painful. If this behavior is left unchecked, it can create a sense of disconnection and affect the relationship.

Stonewalling manifests in several ways. For instance, a friend or your partner may stay quiet, unresponsive, or only gives terse, single-word responses, despite repeated inquiries. A common example of it is when someone says they’re fine but doesn’t act like it. Another example is when someone pretends not to hear or listen to you, effectively tuning you out as if you don’t exist.

This can also happen when someone walks away from you or always acts too busy or too occupied to engage in a conversation, steers the conversation to something unrelated when criticized, and chooses to discuss your perceived faults or shortcomings instead of addressing the actual issue.

Why does stonewalling happen?

  • The person may have difficulty in expressing their feelings.
  • It’s become a habit, especially for those people who grew up in an environment where no one ever discusses what they’re thinking or feeling directly.
  • In some cases, a partner may be behaving in a passive aggressive manner, and stonewalling may be a deliberate attempt to prevent you from addressing the issues or taking actions.

Stonewalling may also be a direct result of a disorder, such as borderline personality disorder or narcissism that causes someone to manipulate others by freezing them out.

This behavior also becomes manipulative when, despite evidence, a person denies they are stonewalling someone. Some people may even go as far as rationalizing their behavior.

Stonewalling and your relationship

An intimate relationship can be strained by one person or both people constantly withdrawing from each other. Over time both partners grow distant and this results in relational distress and possibly a buildup of resentment.

Stonewalling in marriages not only affects the couples but also the rest of the family. Children may also sense the disconnection and feel the frustration of their parents.

What can you do when there is stonewalling in your relationship?

  • Give the other person space and stop trying to engage them. Just make sure they know you will be available whenever they are ready to talk.
  • Give yourself time to calm down and remove yourself from the situation. Verbalize your intentions so that the other person doesn’t misconstrue your behavior.
  • When you get back, focus your efforts on connecting with the underlying emotions rather than trying to problem solve. As an example, if a person is angry because their partner made a large purchase without having a discussion first, then it may be helpful to consider the underlying emotions that may be fueling their anger and as a result the stonewalling. Are they worried about household finances or feeling hurt or perhaps, disrespected? Try to connect on an emotional level and take accountability for any of your actions that may have contributed to the situation.
  • If you happen to be the person that is stonewalling, try to take some time to calm yourself, connect with your own emotions, and verbalize your intentions for needing space. If you find that there is an ongoing pattern, it may be helpful to connect with a therapist and explore some of the underlying experiences that may be playing into your behavior.