When someone refuses to talk to you during a conflict, it can be incredibly difficult to resolve the situation. Giving someone the silent treatment in a relationship can be as damaging as outright anger, while being on the receiving end can create feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
- Skill level:
Wait it out. If you have done something stupid and the other party is temporarily biting her tongue rather than shouting at you, it is appropriate to simply let the silent treatment run its course. In this circumstance, she is not using the silent treatment to create harm but to reduce harm. Give the other party some time -- perhaps an hour or two -- to cool down before talking again.
Consider the age of the person giving you the silent treatment. Children and teenagers use the silent treatment against parents when they do not have the skills to deal with conflict in better ways. Let the child know that not talking will not solve the problem. Inform him that you are available to talk when he is ready and that he is restricted from playing video games or talking to his friends until the conflict is resolved. Reach out to the child sparingly after this and wait for them to begin the dialogue.
Care for yourself. If an adult is giving you the silent treatment for an extended period of time with the intent to cause you emotional pain, move your focus from the other person and onto yourself. Do things that are kind and nurturing for yourself and continue with your own life. Giving the silent treatment is about removing approval. Focus on approving of yourself and working on increasing your self-esteem.
Don't beg. Some people give the silent treatment with the expectation that you will try desperately to regain their approval. This is exactly what they want, and they will continue to use the silent treatment against you in the future if it works well for them. The game is much less fun for the other person if you simply don't play.
Continue speaking to the other person courteously when speaking is necessary, even if he does not respond. Let him know briefly that you are ready to talk when he is ready. Remain calm and do your best not to fuel the fire.
Tips and warnings
- Do not respond in kind. Responding to silence with silence will, at best, accomplish nothing and will, at worst, escalate the animosity. It is extremely damaging for a child to receive the silent treatment.
- Receiving the silent treatment repeatedly can be a sign that you are in an abusive relationship. Consider counselling and decide whether the relationship is worth saving.
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