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Five Ways to Beat the Silent Treatment

Les walked through the front door of our home this week, set a copy of the Wall Street Journal on the kitchen counter and said, “Let’s never give each other the cold shoulder again.”

“Again?” I asked. “When do we ever do that?”

Les held up a section of the paper he’d just read about the damage it does to a married couple when they give each other the silent treatment – that destructive pattern where one spouse gets demanding and the other withdraws to the point of completely clamming up

Sulking. Pouting. Shutting your spouse out. It’s a lame attempt to punish and it’s more toxic than you might imagine.

Nearly 70% of spouses admit to using the silent treatment to hurt their partner.


The study looked at more than 7,000 couples and found the demand-withdraw pattern to be one of the most damaging types of relationship patterns ever for couples. Why? Three reasons:

1) it’s manipulative,

2) it’s disrespectful, and

3) it’s not productive.

“It becomes a vicious cycle,” says Sean Horan, director of the study at Texas State University. “Soon you’re no longer addressing the issue at hand. You start arguing about arguing.”


So how do you break the pattern?

  • Become aware of what’s really going on. The person making demands feels abandoned; the silent person is protecting himself. Each needs to ask, “Why am I behaving this way? How does my behavior make my partner feel?”
  • Avoid character assassination. It will do more damage to label your spouse as “selfish,” or “rude.”
  • Use the word “I” because the more you use “you,” the longer your squabble will last. You can say something like: “This is how I feel when you stop talking to me.”
  • Mutually agree to take a timeout. When the cycle emerges, both partners need to cool their heads and warm their hearts before engaging. And some people just need a bit of time to think before they speak.
  • Genuinely apologize as soon as you are able.


You’ve heard that “silence is golden,” but when it comes to marriage, it can be a “marriage killer.”

It’s time we all ban the silent treatment from our marriages. The silent treatment is lethal to love.




Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott are psychologists and #1 New York Times best-selling authors of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. The Parrotts speak in more than thirty cities annually and they are founders of the renowned SYMBIS Assessment for couples. Learn more at LesAndLeslie.com.


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