Getting the Silent treatment

Couples counseling - Couples counselling You are probably familiar with the term: The silent treatment! Or perhaps you have been given “The cold shoulder”. If your tendency is to withdraw or back away when you are upset or angry then you are not alone. John Gottman calls this ‘Stonewalling’ Withdrawing or going silent is way more common than you might think, especially for those in a love relationship where they are struggling, but at the same time still trying to avoid conflict with their partner. Stonewalling or going silent, for whatever reason, are signs of a relationship that is heading for trouble.

Creating a ‘timeout’ or separating yourself from the triggering event in order to cool down is a smart move. There’s nothing wrong with that! This is a simple attempt at getting your emotions under control. And as a counsellor, I strongly recommend this. Stepping away from the conflict when you’re triggered or getting flooded is not the same as the lack of communication when you isolate yourselves from each other because you are avoiding dealing with the real issues behind what has you triggered in that moment.

Lack of communication is the top complaint of couples who come to see me. And this lack of communication can be far more damaging to the relationship than an argument. Arguments give us the chance to express ourselves and what we’re feeling and experiencing. They are a way of getting issues out on the table with the chance to discuss in the interest of finding a resolution. Even Gottman says arguments are a vital part of any relationship.

If you have the tendency to pull away then first consider why you are doing so. Then try to bring yourself back to remembering what you’re disagreeing about, what you’re upset about, and that this is something that can be solved. No argument or disagreement can be solved through the ‘Silent treatment’.

If it is a real issue it needs a real solution. And the only way to a solution is by communicating with each other.  It may help to realise that you and your partner are really on the same side, and whatever is bothering you can actually serve to strengthen your relationship if you’ll work to communicate and resolve it. Don’t let the lack of communication drive a wedge between you so you become stuck in a cycle of argue/withdraw/blame.

Finally remember that there are two types of arguments according to John Gottman, solvable and perpetual. Be sure to know the difference and adjust expectations accordingly.