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What's with the third degree, wonders a reader. Photo for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: Pixabay

Dear Doctor,

Why does my significant other give me the silent treatment when he is stressed? How do I deal with them when those instances occur?


Answered by Sneha John, Clinical Psychologist, Camali Clinic Child & Adult Mental Health

Sneha John

Dear Reader,
Thank you for reaching for help regarding this concern. Silent treatments are frustrating and painful. It can feel like a punishment and even a form of criticism. The silent treatment is a common pattern of conflict for committed couples, and it can be damaging if left unaddressed. I would like to appreciate you for taking a step to resolve this concern by seeking advice from a professional. It is important to break this communication pattern, and there are constructive ways to respond so that both of you can agree on.

Take time to cool off

During a time of silence both partners should pause to reflect on what led up to the silent treatment episode, especially if it was preceded by an argument, fight, or emotional outburst. If you're on the receiving end you may feel frustrated and angry, so take a cooling-off period to calm down.

Don’t personalise the treatment

It is common for partners to personalise silent treatments. As a result, this could lead to self-blame and guilt. The silent treatment is a passive-aggressive form of communication. Acknowledge your mind’s tendency to over-think the entire situation leading to a spiral of negative self-critical thoughts. While those thoughts are normal, ruminating on them will not help. As soon as they come, make an intentional choice to let them go and use positive self-talk by saying, ‘I have communicated to my partner that I am ready to resolve this issue when he is ready to speak. Over-thinking is not going to help.’

Give your partner space to think

Avoid trying to figure out what your silent partner or spouse is thinking. Try not to presume possible reasons for the treatment, it only makes it worse. Communicate to your partner, that you will be ready to speak when he/she is, that you will listen first and then respond. The silent treatment is also a result of a culmination of different failed attempts to communicate. It is important that conflict resolution does not comprise of a series of back-and-forth conversations where each partner is blamed. Rather be clear with your expectations and find a middle ground. If there are certain things that seem unacceptable between both partners, express how you feel about it in a simple and brief manner without provoking or nagging. With the understanding that some change may be difficult as a result of certain habits formed, address that this would be best for the relationship. Seeking professional help would make this process easier.

Prioritise the relationship over emotions

As a couple, commit to protecting your relationship over emotions. This means that you would work towards understanding each other and moving forward. Agree on a conflict-resolution strategy. The goal should be in bringing out the best in each partner. Even when differences exist, think of creative and respectful ways to settle them.

Make apologies count

Let apologies lead toward change. Apologising when each partner really means it strengthens the relationship. Try to empathise with your partner by saying you understand that they're upset or angry and that you would like to bridge the gap that has come between you.


Acknowledge personality differences

Introverts need more time to process their emotions, especially when things get intense or they feel that they've been attacked or insulted in some way. Give your partner a certain amount of time to themselves and that you'll be back after the time is up to talk.

Set rules for healthy communication

When communication is difficult it can help to create some rules. Give your partner (and yourself) permission to calm down. Sometimes when we feel waves of anxiety, panic, or rage, our bodies become saturated with adrenaline. It happens when intense feelings, thoughts, or sensations are just too much to integrate in the moment.

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Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of doctors are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.