Silent treatment in a relationship

by | Jan 24, 2023

Silent treatment refers to a series of behaviors with the goal of ignoring someone after an argument. Wefeel’s psychologists, the creators of the game for couples, explain that it means ceasing communication with someone, or only speaking to them in a minimal and mechanical way.

It is a form of emotional abuse that you might have done or had done to you without even realizing it. After an argument, the other person stops speaking to you or doesn’t respond to your attempts to interact, completely ignoring your presence: this is the silent treatment.

What silent treatment looks like

What does ignoring look like? The psychologists at Wefeel, the game for couples, point out some of the most common ways:

  • Ceasing to speak to the other person or not taking into account what they say
  • Pretending that they don’t hear the other person
  • Distancing themselves or avoiding the company of the other person
  • Disregarding the requests or needs expressed by the other person or employing behaviors whose goal is to overshadow the other and make them feel invisible
  • Refusing to admit there is a problem, that they feel upset or that they’re annoyed
  • Avoiding eye contact and physical touch, as if the other person didn’t exist

Often this type of behavior is done to punish the other person. When conflicts and anger aren’t well managed, people often tend to want to harm the other and get revenge, instead of reflecting on the situation and looking for solutions.

Consequences of the silent treatment

The psychologists at Wefeel, the game for couples, maintain that silent treatment is a passive-aggressive behavior and a form of emotional abuse. It has significant negative effects, not only on the person at the receiving end, but also on the relationship.

On the receiving end, one of the first reactions is to feel uncertainty. Oftentimes, they don’t understand why they are being treated this way and they don’t know how to process what is happening. This can cause them to feel stress, sadness and anxiety.

Some people think that silent treatment is going to change the other person’s behavior and help them get their way. They consider it to be an educational tool. However, this is far from being true. Ignoring the other to punish them only breaks down the relationship.

Like other tactics that ultimately stem from defensive behavior due to insecurity, this is a poor form of communication. Silence is healthy when people are really worked up and need to calm down before making things worse. However, when it’s used as a method of control and punishment, it turns into abuse.


Alternatives to silent treatment

If you are having an argument with your partner and you don’t think you’re capable of dealing with the conversation at that moment, you have the right to take some time to think about it and manage your emotions. However, instead of leaving without saying anything and ignoring the other person, you can say something like this:

“I’m not feeling very well right now. I need a minute. Can we talk about this later?”
“This is really important to me and I don’t want to lose my temper. Give me a minute so I can calm down and think about it. Then we’ll talk.”

Another alternative would be to talk to your partner about how they are making you feel before the argument starts. Once we get angry, it gets harder to communicate. When we are calm, we can more easily express ourselves, our feelings and our needs.


It’s not always necessary to talk about all our problems, all the time. Everyone needs time to process their feelings and that’s okay. However, it is one thing to need a minute of silence and introspection to think, calm down and better understand a situation. Deliberate indifference is very different. It’s essential to let the other person know that after some reflection, you are going to be able to communicate and continue the conversation. This is affective responsibility.

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