Give Your Spouse The Silent Treatment, The Right Way

BY: - 12 Oct '11 | Marriage

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I was a repeat offender. Even before my husband and I got married, I struggled with giving him the silent treatment. You know what that is, right? When he would do something that hurt or upset me, I would go silent for days. Some people use the silent treatment deliberately to get revenge on the other person. I think my response was involuntary; it was a defense mechanism. While others might lash out, run off, or break down as a way of protecting themselves from further harm, my body responded by “choking up.” My earnest desire would be to discuss the matter and move forward, but I couldn’t. I was physiologically paralyzed. This would last for several days –no talking and shallow breathing caused by a huge ball of anxiety lodged in my throat. Imagine the tension in the relationship and in the house.

It took a few years for me to realize why I choked up and what I needed to do to respond more productively to disappointment. I’m happy to report that I no longer respond with the silent treatment for several days now; usually it just lasts an hour or so. But I use this time to process what’s happening and to find the right words to respond to my husband in love. So, that’s the negative application of the silent treatment. Here’s the positive.

After 15 years of marriage, my husband and I have learned to communicate with each other without using so many words. I’ve heard from other married couples who say after 30 or 40 years, words just aren’t as important anymore. Sure, they talk to each other, but they know each other on a much deeper level than words are able to express. They have a true spiritual, emotional, and physical connection that the dictionary can’t define. I believe that type of connection comes from repeated application of the silent treatment the right way, which involves expressing your love and appreciation for each other through nonverbal acts of communication.

Sometimes you need to take a vow of silence and say, “Let’s make love, let’s learn more about each other ““without using any words at all.” Instead of tearing down the marriage and disrupting communication for days, it makes the marriage stronger and teaches each person how to be intimate with and attentive to the other person without being stressed about finding the right words to say. The silent treatment the right way includes:

…Spending time just holding each other.

…Playing footsie under the sheets.

…Giving each other a massage.

…Slow dancing in the living room.

…Holding hands while walking in the park.

Let’s take it even further: Imagine an evening alone with your spouse. The rules are simple ““ no talking. Begin by gazing into each others’ eyes. When you are tempted to look the other way, force yourself to focus, to stay connected. Speak with your eyes. From the eyes, move to the touch. Don’t use your hands just yet. Start with the feet. Actually, just the toes. Make every part of you, no matter how large or small, talk through touch. Make each toe kiss and caress. From there, you can move to other areas of the body. Pay attention to the pinky finger, to the knee cap, to the ear lobe. Every once in a while, go back to the eyes. Focus on each other and allow the energy between the two of you to do all the speaking. There’s no telling where this silent adventure may lead, but it is all good because you and your spouse are drawing closer together rather than pushing apart.

If you are single and dating, don’t think you can’t apply the silent treatment the right way. Although I don’t recommend taking it to the degree a married couple would go, it is important that you are comfortable being silent and present with your significant other. There’s something wrong if the two of you have to be in constant verbal communication in order to feel secure in the relationship. In particular, if you are dating someone and he/she can’t look at you in the eyes, then you might want to look elsewhere for a significant other.

The difference between the negative silent treatment that punishes and disrupts communication and the positive silent treatment that builds intimacy and deep connection is pretty clear. More of the positive and less of the negative could lead to you and your spouse still “making eyes” at each other after 40 years of marriage. The key is to understand that sometimes words just get in the way of expressing our love for each other. Every now and then, give each other the silent treatment the right way. I guarantee you won’t need so many words to express how you feel once you truly connect with each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Has the silent treatment been an issue in your relationships? Do you have any plans to implement it the right way?

About the author

Dr. Michelle Johnson wrote 75 articles on this blog.

Dr. Michelle Johnson is the founder of Alabaster Woman Ministries, an online international women's ministry. She is a wife, mother, writer, speaker, teacher. Through her daily blog, online radio show, and video Bible studies, Dr. Michelle encourages women and married couples to make God the center of their lives.

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33 WordPress comments on “Give Your Spouse The Silent Treatment, The Right Way

  1. Discussion King

    I thought there would be a ‘how to not do the negative’ here. It’s cool that’s it’s not included.

    I strongly support that ‘right way’ silent treatment. Dr. Na’im Akbar speaks on a similar principle of existing in silence and being comfortable there in his book The Community of Self (great read). I’ve thought about this with romantic interests and you’re right Michelle, being challenged to exist in silence means there may be some other things there to evaluate. Thanks for the reminder!

    And this is awesome.. –> “From the eyes, move to the touch. Dont use your hands just yet. Start with the feet. Actually, just the toes. Make every part of you, no matter how large or small, talk through touch. Make each toe kiss and caress. From there, you can move to other areas of the body. Pay attention to the pinky finger, to the knee cap, to the ear lobe. Every once in a while, go back to the eyes. Focus on each other and allow the energy between the two of you to do all the speaking.”

    Reply
    1. Dr. Michelle Johnson

      Hello. Thanks for reading and sharing. The ‘how to” is sorely needed for folks who struggle with that issue. It takes some soul searching and uprooting to figure out why we do what we do to protect ourselves.

      I must check out the book you recommended. Thanks again.  

      Reply
    2. Dr. Michelle Johnson

      Hello. Thanks for reading and sharing. The ‘how to” is sorely needed for folks who struggle with that issue. It takes some soul searching and uprooting to figure out why we do what we do to protect ourselves.

      I must check out the book you recommended. Thanks again.  

      Reply
  2. Abi

    Hi Dr Michelle:
    I ‘ve been lurking here and learning through your posts but today I decided to comment. I am   not married yet but I will be using this great wisdom once God blesses me with my better-half. Wow, it is so refreshing to see people in the Kingdom talk about sex, intimacy and marriage in this way. For so long, these subjects was left untouched and people treated them as something to be ashamed of. I want to be whole in all areas of my life and this is a message that everyone needs to hear.

    Reply
    1. Dr. Michelle Johnson

      Hi Abi. Welcome to BMWK. I am glad you aren’t lurking anymore. Singles are definitely welcome to share. What you said is part of my mission. Real talk that helps people be whole! Stick around, okay?  

      Reply
  3. Ronnie_BMWK

    Dr. Michelle…great article.. I too had an issue with the silent treatment especially when our conflict went unresolved. I was silent because I was hurt and because of my pride. Over the years, I have really learned to shorten my periods of silence.   I had to learn to let go of my pride and to continue to work towards a resolution.

    And I know exactly where the silent couch session would lead us!!!

    Reply
  4. Dr. Michelle Johnson

    Hey Ronnie. Ditto on ALL of it. (Wink!) The ball in my throat has gotten smaller and now I force out a few words even if it is just to say we will talk about it later. That’s stops the silent train from going off the tracks. We learn over time, don’t we. Thank God for patient husbands!!  

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Really like this article ,I am just beginning   to practice the silent treatment in a good way.It does work, It adds a dash of spice.My husband and I some times play tag too.We love to talk to each other with our eyes and often hold hands.So I look forward to trying a night without talking.Thank you First Lady.

    Reply
  6. Aisha Greene

    Great great article. I used to be the “bad” silent treatment offender. Mostly because at times I thought it was better to be silent than to be mean. But really – why be either?

    Reply
    1. Dr. Michelle Johnson

      Thanks Aisha. I agree. It is better to be silent than mean. I think sometimes, though, we use silence to be mean.  

      There is another type of intentional silence that adds another dimension to a romantic relationship. My husband and I have found great beauty and passion in it.  

      Thanks for sharing.  

      Reply
    1. Dr. Michelle Johnson

      Hi Shelly. From what I have heard from elders who have been married a while, you gotta try new things to keep marriage interesting. If folks can ‘role play” like they did in Reed Between the Lines, then surely we can try to be silent and intimate with our spouses. Give it a try! :)  

      Reply
    1. Dr. Michelle Johnson

      I don’t apply it when I am upset. Seems a bit much for me. But I do apply it at other times. When I am upset, as I wrote, I take an hour or so to gather my thoughts in silence, which is much better than taking days. Silence can be good and bad. If you only focus on the bad then you miss out on how it can bring you closer. Hope that makes my point clearer.  

      Reply
  7. Jenise Bradshaw

    lol, I just ended my 5 day silent treatment.  I thought I was the only one but it seems like I am not.  For me, it is a defense mechanism.  Communication is key and I know we lack in that department, even though it has been 14 years.  He just wont budge when I need him too and so, I go silent to reflect on what has happened and to forgive him for what he doesn’t know or care to know.  I will take your suggestions into consideration.  Thanx

    Reply
  8. Jasmine

    Thank you Dr. Michelle for this article. I am guilty of giving my husband not just the silent treatment but also the cold shoulder. This really puts what I’ve been feeling into perspective and I will definitely not waste anymore precious weeks on not speaking to my better half because it scares me how good I’ve become at it! Thank you again

    Reply
  9. Eddie

    Hello Dr. Johnson

    Its funny that you mention this. I have done this technique, not that I’ve known about this, but I have always tried to make connections with my wife. Now I’m not saying we are having problems, I’m always trying to find new ways to connect with her. When we have an disagreement, it seems we take each other through the negative silent treatment. Seeing that this was getting us nowhere, I tried to just simply look at her, and it “ALWAYS” remind me of how much I love and appreciate her. The more I do this, the easier it is to talk, and trust me, finding the right words is much easier. So I know from personal experience that your advice works!

    P.S. This was my first time reading one of your articles, and I currently going to school to be a psychologist.

    Reply
  10. Briana Myricks

    Great post Dr. Michelle. I sort of started doing the positive silent treatment when I found out my husband’s love language is physical touch. I offer massages, and give hugs, and cuddle. This time I’ll let the touch do the talking.

    Reply
  11. Natasha

    Dear Dr Johnson,
    I found your article very interesting and if one can implement it, it can definitely be very constructive, instead of breaking down the communication. But when he has hurt me or yelled at me, how can I play footsie or be so kind and forgiving to make love with him? His behaviour was out of balance (getting worked up and yelling over me making a point that perhaps next time he can do something differently, he somehow took this as if I am telling him he is useless), and therefore I feel hurt that he yelled and ruined my day out with family and therefore I don’t even want to be close to him (someone who hurt me). I would really like him to ask me what’s bothering me, so we can talk but he doesn’t budge. He only says, “you seem cross with yourself!” and I really don’t know what to answer to this statement, as I know he doesn’t want to hear “well you made me cross”, let alone playing footsie! Please help me.
    thank you
    Natasha

    Reply
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