How Does Silent Treatment Destroy Your Marriage?

 Couple unhappy

Have you noticed how the silent treatment destroys your marriage?

We can understand it by looking at what the silent treatment, or the passive aggressive cold shoulder (also know as "ostracism"), does to us emotionally. According to the experts, it can cause deep emotional pain and isolation, as well as destroying your trust in marriage.

Dr. Amen of Amen Clinics shares this with us: "ostracism can cause pain that often is deeper and lasts longer than a physical injury."

'Being excluded or ostracized is an invisible form of bullying that doesn't leave bruises, and therefore we often underestimate its impact," said Kipling D. Williams, a professor of psychological sciences.

"Being excluded by high school friends, office colleagues, or even spouses or family members can be excruciating."

'When a person is ostracized, the brain's dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which registers physical pain, also feels this social injury," Williams said.

The process of ostracism includes three stages:

  1. The initial acts of being ignored or excluded;
  2. Coping
  3. Resignation and acceptance of being not included, of being a non-member.

Fundamental to human needs are the feelings of belonging. Belonging assures the new born that survival is at hand; making it a question equivalent to life or death. Exclusion or ostracism is so painful because it threatens this need, and the core of our self-esteem. 'Again and again research has found that strong, harmful reactions are possible even when ostracized by a stranger or for a short amount of time,' said Williams.

More than 5,000 people have participated in studies using a computer game designed by Williams to show how just two or three minutes of ostracism can produce lingering negative feelings."

Ostracism Causes Lingering Pain in the Brain

As you can see, the silent treatment is more than a silent message of "I don't want to talk to you." It's a tool for deep psychological hurt, that sends the message to the receiver that they "don't belong."

In this way, one partner is forced into isolation from the love and support of the other. So, who would want to live with a spouse who is hurting their feelings and causing pain to their brain?

Sending the message that the other spouse isn't wanted or needed is always negative and always seriously damaging.

For a passive aggressive husband, the silent treatment is a common device that he uses to control his victim. Women married to passive aggressive men can attest to the damaging feeling of not being wanted and not being loved in the relationship. Some say that it makes them feel as if they are married to "a brick wall," "a petulant child," or simply, "a stranger." In other words, they feel they are living the marriage alone.

It is not just relationships as marriages that have to be careful: it is damaging in any relationship. The fact that we learn to use the silent treatment in childhood could be the reason why so many marriages nowadays struggle to handle conflict in a healthy way.

Our first reaction should not be to retreat into ourselves and "punish" the other person with a removal of our attention and love. Relationships falter when they are built on "punishing" each other when mistakes are made; it creates an environment of constant fear and instills an assumption that things "could end at any moment."

So, what do we need to learn?

Just the skills to confront, explain our feelings, share our motivations and negotiate with our loved ones how do we want the relationship to be...

We trust the other person as being able to understand, and improve their behavior according to our needs. If they know the sad impact, they will treat us better. And, just in case they can't treat us as we need to be treated, we focus on what options are available for us...

Should we stay or should we leave the relationship?

Here is where our self-esteem needs to be strong enough as to decide what is more nurturing and respectful of our life path, (do we stay and gradually lose our identity, or go and develop a strong sense of self?) and be able to pay the price of separation if the harm received is larger than the nurturing. If you are NOT growing in the relationship, probably it is hurting your development and sooner or later you have to stop the pain and recover your own self....

Be brave and think again what is the price you pay for not daring to appreciate yourself!

  1. Tami Reed, 26 June, 2016

    Reading a book on Passive Aggression like the ones you have written set me in the right direction because it was with further research I realized the relationship I was in could not be fixed. My question is Dr Nora what is the passive-aggressive person and a truly disordered person. Why I ask is when I realized a man manipulated me in ways through tactics like silent treatments. I thought he just was not able to express his feelings but now being out out the relationship he was truly a toxic person. In my journey to self discovery and research I created a page on Facebook that has been so healing to me and has benefited almost 800 people. My page has a lot of good information on it. I left a link below. I think it could really benefit your readers if they have any question at all that their partner is disordered. God Bless Tami

  2. Madeleine, 27 June, 2016

    Love is patient. We have to be patient. I live with a passive aggressive husband and I experience emotional abuse, but I understand how much he suffered when he was an infant. In fact, I see my husband as if he were a lost child. Thank you Nora for your help ❤.

  3. Madeena Nolan, 04 July, 2016

    Oh, God, I need to. My husband refuses to admit he has any anger. He SAYS he has now faced the rage he felt when the only treatment left him for very aggressive prostate cancer was castration; but he has almost refused to touch me since that time. He has said things like, “I just don’t desire you any more” (later apologized). We live at a distance; sex used to be the way we connected; right afterwards, he was open, emotional, loving–that would last two or three days, then the passive aggressive self was back. Now it’s all there is.

  4. admin, 18 July, 2016

    sorry that you are now in this desert…most men react in the same way to feel that they have some control over their situation. “It is not that I can’t, is she that is not appealing to me…she does not excite me” If you understand that he is talking from his hurt pride, perhaps you will be feeling less rejected. There is nothing that prevents you from hugging him, and touching him…Explain to him that, even for the time being sex is not to happen as it was before, still there is hugging and touching that you will appreciate receiving from him…Tell him that you need some caressing for medical reasons, will you? So, both of you avoid the painful conversation about why he can’t behave now in the way he used to before…

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