Silence is golden until it isn’t. In a relationship, it can be a slow death.
It’s vital to understand just how damaging withdrawing love and attention can be to a relationship. Over time, with continuing neglect, love can dissolve to the point where there’s no going back.
In this episode, I talk about the three main levels of silent treatment:
1. Processing time to figure out what you’re going to do with what you just learned.
2. Cool-own time as a way to regulate what might normally be a heightened response
3. How to make someone you care about feel bad. I’ll give you one guess what that is.
Someone, whom I’ll call ‘Sam,’ wrote to me saying, “Hi, I recently discovered your podcast, particularly, the one about broken tools. I found it enlightening and relatable. Over the past two weeks, I’ve been listening as much as possible. However, I was quite disappointed with an episode I stumbled upon yesterday, where you repeatedly expressed your disinterest in politics.
“As an immigrant of color in the U.S., whose native country is significantly affected by U.S. foreign policy, or politics, I don’t feel I have the luxury to be disengaged from politics. Additionally, I believe the impact of governmental and social politics greatly contributes to my stress and anxiety. In my opinion, being disengaged from politics is a privilege that millions cannot afford. Our lives are adversely affected by those in privilege who ignore the deliberate and collateral damage politics inflicts on many of us.”
Sam, thank you for sharing that, and for expressing your disappointment in my stance on discussing politics. Let me say this: I understand where you’re coming from. And I want to preface my response with this: I still don’t like politics. However, this doesn’t mean I don’t care. That’s the difference. I don’t enjoy watching debates or attending rallies, but I still do, and that’s where the difference lies.
What I mean is, I can express my dislike for watching politicians lie on TV all day. It infuriates me. I know they’re lying, and I’m aware that many others do too, yet they still get away with it. I’m not going to name any specific politicians, but watching it drives me nuts.
I dislike watching it, yet I still do. Not all of it, but I watch a substantial amount, especially on issues that interest me. I research and learn about these issues. I find out where certain political figures stand on them before I vote because, yes, I vote – I care. I might sound confrontational, and that’s not my intention. What I’m trying to convey is that I have deep compassion for your situation. I fully understand that you feel marginalized, and you probably are, especially with the current charged political climate.
Just like I dislike divorce, I still study it. I try to understand all its facets, the psychological aspects, and the dynamics involved. I also explore how people can cope with it, maybe even prevent it, or if they must go through it, find the healthiest way to do so. I learn about all these aspects of divorce, but I still don’t like it. It’s unpleasant to experience or witness. Yet, I still educate myself about it and make decisions based on fact-finding and understanding as much as I can about it.
Sam, I just wanted to express this to you quickly, and to anyone else who might think that because I don’t like politics, I don’t learn about the issues, or therefore, don’t care. I absolutely do care, and that’s why I learn as much as I can. When I don’t have time, my girlfriend keeps me informed about everything political.
I hear it all, and I want to tell you, Sam, that I appreciate and respect your position. Believe me, what affects you affects me too. We can all look at these things and say, ‘What affects you affects me.’ Yes, but I don’t have the same issues as you.
Yet, you’re my friend. You’re my family. You’re my brother; you’re my sister. What affects you affects me. If you vote for one candidate, and I vote for another, and my candidate wins, you walk away sad because the issues your candidate was going to address and improve won’t be addressed. You’re not getting your values met, while I am.
But how can I be happy if you’re not? You’re my friend, my brother, my sister. How can I be content if you’re unhappy?
This is why I dislike the division politics creates. That’s what I was talking about in that episode. It’s not the politics itself, but the ‘who wins’ part that I dislike. Politics to me seems like a game.
Someone gets on TV and says everything we want to hear, but we have to do our own due diligence. We must do our own fact-finding, our own research. We have to ensure that those in power have our best interests in mind.
But we all have different ‘best interests,’ so that’s why we don’t all vote for the same people. But let me bring this back to the ‘disengagement’ you’re talking about. I’m not disengaged. I’m just not engaged in the drama, because politics seems to be all about drama, and campaigns more about smearing others than being pro-anything.
It often seems like there’s more propaganda and hype than standing up for something. Don’t get me wrong, the genuine aspect is out there.
Anything but, I just don’t like it. So, Sam, thank you so much for writing. I’m probably voting for the very people who support those in your position. If that makes you feel even a tad bit less stressed and anxious, I hope it does. That maybe I’m on the right path. I want you to be happy. I want to be happy. I aim for a win-win situation. It doesn’t always work out that way, but we do our best. Thanks for writing, Sam.
I hope this makes sense. We’ll be right back. We’re going to talk about something else now, no more politics this episode. We’ll be right back.
The silent treatment is something that some of us, including myself, have been known to do when we are upset or don’t want to talk, or when we want to make the other person feel bad. There are many reasons for giving someone the silent treatment.
I used to do it when I was married to make my wife feel guilty. I wanted her to feel guilty because I believed that if she felt guilty enough, she would change her behavior. I wanted her to feel bad about her behavior. If you haven’t listened to my show for a while, I’ve talked in several episodes about how my wife is an emotional eater, and I had a real challenge with that. I would make her feel bad for eating sweets and junk food. It’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s not something I’m glad I did, but I had to heal from my high judgment and the high standards I had in my marriage.
My emotionally abusive ways, because that was very emotionally abusive. The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse. It’s one component of it, but it’s… If someone said, ‘Yeah, that person gave me the silent treatment,’ ninety percent of the time it’s emotional abuse. The other ten percent of the time, it’s something that you’re trying to process. The silent treatment has many facets. It could be someone finding something out and just needing to process it. Like, ‘What just happened? You called who? You talked to who? You said what? You did what? Oh my God. I need to sit with this in my own mind. I need to reflect. I need to think about the implications this has on me, on our relationship, on our future.’ So, we might need to sit with that.
I think there’s a lot of that going on too. That’s not emotional abuse. That is, ‘Hey, give me some space because I need to process this.’ I’m not talking about that. I think it’s okay to do that, and I think it’s okay to tell whoever you need space from, that you need space. ‘Hey, give me some space. I need to process this. This is new information. I don’t know what to do with this. I don’t know what this means. I need some silence. I need some space,’ and hopefully, the person you’re telling this to gives you that space, that freedom to be alone. That’s important.
You need the freedom to be alone. You can’t always get it. Sometimes there are kids, sometimes there are obligations, but like I’ve said in the past, even ten minutes in the bathroom is a little freedom to be alone. You just need some processing time sometimes. So, that kind of silent treatment, I think, is very healthy. It’s okay. There’s another kind of silent treatment, which is, ‘I might get so upset that I’ll do something I regret.’ There’s that kind of silent treatment too.
If you jump into that space where you’re so upset that if you say anything right now, you might hurl a glass bottle through a window or worse, then maybe you need that silent time too. But again, I go back to the more productive comment you might tell the person, which is, ‘I need time to myself. I need time to process this.’ I think when you’re going to give someone the silent treatment, it’s fair to make that comment. ‘I need time to process. I’m so upset right now.’ You could say that. You may not say that at all. You may not need to say that, or you may not want to say that, and that’s fine. But to ask for the freedom to be with yourself, by yourself, is something that you have every right to have, and you deserve it. You deserve that if you need processing time, if you need cool-down time. Perfectly healthy, perfectly normal, in my opinion.
So, aside from that, let’s talk about the silent treatment with a different intention. The intention of wanting the other person to feel bad. That is an entirely different type of silent treatment.
That’s where emotional abuse steps in. This is where a relationship can degrade terribly. This is where a relationship can dissolve, diminish – just pick a ‘d’ word – and start being destroyed bit by bit because someone chooses to be silent to hurt another person, instead of being expressive and stating what the problem is. When I was married, my problem was that I didn’t like when she ate junk food and sweets because I feared she would gain weight and I would become less attracted to her.
I admit these thoughts were shallow, unkind, unhealthy, and sometimes mean. I was judgmental towards her behavior. When you’re so judgmental, there’s a point where you can only judge so much before the other person gets increasingly upset at you for all these judgments. Eventually, you just shut down and become silent because you don’t know what else to do, you don’t know what else to say. So, that’s what happened: I got to the point where I didn’t know what else to say or do. I knew she wasn’t changing, so what I was going to do was withhold love.
I was going to withhold affection, connection. I was going to make sure that she didn’t feel love, connection, support, nurturing, or anything from me, with the intention that she would feel bad enough to change. It’s effective in making them feel bad, but it’s not effective in the long run, and it’s not effective in causing change in them, at least not change that sticks. There are some people who will change in hopes that they don’t get the silent treatment anymore, but that doesn’t usually last because the person who changes doesn’t really change for themselves; they’re doing it to meet a need from someone else instead of fulfilling something they want to do internally. For example, if my wife really wanted to make these changes for herself – and she did, she wanted to make these changes. She knew she had a problem with emotional eating.
That was her challenge. I made it our challenge. I made it my challenge, and that was a big problem. As soon as I made her problems my problems, that’s when it became a problem in the relationship. As soon as I made it my mission to help her stop emotional eating, that became a huge component of the emotional abuse in our relationship.
Had I just said, “Hey, that’s your issue, and I’m here to help you if you need me. But certainly, I understand it’s your issue, and I won’t give you any grief about it. I won’t comment on it. I won’t give you dirty looks about it. Because that’s your issue. I know it’s a challenge for you, and it’s hard enough for you to deal with it on your own, let alone with someone else.”
Judging you, telling you what you need to do, what to eat, and how to eat – you don’t need all of that. I wish I had been the healthier person for her, showing her she had someone in her corner. The silent treatment, however, showed her that she was alone in this, and I was looking down on her because she hadn’t succeeded yet. I’m going to look down on you and think you’re inferior because you haven’t changed yet; you are the problem. You are causing all the strife in our relationship.
So, here I am, withholding love, connection, support, and basically saying nothing. It’s all silent, and she has to deal with her own challenges on top of having someone she’s committed to looking down on her as if she were worthless. Let’s call it for what it is. I would bet that’s how she felt.
She felt like nothing in my eyes. Unbelievable. And I’m telling you this today because if you give the silent treatment, or have it done to you, at least in the emotionally abusive way, this is what the other person is going through.
She was unhappy, starting to get depressed, losing her passion for living, for life. She didn’t know what to do with herself. Me, being the angry, silent person I was, hoping she’d feel guilty enough, hoping she’d feel bad enough to change for me. I saw her progress, or rather, digress, getting more depressed, more unhappy, becoming less and less passionate.
I saw that and still pointed my finger at her, saying, ‘Look how she’s fading. Look what she’s doing. She’s not doing enough for herself.’ Even as I say this now, I’m pointing my fingers, getting back into that old dysfunctional role I was in, pointing my finger at her, in my mind back then, blaming her for all the things she was supposedly doing to herself.
Yet, I was the one doing it to her. I was not connecting with her. I was not loving her. I was not supporting her. I was not the one and only person that she committed to, who was supposed to love her, honor her, and be the one that she could feel safe with in my arms. I was the person she was supposed to feel, no matter how much the world was falling apart, as long as I was there, everything would be okay. I was supposed to be that person for her, and I wasn’t. I was silent.
I was silent because I was so wrapped up in my own judgments and my own anger towards her. Instead of dealing with my own judgments and dealing with my own anger, and looking inward to realize that it wasn’t her emotional eating that was the problem in the relationship. It was my judgments about her behavior. It was my anger about her behavior that was the problem.
It was my lack of acceptance of her behavior. It was my unwillingness to be expressive, to say, ‘Hey, this is how it’s affecting me.’ It was my inability to express myself because I was a coward. I did not want to express myself to her, because if I did, she might see me for the bastard I was.
And if that were the case, she might leave me. My fear of rejection, my fear of abandonment kicked in, and I didn’t want that to happen. I needed someone there to love me. I wanted her to love me, support me, connect with me, and be everything that I needed, but I couldn’t do the same for her.
I chose to close up. I closed her off, withheld love, affection, sex, everything, just because I was angry at her behavior. This is so destructive. This was the downfall of my relationship, the downfall of my marriage.
If you’re listening and getting the silent treatment done to you, maybe this is the episode they need to hear. This is what destroys relationships. The person getting the silent treatment – it’s not your fault. You might have done something or be doing something that caused them to be silent, to make you feel bad in the first place.
You might have done something. There may be a legitimate reason they’re giving you the silent treatment. Again, I’m talking about the emotionally abusive silent treatment. There may be a legitimate reason.
But to be in a relationship where someone doesn’t express what’s really going on inside them, the anger they feel towards you, the disappointment, or anything they feel towards you, because they’re too afraid of what you’ll say or do – if that’s the case, if that’s what you’re experiencing, your relationship will dissolve, and a huge rift will be created, and it may reach a point of no return. Now, I’m talking about any relationship.
This could be brother and sister, husband and wife, husband and husband, boyfriend and girlfriend, girlfriend and girlfriend – it doesn’t matter. Any relationship on the planet. When you give someone the silent treatment with the intention to hurt them or make them feel guilty, typically in hopes that they will change, that they will be enlightened by your silence and think, ‘Wow, that person’s giving me silence, they must be upset with me, so here’s what I’m going to do to change and make myself a better person.’ It usually doesn’t work that way.
It usually works in the way of, ‘Wow, you’re giving me the silent treatment. I must not be lovable. I must not be worthy. I must not be worthy of your love, or anyone’s love. Because if you don’t love me, if we’re not good friends, good partners, or good relatives, then maybe I am unbelievable. Maybe I am the worst, and that makes me feel sad.
I’m going to get more depressed.’ We look at that and think, how is that an incentive to change? The silent treatment has the opposite effect of what we think it will. When we give someone the silent treatment to make them feel bad, wanting them to change through our silence, it actually causes them to feel worse about themselves, about not being loved, about not being supported. They’ll probably go into a further downward spiral, and the silent treatment will have the opposite effect than originally intended. This is vital to understand if you are doing the emotionally abusive silent treatment, or if it’s being done to you, that the relationship has very little chance of survival. If this is a continual thing, I’m not talking about a once-a-year occurrence. I’m talking about using the silent treatment as a coping mechanism, as something to get through the harder moments, the emotionally charged conversations. If you’re using silence as a weapon against someone you care about, they will feel like they’ve been shot. The outcome we want when we use this weapon is not the outcome we get.
The outcome we want is for the other person to change, or for them to come to a realization that, ‘Oh, yes. I did something wrong. I’m so sorry.’ We may hear those words every now and then when we give someone the silent treatment. They may say, ‘Tell me what I need to do so that you’re not like this. Tell me how to connect with you. What do I need to do?’ And when that happens, it’s almost as if the person giving the silent treatment is getting their fix. They might think, ‘Oh, good, that person got the message. My silence prompted them to want to change.’
So now we have this reinforcement that comes back to the person doing the silent treatment, and that reinforcement tells them, ‘Hey, it worked.’ But if you really think about the history of giving someone the silent treatment, consider all the times you did it. Afterwards, did it make the relationship better, happier, more fulfilling, and more passionate? Does the silent treatment amplify these things, or does it disintegrate them? Because what I see is the emotionally abusive silent treatment disintegrating these things. As those disintegrate, the relationship starts to flounder, to dissipate. Pretty soon, there is no more caring, no more love, because one person is always angry, and the other person is always trying to figure out how not to make them angry.
And it becomes a vicious, dysfunctional cycle that never ends. There is a lot to unpack with the silent treatment, but I wanted to address the main problems, the main issue with this being a regular part of any relationship. If it’s a regular part of the relationship, it is usually not fulfilling in any way. Because now you have someone who simply isn’t there, who seems to be upset all the time.
And as long as they’re upset, and giving you the silent treatment, what you’re doing is trying to make them happy in some way, which can teeter around the edge of being the supply for their narcissistic tendencies. I’m not saying that everyone who gives the silent treatment is narcissistic, but there’s a narcissistic tendency in there. If they are looking for you to feed that supply for their narcissistic tendency, then that cycle usually doesn’t end until someone steps out and says, ‘Whoa, I see what’s going on here. How do we get out of this cycle? We have to say, ‘No, I’m not going to do this anymore. I can’t be a part of this. If you, the person giving me the silent treatment, really have a problem, then don’t be silent. Be expressive.’ This is something I told my girlfriend a long time ago because she would do this.
When we first met, my girlfriend would give me silence for a month, two months. It wasn’t like complete silence; I didn’t walk around hearing nothing all day long. It was a lack of connection. She wouldn’t give me eye contact, and it would drive me crazy because I had done all this healing and got out of my own dysfunctional, silent treatment behavior. When I got into this new relationship, I didn’t think I had to deal with that anymore because I had done so much healing.
And my girlfriend had done a lot of healing too. I really thought that we had reached a new level and were connecting and meeting at
this new level, and it was going to be an awesome relationship from the get-go, but it wasn’t. It was more like I would say or do something that upset her, but I never found out until a month later that I had upset her.
And I went through a month of no connection, no eye contact, hardly any physical contact. I remember the first time this happened, and I said, ‘What is wrong? You haven’t looked at me. You don’t connect with me. I don’t feel any love from you. What is going on?’ And she said, ‘Nothing.’ I was like, ‘No, that’s wrong. I know something’s happening.’ This is where you trust your instincts because you know what it feels like when everything is good. You know what that feels like.
So you trust your instinct, and you think, ‘Okay, something’s not right here. I can feel it. I don’t feel the connection.’ You might even say certain things like, ‘You used to always kiss me at this time of day, or you used to always bring me lunch, or whatever. And now you don’t. Something has changed.’ Hopefully, you have someone like my girlfriend who said, ‘Well, I didn’t really want to talk about it because I didn’t want to upset you.’ I’m like, ‘Upset me? What? Share this with me. I want you to upset me. If I have to get upset, that’s fine. Let’s just talk about this.’ She goes, ‘Well, what you said last month about… I don’t know, such and such, that really made me angry.’ I was like, ‘A month? I’m trying to remember what it was about, going through history.’ I said, ‘What did I say?’ And she said, ‘Well, you said this, and it made me feel really angry, and I just thought, well, that’s who you are.’
I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. What did I say?’ And she would repeat it. I said, ‘So you thought I meant this?’ And she goes, ‘Well, didn’t you?’ And I said, ‘No, I didn’t mean that at all. In fact, I feel the complete opposite. I feel just like you felt about whatever it was.’ I figured out what it was about.
And she said, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Yeah, plus, I’m sorry if it came across that way. I had no idea it came across that way, and I’m really sorry. I didn’t know you were dealing with it that way.’ She suddenly felt better. She breathed. We talked and we connected, and it was back to normal. And I’m thinking, ‘A month went by. We could have talked about this a month ago.’ I said, ‘Well, don’t do that to me. Don’t disconnect from me.’ But she did again. It happened like two or three more times.
And I finally put the hammer down. I finally said, ‘Look, I approach it a little easier by saying, hey, you haven’t been connecting with me, what’s going on?’ It still took me some time, though. It took me several weeks after she went silent to really tell her, ‘Look, you haven’t been connecting. What’s going on?’ Again, she says, ‘Well, nothing, but…’ and we talk about it. Great, we get through it, and it usually is something that I might have to apologize for, but I didn’t know I had to apologize for it. Or it was this complete misunderstanding that, since we didn’t talk about it, she just held onto it. So, like I said, the third time, I think, I put the hammer down and I said, ‘This can’t happen like this. You can’t disconnect from me for a month because I walk around thinking you don’t care, you don’t love me, you don’t even want me here. You don’t even look at me. I can’t live with someone who doesn’t even look at me.’
She goes, ‘Well, I just don’t want to hurt your feelings, and I know I had to process this stuff.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t mind if you have to process something. It can take a day, two days even. That’s a long time for me, but don’t let it go. In fact, if you have something to say to me that you know will upset me, then upset me. Do it. Make me angry. Do you think I’m going to go off and smack you or something?’ I don’t know if I said that, but that’s how I feel. It’s like, ‘Why not make me angry? Let’s talk about this. Let’s get through this.’
She goes, ‘Well, I don’t like to do that. I don’t like to cause a conflict like that. I don’t want to make you upset.’ I said, ‘Make me upset. I would rather have you get your upset out at me, make me angry, or be angry at me if you have to. Now blame me for something, do something. I will take anything instead of a month of silence. Yell at me. Write me a note saying, ‘This is the problem. This is the problem I have with you. This is what you said. This is how I feel about what you did.’ I said, ‘Bring it up because I would rather have us hash it out in the moment instead of having to feel like you don’t love me for a month. I won’t do it anymore. I just can’t handle it anymore. I’m a touchy-feely kind of guy. I need to know there’s a connection there.
And finally, she started to get it. She said, ‘If I tell you something that upset you, you don’t mind?’ I replied, ‘I’m sure it won’t be pleasant, but I would rather be upset in the moment than have it drawn out for thirty days or more. I would rather just be upset and get it over with.’ She goes, ‘Alright, but you told me to do this.’
I’m like, ‘Yes. I want you to do it.’ She goes, ‘Okay,’ and she said, ‘Okay, I’ll do that.’ I don’t know how many months later, something came up. She said, ‘You said this was okay, and I’m going to do it.’ I was like, ‘What? You’re going to do what? What’s going on?’ She said, ‘Because you said, when I’m upset about something or I’m angry about something, it’s okay to tell you in the moment.’ I said, ‘Yes. Okay.’ Then my ears got wide open, and my mouth got shut.
I said, ‘Go ahead.’ She told me, and I said, ‘Oh, thank you for sharing that. I didn’t know that’s how you took it.’ I forget what it was about again, but we had a really productive conversation for the first time where we could actually hash things out, talk about it, and get through the moment. We figured out what was misinterpreted, who felt hurt for what reason, and we could talk about it. It was that day, whatever happened, happened that day, and we talked about it that day, and we got through it that day. After our conversation, I said, ‘Thank you so much. This is so much better. I love it. Thank you for doing that.’ She goes, ‘You’re not upset about what I just said.’ I said, ‘Of course not, I need to hear this stuff. If you’re feeling this way, then something I did or said was either misinterpreted or unintentional. I don’t think it was intentional to hurt you, but let’s talk about it.’ And when you have someone in your life that is willing to talk about these things, it’s a lot easier. I know a lot of people don’t, but I’m here to say that you’re better off talking about it as soon as possible, as soon as you’ve done your normal healthy processing on it.
Instead of going through the lengthy, painful silence of no connection and no love. Because that’s when the relationship starts to fall apart. I told my girlfriend, I would rather go through an argument where it’s so bad that we break up as opposed to staying with someone who doesn’t even look at me. I would rather do that. It’s the height of pain in a short period of time instead of a long duration of pain. I would rather have that short burst, that proverbial punch in the face, than that long duration of ignoring and feeling like I don’t matter, feeling like I’m not worth anything. That’s why I told her, ‘Let’s just talk about it. Let’s bring up the hard stuff, even if you fear that it could lead to a breakup.’ And that’s how we communicate now. Fortunately, we don’t get into too many arguments, but when it happens, we hash it all out then.
We bring it all up. We even ask, ‘What does this mean for our future? We want to figure out what it means. Well, if it means that we can’t live together, then let’s talk about that now. Let’s not think about it for days and days.’ I mean, that really hasn’t happened. There’s nothing that we really can’t get past, but we also support each other. We support each other’s happiness and we try to do what we can for the other person. It’s not about sacrifice. It’s about making small, loving compromises to support the other person.
So like I said, there’s a lot to unpack with the silent treatment. We’re just about out of time, but what I’m going to do is, after I say my usual goodbye during the outro, I’m going to read you an email that really inspired this episode. So, thanks for tuning in. Be right back.
I’m going to read you a quick email about the silent treatment, which partly inspired this episode today. I’m going to call this person Sarah. Sarah says, ‘I’ve read a lot about the silent treatment, but reading it from the point of view of someone who actually used it really helped me understand why my partner would use it against me. He’s killing me. And the wonderful thing is you talked about how you knew that and recommended not doing it. My partner goes silent when I call him on his anger. He can hold onto anger for days, even weeks, even if it has nothing to do with me, I still have to live with him. He’s giving me the silent treatment right now and your article helped me deal with the emotional pain. Thank you so much.’ Alright, Sarah. She’s talking about an article I wrote at theoverwhelmedbrain.com. If you want to read that, just type in ‘silent treatment’ in the search field and you’ll find it. But what Sarah might be dealing with could be a mix of emotional abuse, or it also could be that processing time he needs.
So, this is what came up in our second segment today, Sarah. Is this his way of making you feel bad? Or his way of saying, ‘I need space to process this’? Depending on your perception of what it really is. If it’s really him wanting to make you feel bad, then okay, we have a different problem. But the way you described it, especially because he’s not even angry at you sometimes, might mean that he needs more processing time than most people. I still say it’s great to express this. It’s great to have someone who feels safe with you to express these things, to have him express them. What’s going on with you? And I’m sure you’ve asked all the questions: ‘Where are you? Connect with me. Why won’t you share this with me? I’m supposed to be the one you can share anything with. What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’ And I’m sure he feels that energy even when you’re not asking those questions.
So here’s the thing. One part of this is that if he needs processing time, he’s one of these people that processes anger and doesn’t know what to do about it, and he just wants to punch someone and he knows that’s a bad idea, so he needs more time to process. What do I do with it? He doesn’t have maybe some of the processing skills or coping mechanisms that other people have, so he does it in his own way, and it can take days or weeks, unfortunately, for him to go through that. So, what can help with that, if that’s the case? And he’s not using this against you for some reason or wanting to make you feel bad? If that’s the case, if he needs all this time to process, one of your best bets is to approach him and say, ‘Hey, I know you need time to process. I’m here when you’re ready. I’m here when you’re ready to come back and connect.’
Now, what that means is you literally let him go. What that means is you seek nothing from him. You don’t put any expectations on him. Now, this sounds unfair, and I don’t know your whole story, but I bet you’re thinking, ‘Yeah, but what about my needs? What about my need for connection, my need for love? I don’t even know if he even likes me during this time.’ These were my thoughts. I believe that’s what my wife was saying. ‘You don’t even know if he likes me when he’s giving me the silent treatment.’ But let’s just say that you didn’t tell me this, but when he comes back, when he’s no longer silent, that he’s a loving, kind, and generous and supportive person.
But when he gets angry, he goes into that place. So when I’m angry, and when a lot of people are angry, we might need space to process it. He might need more space and time to process than maybe most people, but let’s just say that when he comes back, he is ‘normal.’ He is good to be around and supportive and loving and stuff like that. In order for him to come back, he may need someone to do a little something extra special for him, and that is the letting go. That is like the salesman coming up to you at the store and saying, ‘Hey, my name is Roy. I’ll be over here if you need me,’ and then they leave you alone, so you don’t have that pressure of sales. In this case, with the silent treatment, you don’t have the pressure from someone that says, ‘What’s wrong? What’s going on with you? Why aren’t you sharing?’ If
that pressure is taken off, and you then go pursue your own interests, whatever that means – you could go watch TV, go to work, play with your kids, go see a neighbor, go to your friend – you just do your own thing without expecting anything from him. The likelihood that he’ll come back sooner is great.
Like I said, “I don’t know your situation. I don’t know if this is going to be a hundred percent effective, but what I’ve learned, is that when people have that processing time. It doesn’t have to take as long as it normally does, but it ends up being longer when we pressure them to hurry it up in some way. When we pressure someone in a way of saying, what’s wrong, wired, you sharing what’s going on with you, and then we get mad at them, or we become depressed ourselves, maybe not depressed, but sad or disappointed or could turn into depression where we just feel like we’re left out of their lives. And then like I said earlier, maybe feel un unbelievable un. We take it on, so that’s the reason I asked, does he come back is he loving because if he if he does come back, and he is loving and it is everything that you want, then it sounds like that your relationship is generally that way but he needs this processing time, so right now, his processing time is a long duration. It’s it’s a long time, and it’s hard to go through but I want you to practice this, the next time this happens. If it’s happening now, practice this. Remove all expectations of him returning, and that doesn’t mean he won’t, because I’m pretty sure he will from what you’re saying, but remove all expectation. Don’t expect anything from him. Know that he’s in that space and give him that space and allow him to have it, and this is the hard part for as long as he needs it. Because as soon as you put any amount of pressure on he’s still processing. What it does is compounds the negativity inside of him. So as he’s processing the anger he can go through his own stuff. If he also feels the pressure of someone saying, when are you going to return? What’s going on? Why aren’t you sharing? Then it’s going to take him a longer time. To process that you know, that’s my guess he won’t come back for a while, so what does that mean? Why should you do this Is it unfair to you? Yes, it’s it’s sort of unfair. It’s a lot unfair because he goes away for days or weeks. That’s it’s unfair? But what would happen if his silent time shortened. What would happen if it instead of days or weeks, it was hours or days. Or minutes or hours. What would happen if he felt free to process and felt no pressure from anyone else to hurry up that processing or express himself, what would happen inside of him where he felt safe to be himself even if that meant silence, even if that meant disconnection. Even if that meant some separation time some alone time. What would happen? I know what happen with me. When my girlfriend says, hey, it sounds like you need to process this for a while, and I’ll leave you alone. ChatGPT
Like I said, I don’t know your situation. I don’t know if this is going to be 100% effective, but what I’ve learned is that when people have that processing time, it doesn’t have to take as long as it normally does. However, it often ends up being longer when we pressure them to hurry it up in some way. When we pressure someone by asking, ‘What’s wrong? Why aren’t you sharing? What’s going on with you?’ and then we get mad at them, or we become depressed ourselves – maybe not depressed, but sad or disappointed, which could turn into depression – we feel like we’re left out of their lives.
And then, like I said earlier, we may feel unbelievable, unworthy. We take it on. That’s the reason I asked, ‘Does he come back, and is he loving?’ Because if he does come back, and he is loving, and it is everything that you want, then it sounds like your relationship is generally that way, but he needs this processing time. So, right now, his processing time is a long duration.
It’s a long time, and it’s hard to go through, but I want you to practice this the next time this happens. If it’s happening now, practice this: Remove all expectations of him returning, and that doesn’t mean he won’t, because I’m pretty sure he will from what you’re saying, but remove all expectation. Don’t expect anything from him. Know that he’s in that space and give him that space, and allow him to have it. This is the hard part, for as long as he needs it. Because as soon as you put any amount of pressure on, while he’s still processing, it compounds the negativity inside of him.
So as he’s processing the anger, he can go through his own stuff. If he also feels the pressure of someone saying, ‘When are you going to return? What’s going on? Why aren’t you sharing?’ then it’s going to take him a longer time to process. That’s my guess; he won’t come back for a while. So, what does that mean? Why should you do this? Is it unfair to you? Yes, it’s sort of unfair. It’s a lot unfair because he goes away for days or weeks. That’s unfair. But what would happen if his silent time shortened? What would happen if, instead of days or weeks, it was hours or days? Or minutes or hours?
What would happen if he felt free to process and felt no pressure from anyone else to hurry up that processing or to express himself? What would happen inside of him where he felt safe to be himself, even if that meant silence, even if that meant disconnection, even if that meant some separation time, some alone time? What would happen? I know what happened with me. When my girlfriend says, ‘Hey, it sounds like you need to process this for a while, and I’ll leave you alone.
About half an hour later, I feel no pressure from her. I want to return to her. I want to come back. Because she has made me feel good about myself. She has made me feel okay to be not okay, so this might be a path for you, Sarah. You may have tried this. I don’t know. This might be emotional abuse. I don’t know. There’s not enough information here, but from the way you described it, when he’s angry at other people, he’s also silent with you. It may just be the way he copes.
Hopefully, he finds faster, more efficient coping mechanisms, but if this is what he’s used to and this is what he does, maybe he needs to go through it. If you can show up as that special person because you will need to make some of those loving compromises, in order to do this, but as an experiment, try it. If you haven’t already, just try it and see what happens. Thank you so much for sharing this.