When your partner gives you the silent treatment, it can feel like they’re saying a lot without saying a thing. The chill can often be more powerful than any words. Still, it is far from specific. And by refusing to engage with you, the options for how to move forward are limited. However, you can re-open communication with patience, persistence, and caring.
Before trying to break through their icy defense, spend some time alone. Reflect on the situation, connecting with your feelings and thoughts about what’s going on. Validate your experiences by letting yourself know that your feelings are understandable. If you question this, you might want to ask for support from a friend.
Next, try to make your best assessment of what your partner might be feeling and thinking. When you are aware of being pulled into a defensive position, choose to consciously make note of this -- taking an objective perspective. If you find it difficult to put aside your feelings as you do this, tell yourself that you are just trying to understand their position -- you are not ignoring or minimizing your own experience. Your goal is to open yourself up to empathizing with them.
Follow up by inviting your partner to share their thoughts and feelings with you, but don’t demand it. Ask them at a time when things are calm and you think they would be most likely to share. You might also explain how they are important to you, and so you very much want to hear what they have to say. If they are still unwilling to talk, let them know that you are there to listen when they are ready to share.
Then give them space. This might mean an hour, a day, or a few days. Do your best to be patient. When your partner does finally approach you, be open to discussing the problem. Try to empathize and have compassion for their struggles. After they feel you have really listened, they will likely be more open to listening to you. Though it may take more than one conversation, you will hopefully be able to work through the problem in a way that leaves you both feeling that you have been heard.
After this situation resolves or is calmed, it is extremely important to revisit your partner’s use of the silent treatment. Ask what makes them go cold and prevents them from talking through the issue sooner. Work together to find a way for them to more effectively share those feelings.
People resort to using the silent treatment because it loudly communicates what they feel they cannot say verbally. If this is a common pattern, it reveals a painful divide in your relationship. The good news is that finally breaking the silence does more than just resolve the immediate conflict. It also brings an invaluable opportunity to practice working collaboratively toward enjoying a closer, warmer relationship.