If you're someone who's very vocal about what's troubling you, it can be quite a challenge to try and understand a partner who isn't as upfront about their problems as you are — especially when they're silent about them. After all, the sooner you communicate your issues, the sooner everything will be resolved, right? Nobody likes being on the receiving end of the silent treatment. So if you're someone who doesn't quite understand why your partner keeps giving you the silent treatment, a new study can clue you in. There's actually a certain psychology behind why people use the silent treatment as a way to deal when things aren't going so well.
In a study published in the Journal of Management Studies, researchers focused on how ambivalence can affect the attitudes and performances of company employees. More specifically, they conducted a series of three experiments on lower level employees to figure out how their attitudes toward their company affected their work performance. While their study focused on workforce relationships, researchers believe their findings could also apply to couples in romantic partnerships.
As the study found, people who used the silent treatment at work, which was defined as "withholding thoughts and ideas," typically felt that their employers weren't treating them very fairly. While that's not surprising, researchers believe that it goes a little deeper than that.
When people don't think they're being treated fairly by their company or their partner, they start to lose their sense of self-worth. When they get to the point where they don't believe their ideas or opinions matter, that's when they go silent.
Is The Silent Treatment Ever Effective?
"From my experience working with couples, the silent treatment is often used as a punishment and therefore I find it to be ineffective the majority of the time," marriage and family therapist, Erika Labuzan-Lopez, LMFT, LPC, tells Bustle.
Similar to the study, Labuzan-Lopez believes that it all comes down to the fact that one partner typically feels unheard, misunderstood, or that they're not a priority. Instead of voicing those concerns, they choose to "punish" their partner by witholding conversation, affection, and sometimes even sex.
According to Labuzan-Lopez, your partner giving you the silent treatment isn't necessarily a sign of immaturity. But she does believe it's due to a lack of knowledge or experience in how to effectively communicate in a healthy adult relationship.
"Many people come from families that either didn't talk at all about conflict or disagreements, or they came from a family that yelled at the top of their lungs about everything," Labuzan-Lopez says. "Neither of these communication styles provides a good blue print for how to have uncomfortable conversations."
While many people do try their best, some just have a low tolerance for uncomfortable situations. Because of that, they would rather retreat than face conflict head-on.
The Best Way To Deal With Your Partner's Silent Treatment
If you notice your partner is giving you the silent treatment, Labuzan-Lopez says it's OK to bring attention to it and a non-confrontational way. Say something like, "Ever since we fought, I noticed you haven't been talking to me as much. I'd really like to understand why and how we can move forward."
"This lets your partner know that you are truly interested in the thing they really want most — understanding," she says. "The silent treatment has a function, so it's important to understand what your partner really needs to happen to move forward."
If your partner needs space, give it to them. But be sure to propose a time when you can come back together and have a conversation about the issue. "I do not recommend letting the issue be dropped completely because then it never gets resolved or understood, and could be reinforcing the silent treatment pattern," Labuzan-Lopez says. Instead, it's all about challenging yourself to let your partner know you're there for them and that you want to work it out.
Sure, being on the receiving end of the silent treatment can be annoying, especially if you're someone who likes to hash issues out right away. But knowing how to deal with conflict in a productive way is a really important key to maintaining a successful long-term relationship. It's all about figuring out what works best for the two of you.