3 Steps For Overcoming The "Silent Treatment"


3 Steps For Overcoming The "Silent Treatment"
What do you do when your lover turns to stone? Understand why and follow 3 steps to overcome it.

The problem I have just described is called Stonewalling. Pauline described Frank as a solid wall. That wall imprisons one person and keeps them from expressing strong emotions while keeping the other person outside the impenetrable barrier.

Dr. John Gottman, a renowned psychologist and researcher, has been studying couples in his University laboratory for more than twenty years. Stonewalling is a problem that he recognized as detrimental to a happy relationship. In his research he found that some people become physiologically overwhelmed or "flooded" when a situation heats up.

As a result, they turn off and tune out. It is as if they are paralyzed, unable to say what is going on. Their partner sees this "silent treatment" as a red flag and usually becomes more and more frustrated. The more the annoyed partner escalates, trying to get a rise out of the stony partner, the more that partner withdraws. The result can be miserable for both parties. Once a person understands that the stonewaller is truly paralyzed and is not just being uncooperative or obstinate, he or she can stop being angry and start to have compassion for the silent partner.

If you recognize yourself as a stonewaller or you are in a relationship with someone who gives you the silent treatment, it is vital for you to understand this problem and know what to do in order to keep your relationship from disintegrating. Since stonewalling is the result of a physiological state, there are things that couples can do if one partner suffers from this reaction to stress.

Here are 3 solutions to this vexing problem:

1. Recognize the signs.

One of the solutions to stonewalling in a relationship is for each person to recognize the signs and decide on a response that is kind and reasonable. Alicia acknowledged that when Dave said, "I have to get out of here." It meant that he was in dire discomfort. Frank's signal was pursed lips.

2. Decide on an appropriate action.

Alicia agreed that when Dave said, "I have to get out of here," she would let him go. Additionally, they had an agreement that they would make an appointment to meet again within 24 hours to resolve whatever problem was on the table so Alicia would feel understood.

Pauline asked Frank if it was ok for her to ask him if he needed a "time out" when she observed him starting to purse his lips. Keep Reading...

Article contributed by

Gloria Arenson

Marriage and Family Therapist

Gloria Arenson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Diplomate in Comprehensive Energy Psychology and author of 7 books. She is passionate about helping people help themselves to be free of negative emotions and compulsive behaviors. 


Location: Santa Barbara, CA
Credentials: DCEP, EFT-ADV, MFT, MS
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