The Argument Tactic Most People Use That Destroys Relationships

What's worse than a screaming match? Not talking at all.

Last updated on Jun 05, 2024

Silent treatment Juan Manuel Aguilar | Canva

You approach your partner with something important you need to talk about or a conflict you want to discuss. You start the conversation, say your piece, and wait for a reply that never comes. The longer you wait, the harder you try to provoke a response. Your blood boils. You've been hit with the silent treatment. On the other side, your partner demands your attention and hounds you to talk when you aren't ready or prepared. You're thoroughly ticked. But something keeps you from speaking what you're thinking because you don't know how to communicate better.  


So you shut down. The louder and angrier your partner gets, the longer you say nothing. Your rage rises in the quietness. You've perfectly executed the silent treatment. In the silent treatment, one partner demands while the other withdraws. The silent treatment is dangerous. Research finds "the demand-withdraw pattern to be one of the most damaging types of relationship conflict and one of the hardest patterns to break." When people exhibit this pattern, communication, intimacy, and relationship satisfaction plummet.

People become less agreeable and conscientious and more aggressive and neurotic. They have urinary and bowel problems, weakened immune systems, and even erectile dysfunction. Something needs to change. Of course, silence itself is not the problem. After all, a moment of silence allows us to honor precious memories or gather our thoughts before speaking. But with the silent treatment, something golden becomes punitive and quietly aggressive. Extended silence functions as a relationship weapon. We need to lay down this weapon and constructively face our disagreements. Outwit the silent treatment with "House Rules for Arguments." It will teach you how to communicate better in your relationship.


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Here is why the silent treatment is never a good idea, and how to better communicate instead:

1. Change your focus

To outwit the silent treatment, forget the content and observe the process. Pay less attention to what's being said, and more attention to your communication pattern. The process is what needs to change — immediately. Talk with your partner about the silent treatment process when you are NOT in it. Honestly discuss what you each need to do when tempers flare. Do you need time and space to process things? Does your partner feel rejected or abandoned when he or she is left alone? As you work to understand yourself and your partner, you'll be able to negotiate the change you need.

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2. Agree to create something new

Thinking about change, agree to create your very own House Rules for Arguments. These rules will govern each person's behavior — just like ring rules control a boxer's behavior. They'll exclude what is harmful to the relationship and include what is necessary for your emotional and physical safety.

3. Make silence golden

So ideally your House Rules won't allow the silent treatment. But if you do think some quiet time will help, I encourage you to allow a time-out to calm down before blowing up. If you're not calm enough after X minutes, check in with your partner and take another X-minute time-out. These time-outs are for gaining self-control — not for punishing anyone. Agree on the lengths of your time-outs. You might need 10 minutes, your partner might need 30. Answer these questions individually:

@ameliaperritherapy Couples conflict is difficult, to say the least. I hope these relationship tips and skills can be helpful to you.#relationshipskills #relationships #couplesconflict #relationshipconflict #marriageskills #relationshipadvice #marriagetips ♬ original sound - Amelia Perri-Therapy Heals

4. Negotiate your House Rules

Meet to discuss your unique answers and negotiate what will be acceptable and unacceptable for each of you. Listen to what your partner wants, and think about what you can tolerate. Remember to nix the silent treatment and add a golden time-out.


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5. Live by the House Rules

Make sure you each leave this conversation knowing what is and is not acceptable for you. These are your House Rules for arguments, and they will help you outwit the silent treatment. Your job is to abide by the House Rules that apply to you — even if your partner messes up. Someone needs to lead by example in this relationship. Let it be you.

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Gina Binder is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works with individuals and couples who feel stuck in life and helps them discover a pathway to healthy change.