Communication happens in many different ways. Even when your intention is not to communicate directly, you are communicating pretty loudly without uttering a single word. The problem with indirect communication is that you lose control of what is being said, how it is being said and even worse how it is being interpreted.
Picture this, a wife is upset with her husband because for the third time this week he forgot about dinner plans and came home late. He did not call to let her know he would be running late on each occasion. When he arrives home, she does not express her annoyance but instead gives him the silent treatment. What seems to be the problem here? Well there are two things wrong in this scenario. The first is that he gets home and doesn’t acknowledge that he failed to do what he promised or agreed to. The second is her response. She responds by giving him the silent treatment. It may be that she ignores him, or engages in the use of monosyllabic language to communicate, withdraws her affection or shuts down emotionally. Her response may communicate that there is a problem but there is no constructive dialogue to resolve the issue. What typically happens in a situation where one partner withdraws emotionally is the other’s response is to do the same. When both partners disengage it leaves room for the problem or the perceived problem to escalate or remain unresolved. The only conversation taking place in this scenario is the one happening back and forth in the wife’s mind. The mind has an incredible knack for reinforcing the thoughts of the thinker and refusing to bring those words to life will only serve to deepen the trenches of division that’s caused by the silent treatment.
The silent treatment is usually given as a form of punishment but what most fail to realize is that both partners are subjected to this punishment. It is a passive aggressive way of expressing dissatisfaction with another person. It’s saying “I have a problem with you” without saying it directly. The challenge is that the other partner is left to try to figure out what the problem is, if they are responsible or how they may have contributed to the problem. This can leave one partner feeling anxious or helpless because they are unclear of their role in the situation or what to do to make it better. In fact, chronic
use of the silent treatment as the primary means of handling conflict is a clear sign of an unhealthy communication pattern. Nothing good ever comes from this type of treatment and you do a disservice to yourself and your relationships by using this mode of communication. What seems like silence to you may be a loud intolerable noise to the other person with whom you are in conflict with. This war without words disrupts the balance in the relationship which could ultimately affect the quality of your relationship.
The good news is that patterns can be changed. So if this is a pattern that you have recognized in your relationships you can take steps to improve the way you communicate with others. Be intentional in your expression of your feelings. The next time you think about giving someone the silent treatment ask yourself three questions. 1. Is this communication style helpful? 2. What will you achieve from it? 3. What will your relationship gain from it? Assessing your behavior this way helps you to make better choices and engage in more productive ways of managing conflict in your life.