Speaking the Truth in Love

The Silent Treatment

Marital conflict is inevitable. Disagreements arise because spouses have differing perspectives, needs, preferences, desires. Even happily married couples rub each other the wrong way, but they try to avoid the blunders that make marital friction worse. One of these mistakes is “the silent treatment.”

When hurt or angry, some spouses (usually husbands) withdraw. They may slam out of the house, become sullen, or stop talking altogether. Separating for a short time can help tempers cool and allow reason to reassert itself. However, if the separation is to have a positive effect, its purpose and duration must be clearly understood. For example, if a man feels that his anger is getting in the way of resolving a problem, he may tell his wife, “Honey, I’m going to take a 30-minute walk so that I can calm down. When I get back, we’ll work this out.”

For at least a couple of reasons, the silent treatment (the refusal to talk for an undefined period of time) exacerbates marital conflict. First, it creates painful suspicion. What is the silent partner thinking? Is his mind roiling with hate? Is he planning to leave? Even if the uncommunicative person is thinking nothing malicious, the anxiety caused by the silence is detrimental to the relationship. Second, the silent treatment prolongs the agony of conflict. This is because communication is essential to problem resolution. Sharp disagreements are not worked out until they are talked out.

Although the scriptures contain no specific prohibitions against the silent treatment, the apostles give husbands good reason to refrain from inflicting it. “Husbands,” writes Paul, “love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:19). And Peter commands men to “live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex” (1 Pet. 3:7).

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