I’ve been on the receiving end of silent treatments. John Gottman, the foremost marriage researcher, calls it “stonewalling” and has found it is a severe relationship indicator of trouble if left unchecked.
I didn’t know it inflicted the sensation of physical pain, but, oh, how it hurt.
The use of retreating and silence controlled me. I became afraid of discussing specific topics for fear he would flee. Confrontations and honest discussions diminished, as I felt increasingly paralyzed.
I can understand how some men think they’re doing a kind thing by not blowing up in rage. Honestly? I’d rather a hostile conversation than none at all. To disappear leaves me with the impression that I don’t count.
At times I felt beaten to death my ex’s habit of retreating; other times, I thought I’d become ghostlike and had disappeared. It was as if I had ceased to matter. The closeness I felt for him began to shrivel and wither away. It had to, it was the only way to survive — to disengage myself, so it hurt less the next time he disappeared. It eroded my tender feelings.
The silent treatment is an act of violence. I suspect if those who use it listened to themselves very, very carefully at the moment they enlist it, they would discover they feel a sense of explosive rage at that moment followed by a wish to hurt or to get even with their partner. There is nothing remotely honorable or noble about the silent treatment.
I can tell you firsthand it’s effect is destructive. You might as well have left marks on my body. They certainly were left on my soul.