treatment from spouse can ruin relations,
Psychologists say the silent treatment
is one of the most destructive behaviors in a relationship
and women are a lot better at it than men.
By Ross Werland
CHICAGO Receiving the silent treatment from one's
spouse, life partner or extended date can be like waking
up with a horrible blemish on your face and stepping
in front of the mirror for the first time that day.
Whoa! You did not see it coming, and you certainly cannot
remember doing anything to deserve it. But there it
is, buddy, and you are going to deal with it all day,
maybe for several days, whether you like it or not.
Rumor was that Hillary Clinton treated Bill to about
eight months of it after the Lewinsky matter. If true,
in that special case maybe eight months was a tad lenient.
In extreme cases, though, some people might find the
silent treatment preferable to the non-silent treatment.
But those are extreme.
Relationship counselors list the silent treatment right
alongside other poor behaviors, the most serious being
physical abuse. In fact, they consider the silent treatment
Now, this should not be confused with a cooling-off
period of, say, half an hour or maybe even a couple
of hours, which is preceded by something like, Gee,
Im so incredibly upset with you right now because
you did (fill in the blank), and if we tried to talk
about it at this moment Id probably just spit
on you. So why dont we stay away from each other
for an hour or so until I calm down, OK, sweetie?
To this point we have not differentiated by gender.
Certainly the silence technique has been used by men
and women, but popular notions would suggest women have
honed this sharp stick a bit more vigorously than men
have. Or at least, when asked an objective question
about the silent treatment, women tend to answer as
a hunter would about his choice of weapon, and men tend
to answer as a deer would about the last time he got
When asked about their use of the treatment, some of
our test women said they have resorted to it rather
than say something so dreadful that the spouse might
shrivel and die on the spot.
One woman did point out, somewhat legitimately, With
guys, how can you tell youre getting the silent
treatment, because they dont talk anyway?
That aside, clinical psychologist and associate professor
Linda Roberts of the University of Wisconsin at Madison
has asserted in the Journal of Marriage and the Family
that such withdrawal can be just as destructive to a
relationship as plain old anger, barring actual violence,
And now psychology professor Kip Williams has stumbled
on a truth that many victims of the silent treatment
have always felt: that it can be damaging to the individuals
Those who have been so treated, he explains, report
a sense of not belonging, loss of control, lower self-esteem
and a feeling of unworthiness.
For the record, Williams works at Macquarie University
in Sydney, Australia, where, of course, the non-natives
are descended from some of the most severely ostracized
people the world has known.
As Williams told the Northern District Times earlier
this year, family life has developed an officially sanctioned
version of ostracism called the time-out
for children. Many family therapists would argue that
these cooling-off periods are therapeutic but should
never be too long.
Looking at the virulent strains, from romantic relationships
to the workplace, Williams uncovered a truth that should
prompt a new look at the whole situation.
Williams said he detected differences in the way males
and females deal with ostracism, or the silent treatment.
He found that ostracized females work very hard to win
back the good graces of others and that males do not.
There we have it. So a woman who uses the silent treatment,
figuring she will elicit the behavior she wants, most
likely is wrong. She will inflict damage, yes, but the
guy most likely will not comply.
In fact, due to the typically competitive male nature,
a woman may get something like, Oh, the silent
treatment. You want to do the silent treatment? Ill
show you the silent treatment. This would be followed
by a day or two of monosyllabic answers and head nods
And if the other part of the equation is true, that
once subjected to the death ray of silence, women eventually
will fall at the feet of the inflictor, well, argument
Girls, you just cant win on this one.