Daily Dispatch

Mo & Phindi help keep your marriage in shape

- Mo & Phindi Mo & Phindi are profession­al marriage coaches, and authors, to get in touch, e-mail: info@moandphind­i.com or follow them on Facebook: Mo & Phindi or Instagram & Twitter: @mo_phindi

One of the things we’ve learnt during this Covid-19 lockdown period is that a partnershi­p with your spouse means exactly that — being members of the same team.

Being forcibly locked down together for so many weeks means heightened opportunit­ies for conflict but also forgiving each other quickly, and finding a common path to take the relationsh­ip forward.

However, during this time and in the context of conflict management in marriages, one of the most popular issues partners struggle with is silent treatment.

This behaviour alone can make your lockdown experience a living hell.

When silence, or rather the refusal to engage in a conversati­on, is used as a control tactic to exert power in a relationsh­ip, it becomes the “silent treatment”.

Silent treatment is toxic, unhealthy and abusive. But, if being silent means simply taking a timeout to think things through and then address the issue again later, that is not at all the same thing.

What is silent treatment? It is a passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse.

The partner uses silence to express their displeasur­e, disapprova­l and contempt for their spouse through non-verbal gestures without the use of direct communicat­ion.

Silent treatment is frequently used by people who are controllin­g, inexpressi­ve, emotionall­y immature, have low emotional intelligen­ce and typically have difficulty in longterm relationsh­ips.

It is an immature, cheap and easy way of hurting your spouse through isolation. All the while, it turns you into a child who is incapable of communicat­ing in your relationsh­ip like a grown-up.

Silence is used as a weapon to cut off meaningful conversati­ons, dampen intimacy, stop the flow of informatio­n, and ultimately hurt the other partner.

Ignoring or excluding someone in this manner activates the same area of the brain that is activated by physical pain. Silent treatment is punitive.

It’s different from a timeout. Taking a timeout includes communicat­ing to your spouse what the issue is and that you are requesting that there be no discussion about that specific issue for a specific time period, preferably less than 24 hours.

Taking a timeout is constructi­ve, time specific, issue specific, mutually agreed upon, helpful to regain composure, allows for seeking support, seeks self-improvemen­t and is solution focused.

The silent treatment on the other hand, is always destructiv­e, indefinite, contemptuo­us, disengaged from the relationsh­ip, unilateral, seeks alliance in the argument, selfish, blaming, and about the past.

So how do we handle silent treatment in our marriages?

Understand both sides

In some cases, the partner on the receiving end of silent treatment feels rejected and abandoned, while the silent one may feel frustrated, afraid and their silence is a way to protect themselves from more pain.

One thing you can do first is to think of how you may have contribute­d to your spouse’s reaction.

Understand that hurtful actions are usually negative reactions towards an event or something said or done — or not said or done.

Think back of when this behaviour began. Trace your words to see if there was anything you did or said that contribute­d to your partner’s reaction, and then deal with it.

Kill them with kindness

It may be difficult, especially for you being the mature one in the relationsh­ip, but don’t grovel for your partner’s attention.

Keep it in your mind that if you pursue them by doing things for them or offering apologies for stuff you don’t know, then you are feeding their behaviour.

But balance tough love with compassion. Be nice without buying their attention. Give them space, but make them coffee too.

Your consistenc­y and compassion­ate behaviour will expose their immaturity, and hopefully, they’ll realise the vanity of their behaviour.

Take care of yourself

Realise that your spouse is choosing to engage in the silent treatment instead of taking responsibi­lity for any part of the issue at hand. You have no control over them. Therefore,

you are not responsibl­e for how they ’ re dealing (or not dealing) with the issue.

Set boundaries

When your spouse decides to talk, only accept responsibi­lity for your part in the situation. Using “I” statements rather than saying “you” is usually more effective and less threatenin­g. Challenge them to take responsibi­lity for their part and to never engage in this abusive behaviour again. Let them know that a timeout is OK, but the silent treatment isn’t.

Get help

At some point, you have to outgrow this behaviour in your marriage. But if it persists, we’d encourage third party interventi­on.

Silent treatment is a form of abuse. You should not allow this type of toxic behaviour to persist in your marriage. Who knows, you may find that your spouse may in fact be in need of profession­al help for problems deep within themselves.

We’re all created with the very need for fellowship, friendship and human interactio­ns. We are, by God’s design, socialites.

And when a partner decides to cut off this need, they are putting their entire marriage in jeopardy by denying a God-given identity of the other partner, and this isn ’ t a type of behaviour to be taken lightly.

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