Love those little quiet, calm moments that you get in the day? It’s what people hope for, especially at a stressful time like the ongoing pandemic. But imagine if you find yourself facing a stony silence over a period of time from someone you care about — it’s not just uncomfortable and sad, but in most cases, can lead to a crumbling relationship. Giving someone the silent treatment — often used as a relationship tactic — can get magnified during the pandemic. At such times, when verbal communication help people share fears, allay anxieties and provide companionship, giving someone the freeze can be that much more hurtful.
‘It makes you feel like you are alone’
Home-based entrepreneur Meghna Chander went through the silent treatment phase recently. She shares, “My husband would just stop talking to me, it could even be an argument over something trivial. I ignored it at first, but then it would happen way too often. And every time, I’d end up sitting quietly in the corner, doing my chores alone, watching TV on my own etc. It’s like I was the only living in the house. I finally told him that I won’t be accepting that kind of behaviour anymore, so he stopped.” Some have experienced it even virtually in a long-distance relationship. They’d keep rechecking their phone to see if there’s a message from boyfriend/girlfriend, only to be greeted by silence and an empty chat box. This is counterproductive, so avoid it, advise experts.
When a person in a relationship faces silent treatment persistently, it can amount to emotional abuse: Experts
Psychologist Dr Seema Hingorrany says that the pandemic has seen a rise in this form of communication gap between couples. She says, “I’ve come across many such cases of silent treatment in my online sessions with couples and families. It does nothing, but mess our minds even more. In fact, this is the time our nervous system needs that social engagement more than ever as we are so cut off from the world; people are not meeting their parents, loved ones and friends as they don’t want to risk it. Silent treatment at a time like this is sufficient reason to pull each other into severe anxiety and depression. If it becomes a persistent pattern, it amounts to emotional abuse. People do not realise the harm it can cause.”
She shares what people who go through this, say. “I’m often asked to intervene and tell the other partner to interact again. Be it a spouse, family member, or friend, my advice to all is to never stop communicating. Even if you don’t wish to talk for the time being, say ‘Can I come back to you later? I feel like I need some time to myself now’.”
How to deal with it
Silent treatment or the denial to engage in verbal communication is a passive aggressive form of control. The emotional dependency on our partners has increased immensely during the lockdown, which makes the impact of this kind of behaviour much more intense, says Rashi Laskari, psychologist, giving solutions on how to deal with a situation like this:
Identify if it’s a result of poor communication skills: One or both partners could lack the basic skills of expressing their emotions/thoughts. They need to work on themselves. Also, give them space to process their feelings.
Don’t try to be a mind-reader: Avoid trying to figure what your partner might be thinking. This will encourage them to learn how to be direct/expressive their feelings.
Empathise: Don’t apologise just to bring back normalcy. It may reinforce the pattern without addressing the underlying issues. Instead, empathise with your partner about how they may be feeling, and discuss your intentions to bridge the gap of misunderstanding with conversation.
Initiate solutions: If your partner has shut themselves, you can start the conversation by acknowledging their emotions, discussing your own and suggesting solutions for them.
What next: Once communication has been re-established, build trust. Be a good listener. Understand more, debate less.
Set ground rules: This helps create alternative ways of managing future conflicts.
Approach an expert: Reaching out to a trained psychologist/marriage counsellor can help a couple learn effective skills to communicate themselves and manage conflicts.