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Silent Treatment - Responding to a Cold Condescending Partner

Updated on October 13, 2015

When faced with unrelenting frosty or patronising comments from a partner who is giving you the silent treatment it’s difficult not to react instinctively with equally icy or cutting comment. Not taking the “bait” can be very hard indeed as it’s natural to want to fight fire with fire. However if you can be consistent with not rising to the bait, then the silent partner may tire of their tactic since it has diminishing, little or no effect. No guarantee this will happen of course, but still it’s worth being the bigger person rather than lowering yourself to participate in hollow, immature, pointless game playing. Some may find that bringing to mind a pre-prepared mantra helps them resist the temptation to play their partner’s manipulative or provocative game. For example you might say to yourself “I have Willpower, and I am using it!

Your Responsibility to Yourself

Be conscious that it’s your responsibility not to allow others to bring you down, your responsibility to uplift yourself rather than be emotionally controlled by someone else. It’s a good feeling when you know that you are increasing your resistance to the game playing. Engaging in tit for tat exchanges with a passive aggressive person is counterproductive in the long term so it makes sense to be mature and stop engaging in unnecessary confrontation.

When the silence persists on and on, it can help a lot if you can choose to approach successive conversations and encounters as a new, and thus a fresh opportunity to have the relationship get back on track. Therefore, do say good morning and good night in a pleasant manner, just like always. Part 3 of these articles also relates.


Deep inside your “not speaking” partner may be screaming “notice me/ask me what’s wrong/say you are in the wrong/apologise/you should be upset ‘cause I’m not talking to you ...” and the rest. In being mature, empathetic and conciliatory, you might want to quietly say something like “I see that you may have some issues going on at the moment and if you want to talk about something sometime, I’m here for you”. Let your words sit for a short time and then go about your business. Even if you then only get a frosty “fine” response, or no response at all, you know you have played a part in trying to get the relationship back on track.

In the meantime, of course, you can reflect on anything obvious you may have done to offend or upset and IF there is anything you genuinely feel needs an apology you should sincerely give such apology. However if you don’t consider you have anything to be sorry for, and/or just don’t know what’s wrong, and have nicely asked once, you shouldn’t say sorry. Nor should you have to beg and beg to know what the issue is (and if you do so you are indeed playing your partner’s futile game). Part 4 of this series has some guidance about dealing with persistent silent treatment givers, agreeing and instituting cooling off periods which can help.

When your Partner Tries to Provoke You

Concerning telling your partner what you’re doing, where you are going etc when they insist on being distant, remote, and tight lipped about what they are doing, it is recommended you continue to share your plans. Stopping could be considered “tit for tat” behaviour and doesn’t help the situation any. Once things get back on track it’s good if you can have a calm and serious conversation with your partner and explain that the silences are potentially doing great harm to the relationship and discuss cooling offer periods and the like.

Rising to the bait of a passive aggressive person escalates dysfunction in the relationship - so why do it? Yes, it is difficult to be the bigger person especially if something in your psyche is telling you that you are being a pushover and letting your partner off lightly with regard to their immature negative behaviour, but do remember two wrongs don’t make a right. For the long term you can hold your head high and know you did your best to do the right thing in very difficult circumstances. Ultimately the relationship may end, it may improve or it may stay the same but in any event you’ll know you did your utmost to move things in a more positive direction.

Is it time to Change the Way you Respond to Silent Treatment?

Strategies for Coping With Silent Treatment from your Partner

If you have not already read the introductory article in this series about Silent Treatment or the first of the How to Cope Articles - please do see the links below.


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    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      No need to apologise, Ebonny. We all have other things to do and more important issues to deal with from time to time.

      I'll look forward to reading more from you when you 'get back into the swing'.

      All the best,


    • Ebonny profile image

      Ebonny 2 years ago from UK

      Hi Melissa

      Thanks so much for your comments and I must ask you to please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you.

      If both partners are content with the length of the cooling off period I certainly agree it can be a very prudent coping mechanism. Having quiet time and space to become reflective and calm following an awkward episode or dispute isn't abusive if it's time limited and both parties know what the timings are. However I believe if what starts as a cooling off period extends indefinitely it is then that it can evolve into silent treatment and indeed become hurtful and abusive, especially if it happens on a regular basis.

      I also agree that for some there may be no conscious abusive intent, whereas for others they had no conscious abusive purpose to begin with but somewhere along the line, on noticing that giving their partner the silent treatment results in them gaining the upper hand, they go on to repeat the behaviour time after time. There are also those who are unfortunately quite calculating about what they are doing when they give their partner the silent treatment, and this is especially concerning.

      From what you say I believe you fall into the first category in the above paragraph and I really appreciate you taking the time to share.

      Best regards, Ebonny

    • Ebonny profile image

      Ebonny 2 years ago from UK

      Hello Ann

      I needed to take a bit of a break from Hubpages and do apologise for the delay in responding to your thoughtful comments on this hub, and indeed the previous ones. Hopefully I’ll get back into the swing of things soon.

      With thanks and best regards, Ebonny :-)

    • profile image

      Melissawilkinson3 2 years ago

      This is a great read Ebonny. As I stumbled across your hub, I decided to read it, because I have been guilty at times for giving "the silent treatment" to my spouse. I've never seen it as being emotional abusive or manipulative, so it's interesting to see a different perspective on this topic. Really makes me think...

      I wonder, is it possible that some people, like myself, just need to have that "cool down" period, so that they can approach the situation with a level head? Is it also possible that "the silent" treatment is an immediate coping mechanism, rather than a means to hurt your partner?

      This is a great read for people on the end side of the spectrum, who may not realize how this type of behavior can be damaging to a relationship.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Good to see you back here, Ebonny!

      This is a positive, proactive hub with great advice. Such a diffiult situation to be in and it's hard to be positive when one knows that we're being treated badly. I've been there but fortunately that's in the past!

      I remember reading the other hubs you've mentioned here and they are all a huge help to those who might need strategies.

      Hope life is treating you well these days; have a great week!