Is the 'silent treatment' normal?

I have anxiety and ADHD, both of which I am treating.  Anxiety is the greater challenge, and in the past I have been rather hot-headed and prone to making huge issues out of tiny ones.  Lately with the help of meds, I've been able to notice that not every issue in our relationship is my fault.  My boyfriend also has an anxiety disorder, but refuses to recognize it.  His stress can be off the charts, usually resulting in 3-6 days of unendurable crankiness.  We don't live together, so I avoid him when he gets into one of these moods.

Yesterday we went to the baseball game with our friend James.   Before we got there, I lost my patience and snapped at him over what proved to be a hot-button issue for him.  I sincerely apologized and hugged him.  But instead, he shook me off, tore into me, and told me not to talk to him.  (That's pretty unusual.)  We went to our seats, but after one inning I couldn't take the tension, so I excused myself and watched the rest of the game from the gift shop.  When it was time to leave, I walked ahead alone.  We got to the car and he asked me "What was that all about?" and I explained honestly (and with no tone in my voice) that I felt extremely uncomfortable and thought he and James would have a better time if I left.  He didn't speak to me for the rest of the ride home, and when James left, I told my boyfriend, "I know you don't want me to talk to you, and so I'll honor that, but... I'm sorry."

And... Silence.  For the rest of the evening.

My boyfriend does this all the time, especially when he's stressed.  He says isolating himself from me after an argument is his way of clearing his head.  He says he needs his space.  But is the silent treatment really the same thing as needing space?  I think an hour or two of going to our separate corners and taking a breather is normal, but all night?  Depending on how big the issue was, he might isolate himself for up to a week.  He claims he is not ignoring me, and also that he isn't spending the time sulking, but there is no communication from him whatsoever.  I am glad to give him his space, but I feel that isolation from each other for more than 3-4 hours is ridiculous.  What do you all think?  Is this normal?

We've talked about this a zillion times before, and he knows this hurts me deeply. I feel so disrespected and depressed.  We've been together for over two years, and I don't deserve to be isolated for days on end.  How can this behavior work in a marriage?  Will he refuse to speak to me and sleep on the couch?  This does not seem normal, but there's nothing I can do to change it.   He refuses to see it as a problem, and says I just don't understand what "needing space" is.  


If he knows it hurts you deeply, he is punishing you (and/or trying to control you). My suggestion would be to apologize sincerely, offer to talk about it or make restitution, and then go on about your business like nothing happened. Call him on his game by totally ignoring HIM during his excessive pouting time and have a good time so he would rather join you than be alone. I would guess the amount of  his time alone is the time it takes him to forget his anger.

By the way, your leaving and staying in the gift shop sounds like almost the same thing -- just a shorter time period. It really looks more like you were trying to draw attention to yourself because you were angry, rather than honestly thinking they would have a better time without you. Your apology in this situation looks like an easy way out for you after you ruined the evening for him.

It does sound like you both could benefit from some communication counseling from a marriage counselor.

carathrace's picture

Silence and Space

Do all of these silences occur after you've had a disagreement?  Or does he go silent sometimes just because? If it's a "just because", I wonder if it has nothing to do with you, it's just his way of catching up with himself.  At these times, it would be very helpful if he could learn that you need to hear him say, "It's not about you babe, I still love you, but I need some time alone."  This is where counseling could help, I agree with lynnie.

If he does this only after you've had a fight, I'd be willing to bet one or both of your bf's parents used "the silent treatment" as punishment when he was a kid.  It probably just seems like familiar behavior to him.

My husband is an off-the-charts introvert.  He's unable to process information immediately, so in an argument or debate he falls silent.  I've learned to give him time to think about something -- I'll say something like  "Here's how I feel about you need some time to think or do you want to respond now?"  if he says need some time, I suggest a specific time and then follow up on it.  Or sometimes I'll write him a letter that he can read slowly & process.

It's really good that you see this now, before you have moved in together or gotten married.  This is an excellent chance to learn what each other needs in the way of communication, in a counseling setting.


Sometimes, it is easier for me to not speak than to talk and not give voice to my anger and frustration with my husband.  He has made it very clear, repeatedly, that he does not like to talk about problems.  

I do not engage in tit-for-tat behavior.  But I will mention that although my husband doesn't like it when I'm silent, he has, for the past two years, spent three or four days a week out of town at his parents' home and he has called me to chat fewer than 10 times during all that time.