How Silence Kills Relationships?

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Silence That Killed Relationships.

Have you ever responded to a conflict/ argument by keeping quiet? Silent treatment, also known as stone walling, is one of the common form of response used during conflicts.

While some people erupt a volcano of anger at the heat of a conflict, others revolt to silent treatment. This category may be mistaken for peace lovers. However, in most cases this is a passive aggression building up.

Stone walling is a way of emotionally checking out in communication with a partner without explanation during a tense argument. It happens when you try to avoid anger by ignoring conflicts. The person retreating is often overwhelmed and starts shutting down as a way of self-soothing and calming self. Sometimes, this person does not want to get vulnerable. Stone walling can also be manifested by use one word answers to avoid full expression of ones emotions.

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Such statements could be:

  • “Do whatever you want.”
  • “I’m done.”
  • “I’m okay.”
  • “Just leave me alone.”
  • “I have to go.”

How can you tell that a partner is engaging in silent treatment?

  • They ignore you when you talk.
  • They start doing something else when you bring up a topic.
  • They walk away without explanation.
  • They make excuses in order to get out of a serious conversation.
  • They may not respond when you ask questions.
  • They speak only to defend themselves or blame you.
  • They don’t make eye contact or roll their eyes.
  • They dismiss their concerns as though they are of no value.
  • They refuse to take responsibility for giving you silent treatment.


While stonewalling can negatively impact a relationship, there are usually a number of underlying factors that contribute to the behaviour. In most cases, the demanding partner feels abandoned and the silent partner feels afraid- their silence is a way to protect themselves from more pain. Other reasons that leads to stone walling could be:

  • A generalized avoidance of conflict (emotional passivity).
  • A desire to reduce tension in an emotionally charged situation.
  • A genuine belief that they cannot handle a certain topic.
  • An underlying hopelessness that resolution cannot be found.
  • A fear of their partners’ reaction.
  • A belief that partner as no desire to resolve conflicts.
  • A way to view their partner as unreasonable.
  • A means to manipulate situations so that they can get their way.
  • A means to cause more crisis, either to draw larger grievances to the conflict or to end the relationship altogether.


Instead of expecting the silent treatment to stop, partners should work together to find out why it is happening. Both parties need to take responsibility for their behaviour and try to empathise with the partner. It is important for them to find more effective ways of dealing with difficult feelings and situations such as:

  • Decompress before approaching a contentious topic.
  • Find a safe space where neither partner feels cornered.
  • Use words that are neutral rather than critiquing or accusing.
  • Express understanding of the situation and allow each other to express.
  • Listen to understand, not to respond.
  • Be aware of body language while the other person speaks.
  • Acknowledge what was said before launching into a reply.
  • Accept feedback and acknowledge wrong perceptions or mistakes.
  • Agree to postpone conversation if things get contentious.
  • Set a time to return to the conversation when things have settled.

While it may take time to get used to these techniques, eventually, with practice, they become easier to use. If your partner is unwilling to change, it is important that you make your emotional and physical safety a priority. Emotional abuse is harmful and could escalate to physical violence- especially when the abusive partner feels like they are losing control. Do not feign tranquility through silence. Confront issues as they are. Otherwise carpeting builds more turmoil and eventually kills intimacy .

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By Faith Munyu

Hospital Psychologist

Chiromo Hospital Group



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