Want to improve your relationship? Elizabeth Bernstein recommends that you stop giving each other the silent treatment.
In her words: Ban the silent treatment!
When you have a problem with your partner, engage him … don’t shun him. No one can argue with that advice.
Of course, so many other forms of negative interpersonal communication, from raising your voice to arguing, have been classified as abusive or bullying, it must seem that the silent treatment is the only thing left if you want to express your discontent.
As it happens, research studies have shown that the silent treatment is especially debilitating for those who receive it.
A meta-analysis of 74 studies encompassing more than 14,000 participants, published in the March 2014 Communication Monographs, found the demand-withdraw pattern to be one of the most damaging types of relationship conflict and one of the hardest patterns to break. It often is a predictor of divorce.
Researchers found people who engaged in a demand-withdraw pattern had lower relationship satisfaction, less intimacy and poorer communication with their partner. They showed personality changes, such as less agreeableness and conscientiousness and more aggression and neuroticism. They even had physiological problems, including impaired immune system, urinary and bowel problems and erectile dysfunction.
And yet, in the world of psychotherapy, the term “silent treatment” most accurately describes one treatment: orthodox Freudian psychoanalysis.
Psychoanalysts give their patients the silent treatment. They have a myriad of ways of justifying their practice. And yet, if the silent treatment produces as much emotional and physical distress as the studies show, does this mean that psychoanalysis--the little that remains-- should be banned?