How to Deal with the Silent Treatment

It seems that quite often in the process of working with an obstinate spouse, one encounters the “silent treatment.” This can manifest in many ways. The obstinate partner might stop talking to his or her spouse if they live together. If they are separated, he or she could stop answering the phone. In more severe cases, the obstinate spouse might attempt to block the phone number and/or email of the faithful spouse, or try to erect other barricades in the way of communication.

Fix Your MarriageThink of this as the last line of defense for an obstinate spouse. it is very much like a toddler sticking his fingers in his ears, pretending as if you aren’t really talking. It is very childish and highly immature behavior, and certainly not something befitting an adult.

The right approach here is not to give up and walk away. The right approach is to persevere and to continue to try to reach out to the obstinate spouse. The onus really is on the faithful spouse, for to walk away would be to assent to the obstinate spouse’s agenda, and the obstinate spouse’s agenda typically only has one goal: the destruction of the marriage.

You’ve got to be a bit creative when dealing with the silent treatment. It also helps if you’ve built up a store of goodwill through other acts of generosity and loving kindness.  Otherwise, if you were to start from absolutely nowhere and suddenly begin reaching out several times a day to a spouse who is giving you the silent treatment, that could come across as lacking in credibility and possibly even manipulative.

So what do you do? Well, if you are lucky enough to have built up some goodwill, and have established lines of communication with the spouse already, then you simply continue to reach out as you always have. (I’ve mentioned Marriage Fitness before, but if you want to learn how to do this in a practical way, please do visit their website.) This could be idle chitchat about something frivolous, if your spouse lives with you, and it does not matter at all if he or she responds. If you are separated, then you call to do the same. If you were doing this, say, two times a day before the silent treatment hit, then continue with that level of contact. Don’t ramp up suddenly.

If you had no pattern of communication, well, that likely could have been part of the problem. You will now need to establish these habits. Take it easy at first, and go slowly. One contact per day will likely be enough. Over time, you can escalate this to two, or three contacts per day. Your contacts should not be logistical, but should rather just be about frivolous, non-serious matters. Keep it brief, too — 30 to 60 seconds is usually enough.

You can expect pushback; that’s normal. If you’re not sure what to do about that, just read my post about pushback for some ideas. What’s most important is that you do not let the pushback derail you. You can tone it down and back off a bit, especially if you are new to the process of trying to reach out to an obstinate spouse. If, on the other hand, you’ve been at it for a while, then you really should not back off much, if at all. You are responsible for setting the tone, and that tone should be that you will establish and maintain open lines of communication.

I do think that attitude is one of the most important elements in dealing with the silent treatment, yet it is also one that is much harder to quantify. While it’s easy to describe the attitude an obstinate spouse might throw at his or her spouse, how does one describe the attitude one should take in return? I would say it is one of gentle, yet firm insistence. Your attitude simply has to be that you will communicate with your spouse, regardless of his or her behavior. You certainly can be sensitive to your spouses feelings and maintain this gentle-yet-firm insistence. You’re not looking for confrontation; you’re looking for positive connection.

Here’s what I did in this most recent round of silent treatment. As noted in an earlier post, this latest spate of silence began with a rather petulant request by my wife to stop calling her and to leave her along. Now, I already had some months of positive connection and regular phone contact with her — yes, I call her 3 times per day, even if it just goes to voice mail — and so my approach was simply to ignore her request and to continue to reach out as I had been doing for many months. She apparently did not like this very much, and shut off her cell phone, shunting everything straight to voice mail, even to the point of letting her voice mail box get totally full. This required a bit of creative thinking, so I found an iPad app that does voice recordings, and on occasion would make a recording that I’d send by email. Or, perhaps instead I’d send a short video I’d made of something or other. The whole point is that you do have to gently insist on there being no “space” between yourself and the obstinate spouse. This should make sense: if this is your husband or wife, you likely had a heart connection with him or her for many years, and it is exactly this connection you need to recreate. That connection knows no such thing as “space,” either physical or emotional.

Remember, it takes two to play the silent treatment game. Just don’t buy into it. You can change the tone and set the agenda, such that the course is set for reconciliation. It takes time, effort, perseverance, and wisdom, but it is totally achievable if you put your mind and heart into it.

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Day 318

Today marks three hundred and eighteen days since my wife launched our marital crisis. It’s hard for me to believe that it has gone on for so long; I thought for sure we would have been reconciling by now. I just had no idea what a formidable opponent the drug of adultery could be.

Anyway… it’s been a while. I’ve been very busy, what with the new job and all, plus some older work commitments that needed to be followd through on, and as a result I’ve been working up to 60-hour weeks at times. Here’s the low-down on the situation.

My last post was on July 29th, and followed yet another positive encounter with my wife. The following Wednesday, August 1, there was another positive, yet quite brief encouter. Our dog has had a major flea infestation, and my wife was convinced that our house was the culprit. I was not convinced of this, since there were no major flea problems here. But, she wanted to keep the dog an extra week so that I could clean up and such. I relented, let her keep the dog for another week, and then pushed to have a quick “date night” with her. I drove over to the house she was overnighting at, and arrived there just after 8:00. We took the dog for a walk at a nearby park. We stopped to talk with a couple of people, and none of them would have been able to tell that my wife and I were anything other than a happily married couple. In fact, I even referred to her as “my wife,” and put my hand on her back as I said this; her response was to giggle, smile, and agree to what I was talking about.

Fast forward another week, and suddenly things turned south. She texted me early on the morning of Wednesday, August 8, just as I was stopping off at a grocery store to buy some lunch prior to my arrival at work. I called her right back, and we chatted. She began to ask me about transferring the dog; I told her that I had some things I would not be home until later that evening, and I needed a bit of time to get a flea fogger done in the house. She said that she would not be around later; when I tried to make arrangements for other days, she told me that she wasn’t living in the house of the acquaintance with whom she was staying. My response was that she had never told me where she was living, but I could be flexible and meet her to pick up the dog on a different day. This conversation seemed to be going nowhere, so I ended it and went to work.

I spoke with her later that day, and it went from bad to worse. She would not be flexible at all about letting me pick up the dog on a different day. I asked about Thursday. “No,” she said. Then I asked about Friday. Again, “no.”  I asked about Saturday, and the weekend in general. “No,” she said, “that doesn’t work for me.” She was being very inflexible, and I was being very persistent.

Then, she launched in to some real obstinate-spouse pushback, the likes of which I hadn’t heard for months. This began with her asking me to stop calling, and to email instead. I declined that request. She told me she needed space, and I told her I could not give any. She said that she was not “attached” to our relationship anymore, and I told her that I would not be giving up. Then she made financial accusations against me, and threatened, oddly enough, to call my parents. I invited her to go ahead and do so. This went on for about 25 minutes. Now, I know better than to fuel the fire, normally, and believe me, I stayed level-headed for the most part. I was torn between not wanting to have a fight, and very much wanting just to talk to her. In the end, I had to terminate the conversation politely and to tell her that the only thing I could offer her was my undying love. So, I didn’t get to see my wife, or my doggie. Alas.

She did email me later on that day to apologize for her behavior. The email came in sometime around midnight, and this is quite significant. First, she was almost certainly back at the adulterer’s place, and second she felt the need to explain herself. She said that she felt frustrated that I would not give in to her desires to destroy our marriage, and then went on to rationalize her behaviors a bit. I also got a text message the following  suggesting that we might be able to talk about it. As of today, this has not happened.

Basically, from this point on, she went more or less incommunicado. Yup, incommunicado, once again. This has happened several times. This time, she began to leave her cell phone turned off, such that all my calls went straight to voice mail. This culminated last week in her voice mail box being completely filled. I ended up having to email her to tell her to empty it out. I also got our cell phone bill, and discovered that for the past month or so she had only been checking her voice mail once a week. This led me to find more creative ways to communicate with her: via sound files sent by email (i.e. voice mails, of a sort), short videos I made that I’d also email, etc. I simply could not allow her to take space.

I also discovered that, yet again, she had been on the virtual war path to start the filing process. She apparently had visited a website that prepares documents for uncontested dissolutions; as of this date, however, I have found no evidence of her having done anything with them. I don’t even know if she has filled anything out. Somehow I doubt it. She would need a lot of information from me, and I simply will not provide it.

Then came Wednesday, August 15. Again, she was in town, yet she never answered a single call, email, or anything. I got home and found that she had dropped the dog off with no explanation whatsoever. No note, no nothing. The dog was crawling with fleas, too. Fortunately, I had done a second flea fogger the night before, so I was fairly certain that there were no fleas left in the house. I then ended up contacting her to let her know that we needed to find a solution for the dog ASAP. I wanted to talk about this in person, or at least on the phone, but she refused. So, we agreed via email that I would put the dog on Frontline to knock down her flea infestation. I simply would not let this house get infested again. Another week passed, more or less incommunicado, again.

Then, something interesting happened. She began to go very public with the affair. The adulterer has a “professional” Facebook page that supposedly is for his gardening business. My wife apparently was given the password, and she began posting pictures there. The adulterer even mentioned her by name, saying she was doing this. His daughter addressed the two of them in a comment, as though they were a legitimate couple. (The poor girl; she appears to be in her mid-twenties, and is likely totally in the dark about her father’s adultery and the fact that my wife is still, well, married.)

With August 22 of last week came yet another Wednesday. I again had hopes of seeing my wife, but she never called. Nothing. I came home from work expecting to find the dog gone and a note on the table, but she didn’t even do that: she left the dog here, with no explanation whatsoever. That’s fine with me, but I would like a bit of communication, after all. Then, I began to get information through various sources, some public, that she would be in town this past weekend. I have no idea why, but she was here; I even saw evidence on our bank statement of this: they shopped at the grocery store I always go to. This requires some nerve.

Nerve is something I guess they have at this point. That same morning, on Saturday, August 25, she posted a bunch of pictures to the adulterer’s professional Facebook page, showing their garden, which appeared to be in full bloom. She appeared in a number of these photos. Yikes. Talk about setting yourself up for humiliation. Then, again through various sources, I learned that she is planning on taking a trip with the adulterer out of state in a couple of weeks, and then an overseas trip with him in November. (That is, of course, providing the affair is still alive at that point, which is not very likely.) The out-of-state trip is almost certainly to visit the adulterer’s daughter. The overseas trip is likely a quasi-professional one. Yes, it is a fairy-tale life writ large.

So here we are, on Monday, August 27, 2012. I am 318 days into this crisis. I have been working like a beast at reconciling my marriage for nearly all of that time. I have been watching my wife flounder as she commits herself to a path of utter destruction and oblivion, doping herself up with the drug of the affair to keep herself from dealing with the real issues of her life: issues of ownership and responsibility. In the meantime, I’ve been fashioning a new me, a better me, a person who will hopefully be an ideal husband. My hope is that, as ever, the affair will end soon.  Then, we can begin the process of rebuilding our marriage.

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