The silent treatment is part of one of the most common and most toxic patterns in a relationship.
It is part of what psychologists call a ‘demand-withdraw’ pattern.
One partner makes criticisms, complaints and requests, while the other withdraws, or gives them the silent treatment.
Often the partner making the demands is the woman and the partner withdrawing is the man.
However, it makes no difference which way around it is, the pattern is just as damaging.
Unfortunately this pattern is very hard to escape from.
Professor Paul Schrodt, the study’s first author, said:
“It’s the most common pattern of conflict in marriage or any committed, established romantic relationship.
And it does tremendous damage.”
The researchers analysed 74 separate studies including over 14,000 people.
It showed that couples who displayed the demand-withdraw pattern had the worst relationship satisfaction, along with lower intimacy and poor communication.
Couples that experienced this pattern also saw higher anxiety and aggression.
They even suffered physical problems like bowel, erectile and urinary dysfunction.
Professor Schrodt said:
“Partners get locked in this pattern, largely because they each see the other as the cause.
Both partners see the other as the problem.”
The pattern is very distressing for the relationship, no matter who is demanding and who is withdrawing, Professor Schrodt said:
“One of the most important things we found is that even though wife-demand/husband-withdraw occurs more frequently, it’s not more or less damaging.
It’s a real, serious sign of distress in the relationship.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Communication Monographs (Schrodt et al., 2014).