How do I handle getting the silent treatment from my boyfriend?

When my boyfriend gets in a snit, he gives me the silent treatment for days. When I ask what is wrong, I get nothing: no reply, no phone call. If he does reply, it is something very sarcastic and hurtful. He never admits he is wrong and never apologizes.

David Klein
David Klein
Humanistic, LGBT-Affirmative Psychotherapy for Individuals & Couples
As you say, if he does reply it is hurtful. But, if he doesn't reply, it sounds like it's just as hurtful (though more in my opinion in terms of the longer-range effects on the relationship). The behavior he is exhibiting would easily pass for "passive-aggression," as it is manipulative and controlling through passive withdrawal behaviors. And I can assure you that you are not alone in struggling with how to deal with it. So many do, and that's why it gets done so often, because it can. For example, if you push for connection, he stonewalls even more. You probably become more distressed.

Frankly, if you and your boyfriend were sitting on my couch in therapy, I'd likely say that the behavior needs to stop in order for the relationship to continue, because of how severe it sounds (an hour of withdrawal because someone can't deal is reasonable, as everyone can shut down from time to time, but this feels extreme and is extremely hurtful to you.) I might even say to him that the behavior needs to stop if he ever wants to be in a healthy, loving, connected relationship. Because the amount that you describe him disconnecting severely hurts trust and security. One of the first "change events" in Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy is for the person doing the withdrawing to be able to use words and communication to help the partner understand what they are experiencing, so the burden does fall more on him at the beginning. It becomes the partner's job to tolerate though whatever his experience is.

There is no one "tried and true" solution to working with passive-aggression, but I would most advise limit-setting (like I would do in our session). In one way, shape, or form, in order for the behavior to stop, there has to be consequences to it. The more you tolerate it and allow him to come back to you when he's done with his silent tantrum, the more you encourage the behavior because he is getting what he wants.
The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

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