Staying silent about relationship problems does more harm than good

Giving your partner ‘the silent treatment’ does much more harm than good, a new study suggests.

It is a tactic every couple knows but researchers from Baylor University in Waco, Texas have found that people who sulk or expect their partner to read their mind end up only making themselves unhappy.

Being withdrawn is a form of emotional behaviour known as “disengaging” and leaves people with seething resentment about their relationship.

Expecting a partner to somehow know what we are feeling – known as “passive immobility” – also leaves people dissatisfied.

Psychology Professor Keith Sanford said: “Withdrawal is the most problematic for relationships.

“It’s a defensive tactic that people use when they feel they are being attacked, and there’s a direct association between withdrawal and lower satisfaction overall with the relationship.

“Withdrawing when a partner criticises or complains is a way of avoiding a perceived threat and is more characteristic of unhappiness.

“Just about everyone does that from time to time, but you see more of that in distressed relationships.”

Meanwhile, those who expected a partner to know what was wrong without being told were believed to be anxious, feeling neglected rather than threatened.

Professor Sanford said: “Often, you have one person who withdraws and the other demands. The more the one demands and complains, the more the other withdraws, and so on.

“It’s an issue both of being aware of when these behaviours are occurring and of finding an alternative – a more constructive, polite approach to resolve conflict.”

The results of this research were taken from a series of surveys.

In one, 2,588 married or cohabiting adults were asked about a single conflict and how they responded to it. In another, 223 adults in committed relationships were questioned about different forms of disengagement. The third survey was taken by 135 undergraduate students, who were asked various questions about conflict with their partners.

Researchers concluded that withdrawal led to poor communication and ultimately unhappy relationships.