Ugh. The Silent Treatment.
Good ol' Wikipedia defines the "Silent Treatment" as the "refusal to communicate verbally with someone who desires the communication". If you have ever suffered under this form of manipulation, you might understand how it's chief game is to keep you guessing where the relationship stands.
In friendship, the Silent Treatment is often the precursor to a "silent" friendship break up. One friend pulls away. She stops returning your calls and texts. She doesn't invite you to her birthday dinner that she mentioned she was going to host. She doesn't even "like" any of the photos you have posted on your Instagram. Although she has not spoken to you about a specific conflict, you understand that something is wrong. Why? Because she is not speaking to you at all.
Here's where I'm going to be brutally honest and expose myself as the jerk friend that I can be:
I have given the Silent Treatment.
Yes, I have. I am not proud to admit it and I am not sure if I was always aware of the damage it has caused my friendships. The truth is that when things felt awkward or when I felt hurt, I would pull away. Instead of addressing the issue, I would simply cut off all communication in hope that the friend would either,
A) Realize their transgression against me and come begging for my forgiveness.
B) Allow the friendship to fade quietly into the distance.
I know. I have been a complete jerk.
As I research friendship, I often have to process my own "friendship sins" and this manipulating behavior of the "silent treatment" is something that I had to process.
Why did I do this? Didn't I know better?
There are two reasons why I believe I (and many others) have given the silent treatment even at the risk of killing a friendship.
REASON 1: SILENCE IS EASIER THAN SPEAKING OUTLOUD THE PERSONAL FRIENDSHIP HURT
Let me start with an example: A friend forgets to include me in a dinner party she is throwing. I found out that I am excluded. I decide this intentional. I become offended. I do not confront her because then she will know I was hurt.
In the past, I would not want my friends to know how much I needed them or how it hurt me when I was not included. I did not want them to see my bleeding heart. Instead, I withdrew and let the friendship die slowly in the silence. Some friends were more mature than me and would persist with the friendship despite the silence Sadly, many of my "friendship break ups" occurred because I would not honestly speak about my hurt.
REASON 2: SILENCE CAN POWERFULLY GRANT US THE ATTENTION WE CRAVE
"What's wrong? I haven't heard from you in a while." We learn this trick in our younger years. If we suddenly pull back or stop speaking, sometimes people notice. Sometimes it will make them feel nervous about where they stand with us. Suddenly, they start paying attention to us. They try to figure out what is wrong and we have finally caught them in our trap of silence.
When my husband and I were dating, I used to do this. Ugh. I cringe as I admit it. If I felt like he was not giving me the attention I wanted, I simply played the all "quiet card". He would take notice and say, "What's wrong? You're not talking to me. What I did I do?" Bam! I would have his attention. Ew. I was such a jerk girlfriend back then.
Sometimes we use silence to get a hold of our friend's attention. Perhaps she has been preoccupied with her new job or boyfriend. She doesn't text back as fast as she used too. Do we call her and say, "Hey, I am feeling a little disconnected from you"? Nope. We decide to stop talking. She pursues. We persist. She gives up. The friendship suffocates due to lack of communication. We explain the friendship's death with,
"I don't know what happened between us. I guess we grew apart."
Okay, so now what? How can we avoid using the Silent Treatment in friendship?
1. When we are hurt, SPEAK UP.
When our friend has let us down, whether intentionally or not, it is OUR responsibility to start the conversation. People cannot read minds. They may sense something is wrong because we are not talking but they won't know WHAT is wrong until we speak up. So, it's on us to grow some moxie, call our friend and say, "Hey, can we talk? I was hurt by something that I need you to know about it."
2. When we feel ignored, REACH OUT.
If our friend hasn't paid much attention to us, perhaps it's important to ask the question: WHY? Is she stressed out over a project at work? Perhaps she needs us to step in and be a listening ear. Has she had her first baby and is overwhelmed by this new season in her life? Maybe she needs us to invite her to a dinner out with no kids and all grown up talk. The only the way to find out is to reach out. Be the first to extend an invitation to talk... or go out ... or simply reconnect. Constant silence will permanently disconnect the line of communication between friends, but we can interrupt the disconnection by saying, "Hey. Do you want to do something?"
My biggest regret in friendship are the times I have given my friends the silent treatment and ultimately chose to allow the friendship to end instead of being the bigger person by choosing to communicate. I had some very close friends I have let go this way. Sometimes I wonder if it's too late to try to make amends. I dream about ringing them up and saying, "I am sorry for letting you go."
But, silence has a funny way of clouding up the details of what "really went down". Its permanent side effect is that it's hard to hash out what happened when you try to later on. Ugh. It makes me very sad to think about what I have done.
Even so, I am moving forward and I am leaving the silent treatment behind in the past where it belongs. From here on out, I am dealing with friendship like a grown up.
Noelle is a researcher, speaker, and podcaster. She is the podcast producer/host for Friending Podcast and is a regular co-host for the podcast, Slices of Life. She lives in North Jersey with her hot husband and two wild children. She is a big fan of Constant Comment Tea, the Oscars, and Lesley Knope.
Noelle is passionate about helping women empower women through the art of friendship.