When in conflict a typical response can be nothing. For those who do not like conflict this seems to be the perfect way to deflect and stop the conflict. I grew up with the motto, “if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.” I think this response to conflict…saying nothing…can sometimes be taught to us in our family of origin.
There is only one problem. The natural response to “no answer” is anger from the person needing an answer. So when the other person receives the silent treatment they get angry. The anger then comes toward the silent person. This causes them to withdraw and become even more silent. More silence invokes more anger.
The relationship interaction I’ve just described is called the “pursue/withdraw pattern.” This can be one of the most destructive forces in a marriage. The pursuer gets angrier and angrier and becomes more and more unsafe for the withdrawer. The withdrawer then does what they know they need to do…withdraw.
I was intrigued this morning in reading Mark 3. Jesus inquired in the Synogogue, “which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. The next sentence describes the natural reaction to the silent treatment: “He looked around at them in anger and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.”
If even Jesus got frustrated and angry when He needed a response, how much more do we as flawed human beings get angry at the silent treatment?
There are answers for this unhealthy pattern. Each person has to resolve to respond to each other with the opposite reaction they are doing now. The pursuer has to back away enough to be safe for the withdrawer. The withdrawer has to go toward the pursuer and respond verbally, not with silence.
Hard to break the habit, but well worth the try!