It's not the healthiest form of communication (or arguably, a form of communication at all) but let's face it — sometimes, it can feel good to block someone out and give them the silent treatment.
Jane Greer, PhD, a New York-based relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship, says there's a reason why it can feel so satisfying.
"You feel in control and empowered, and you feel that you're punishing them," she says. "[It's] a way to retaliate against whatever they said or did that hurt you."
Besides, it can also be a lot easier to shut down than it is to address whatever issue is going on, especially if you're not a confrontational person. After all, communicating how you really feel can be hard, and while the silent treatment might be a passive aggressive behavior, people aren't usually being petty on purpose.
"Often, these people are overwhelmed by their anger and don't feel comfortable expressing it," Dr. Greer says. "They may be afraid that they'll start yelling if they try talking about it. They may also be too angry to even start talking or hearing what the other person might have to say."
Even if you aren't necessarily consumed by anger, it can still be hard to speak up about something that's bothering you. But as good as it can feel in the moment, ignoring a person or issue is also a surefire way to let problems in your relationship fester.
You feel in control and empowered, and you feel that you're punishing them.
Jane Greer, PhD
"Without talking, there's no way for the person to understand what they did and relate to your feelings," Dr. Greer says. "Most importantly, there's no problem-solving for the issue."
At worst, giving the silent treatment can turn into a freeze-out in which both parties refuse to acknowledge what's going on.
"It can turn into a cold war, depending on who you're giving the silent treatment to — be it a sibling, friend, or partner," Dr. Greer says. "It will just become a situation where no one speaks and there's a complete disconnect between you."
If you're not sure how to go about communicating that something has upset you, Dr. Greer says you can start by acknowledging how you feel. Remember to use "I" statements ("When you do X, I feel Y"), rather than making generalizations or accusing your partner of harboring certain feelings ("You always do this" or "You did this to hurt me").
"Let the person know that you're upset and angry with them, and you'd like to talk to them about it," Dr. Greer says. "Give them the opportunity to respond to your feelings and apologize."
If there was something in particular that they said or did, you can share that with them. If the issue is a more overarching problem, like a conflict that seems to pop up again and again in your relationship, it may be worth talking things out with the help of a mediator or relationship therapist. (But also: You don't need to have a big "problem" to go to couples counseling.)
Either way, everyone deserves to feel heard and understood in a relationship — and that can't happen until you cede the petty-but-satisfying power that comes with giving the silent treatment.