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Silence Speaks Louder Than Words…Except When It Comes To Relationships

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(credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Silence might be killing your relationship.

That’s right: Using “the silent treatment” as a method of dealing with an argument is even worse than you think.

Communications professor Paul Schrodt, of Texas Christian University, and his colleagues analyzed nearly 75 studies involving more than 14,000 participants to reach their conclusion. The findings, which are published in the March 2014 issue of the journal Communication Monographs, reveal that the “demand-withdrawal pattern,” otherwise known as the silent treatment, is the most damaging type of relationship conflict.

“It’s the most common pattern of conflict in marriage or any committed, established romantic relationship,” Schrodt tells Science Daily. “And it does tremendous damage.”

Described as “when one partner pressures the other with requests, criticism or complaints and is met with avoidance or silence,” the silent treatment requires two participants who are both to blame. So it’s not just the nagging wife or the emotionally unavailable husband causing the issue; it’s a vicious circle of behavior that’s hard to break.

The Philadelphia area Council for Relationships, which offers relationship counseling, has advice for “fostering an open-hearted relationship” from Sara Corse, PhD. Corse writes on the Council’s blog, “We draw closer to one another with a desire for emotional connection and when we experience the interest and enthusiasm of the other person, our heart opens up. But when we sense disinterest or rejection or when our interactions trigger anger and hurt, our heart closes off.”

She also offers some advice for dealing with conflict, including taking deep breaths, paying attention to how you’re feeling, considering how others reach out to you, opening yourself to give to others and, of course, just talking.

“You have the chance to find out if your efforts to reach out had the effect you had planned, to ask questions, to explore your connection,” Corse writes. “And if you find yourselves tapping into inner hurts or conflict between the two of you, seeking help from a relationship counselor can help you find a deeper connection.”

Finally, if you think the effects of using the silent treatment as a weapon in an ongoing argument are only emotional, scientists say you’d be wrong. Not only does the demand-withdraw pattern tend to result in a lack of intimacy and poor communication, it can also affect your health, causing urinary and bowl problems and even erectile dysfunction.

To read more on the study, click here.

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