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Don’t forever hold your peace

The silent treatment doesn’t work


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If you need a resolution to change one thing in 2023, get rid of the “silent treatment.” I speak to women now. It is possible there are men out there who are practitioners of this relationship technique, but I personally don’t know any.

I shipwrecked my first marriage with the silent treatment, making me your cautionary tale. You see, no one is entirely useless; you can always be a bad example. The irony (Satan relishes this) is that I had banked on the silent treatment to save my marriage. Wouldn’t my ­husband see my pain and be so distraught that he would move heaven and earth to make me happy?

Nope.

My mother was the queen of the silent treatment, and her mother before her. It didn’t work for them either. Which we know is the definition of insanity, to keep adopting a policy that keeps failing. Like socialism. (Joke I heard about socialism: Question: “What did socialist societies use before candles?” Answer: “Electricity.”)

It damages the children for life, whom you thought didn’t notice for 19 years that you were not speaking to their father. Then one day at a restaurant your adult son remarks in front of everyone, “You and dad were fighting our whole childhood.” Epiphany! John Lennon could have warned you: “One thing you can’t hide / is when you’re crippled inside.”

Forget the Beatles. God Himself says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). That gives you 12 hours in the summer and nine in the winter in the latitude where I live 40 degrees north of the equatorial plane to start talking to your spouse about what’s bugging you. God gives the salubrious alternative to the S.T.: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault” (Matthew 18:15).

He gives stories, too. Absalom was angry at his brother but said not a word for two years—then ­murdered him (2 Samuel 13). Michal stewed in silence against her husband David, glaring out the window while he danced before the Lord with all his might like a joyful puppy, totally clueless of her eye daggers (2 Samuel 6). That’s the problem with the silent treatment for the one doling it out. Like unforgiveness, it’s a poison you mix for another and drink yourself.

I was a Christian when I was giving my first husband the silent treatment. Or at least I was a Sunday school teacher. God knows. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). The sin you think you are the master of and able to quit anytime at some point turns and masters you (John 8:34).

I haven’t used the silent treatment for the 11 years of my second marriage. This is not because I am wonderful, but because I finally realized it is not effective; there’s just no payoff to it.

What helped was coming to understand the male species better, hearing what they say among themselves when women aren’t around. Do yourself a favor and watch the hilarious JCPenney doghouse commercials, 7½ minutes that will disabuse you of your womanish theories about men.

For readers theologically troubled at my suggestion that we can change anything about ourselves, never fear. I know it is God who works in us. The grace is His, the means are His—but the obedience is ours. He says, “Make every effort” (2 Peter 1:5). He says, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2), and not “I will transform you by the renewal of your mind, so just sit around like a couch potato till I’m good and ready.”

“Catch the foxes for us, / the little foxes / that spoil the vineyards,” sings the Song of Solomon (2:15).

One of those foxes ruining your vineyard might be the silent treatment. If you kill it now, that means one less fox you will have to kill next year.


Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her columns have been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides near Philadelphia.

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