Welcome to Ms. Opinionated, our weekly advice column dealing with questions of life, love, feminism, and pop culture. Submit your anonymous questions here. This week, Nicole Georges talks about the silent treatment (and draws some adorable sloths!).
Hello dear advice givers,
My spouse and I have known each other about 5 years and got married last year in a truly joyous celebration. She still has issues with living with a child—my 13 year-old daughter—and has a hard time with my my ex, my daughter’s father. My spouse has said she hates him and doesn’t want me to have any contact with him. I have tried to explain to her that I will have contact with about our daughter and we also still have many friends and family in common. I am NOT interested in ever getting back together with him or EVER having sex with men again, but she seems insecure about this.
This past week, my car developed trouble and I needed a ride to work because the car was not drivable. My ex drove me to work very early in the morning when my spouse was sleeping, as she works second shift and I work an early first shift. She has been barely civil to me since then. I have apologized, explained the car was not drivable and that I didn’t want her stranded on the highway.
Her mother gave her the silent passive aggressive treatment when she was growing up and this is my spouse’s fallback mode. I want to talk things out ASAP, apologize right away and clear up misunderstandings. She has done a lot of work through therapy to raise her skills but this PA still comes up. So, what is the best way do deal with passive aggressive behavior? Of course there is more to this dynamic, I’m outgoing, she’s an introvert; I’m an artist she likes to doze in hammocks. I love her and want her to be happy, and I wish she felt the same about me.
Thank you for your consideration,
Perplexed in Pennsylvania
AUGH! I am so, so sorry that you are hurting.
I have something terrible to tell you, and you are not going to like it, but somebody has to say it out loud: Your spouse is being emotionally abusive.
Phew! That’s it.
Everything you are describing here does not sould like a joyful marriage.
Nobody likes when the radical feminist starts quoting Dr. Laura, but I have a well-known history with her, so here I go. Dr. Laura has a saying that I hold dear. It is: “Choose Wisely, Treat Kindly.” Your partner chose someone who is a lovely, outgoing person who is dedicated to a child and has contact with a man from her past in service to that child. It doesn’t seem she is treating you kindly.
Somebody who makes you self conscious about being outgoing, who has issues with living with a child, and who is barely civil to you for doing something she doesn’t agree with? That is NOT GOOD BEHAVIOR. That is not loving, mature behavior.
The silent treatment is something she has learned, and maybe it’s a strategy that served her well in her family of origin, but it is not helping your relationship now.
What you deserve is someone who loves your outgoing, child-having, co-parenting self.
The facts are: You aren’t going to cut yourself off from the father of your child. Duh.
You also aren’t going to kick out your 13-year-old! Double duh!
You also aren’t going to have a different personality than you do (outgoing is a great personality, btw), and you aren’t going to obey her every command just because she is insecure about men. Sorry, spouser. Not going to happen.
My first advice, the harshest I have to lay down, is that you should run, not walk, away from this person.
She may be in therapy, which I think if fantastic, but until she works out her feelings and responses independently, and can come to you with love and not resentment, I cannot see this boding well. Resentment is not great relationship food.
It is very important right now that you role model good behaviors and relationships to your daughter. Even if she is a haughty, independent teen, she is observing and internalizing everything she sees, and her brain is building ideas based on this input.
In the meantime, and because I know disentanglement is not as simple as an advice-giver makes it out to be, here is a strategy:
You can only worry about yourself and your daughter.
You can only control your own actions.
You are not the one who is acting like a child.
Silent treatment? That is passive aggressive, immature, emotionally abusive behavior. DO NOT bow to that. Do not follow her around trying to get her to see your side.
If she is so mad that she can’t talk to you in the moment, then you need to go about your day. You need to detach (understand that her behavior has everything to do with her, and nothing to do with you), and summon up a list of things that make you happy and comfort you when your spouse is in this zone. This could mean you go for a walk, you take your daugher to the movies, you go to the gym, or enjoying an ice cream cone. I’m serious! Get away from her when she is like this.
Do not bother explaining your strategy to your spouse. The more you defend your actions, the easier it is for a manipulative person to poke holes in your story and to make you do their bidding. Just say, “I’m sorry you feel this way. I love you, and I’ll be back later.” And live your life, as happily as you can, understanding that you have no control of whether or not she acts childish and whether or not she comes out of it.
She might come around later, she might not, but at the end of the day, you made yourself happy.
You may be wondering to yourself, “But Nicole, how do you know what it’s like?” Oh ho, friend, but I do! I have personally been betrothed to someone who could be so generous and kind, and then suddenly punishing and cold when I did not do their personal bidding (in this case, cutting myself off from any male friends whom I had previously been romantically affiliated with). This person’s feelings around the subject took up all the space in the room, with me paddling and struggling to try and explain that my friends were no threat. I eventually started keeping secrets, hiding my interactions, and cutting myself off from male humans who actually had been a thousand percent kinder to me than my current date!
At the end of the day, it wasn’t my work to do. She had her own demons to fight or not fight, and it wasn’t my choice of when she did it.
When someone enters into a relationship with you, they should be ready for a relationship. Part of that includes doing your emotional work so, even if you’re not perfect, you are in good working order. This includes not being mean to your current partner, or depriving them of love as punishment.
I wish you the very best, and I hope you get the love you deserve.