Is the Silent Treatment Always Wrong?

“Dear BGR, my husband sometimes goes to sleep on the couch in his man-cave-office when he is angry at me for something I have done toward him. Even the next day he will speak very little if any to me basically giving me the silent treatment.
Sometimes we may have had a heated discussion or argument which we could not resolve but other times it is just that he felt I was disrespectful to him in something I said or did. Sometimes it is because I turned him down for sex when I am not in the mood.
If I apologize to him then he will return to our bed and our relationship will return to normal. If I do not apologize, this (him sleeping in his man-cave-office) can go on for several days, even sometimes a week before he will finally stop his silent treatment and return to our bed without me apologizing.

I must admit that in most cases this does work and gets me to the point of apologizing to him for whatever wrong he thinks I committed. There are some times I don’t think I did anything wrong and I think he is just being too sensitive so I let him stay in his man-cave-office until he finally comes back to our bed a few days or even a week later.

Either way, I don’t think this is a healthy thing for our relationship. I think it is childish and manipulative. Does the Bible approve of husbands giving their wives the silent treatment to get them to admit fault and ask forgiveness?

Lisa”

There are some in Christianity and even outside of Christianity that believe to give someone the silent treatment is always wrong, no matter the circumstances under which it occurs.

However, there are many things in life that can be right or wrong depending on the circumstances under which they occur. Some of my fellow conservative Christian brothers reject this concept calling it “situational ethics”. But the truth of the Scriptures is that the same action can be right or wrong depending on the circumstances under which that action occurs.

Consider the following rule in the Old Testament regarding a man killing a thief:
“1 If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. 2 If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. 3 If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.”
Exodus 22:1-3 (KJV)

The passage above tells us if a man breaks in at night to a person’s home and the home owner kills him at night this is not a crime and is considered a justified killing. But if a person kills a thief in their home by day, then it is considered murder.

The reason a person could justly kill a thief breaking in at night is because under the cover of darkness you cannot tell what a person’s intentions are. They could be there to harm you or your family, or simply to steal. But in the day light you can see exactly why they are there for and if they are just there to steal – they can be apprehended, but not killed. And it tells us the thief must make restitution for what he was trying to steal which could be 4 to 5 times the value of whatever he was going to steal. If he could not pay this penalty, then he would be sold as an indentured servant for 6 years and in the 7th year he would have to be freed (Deuteronomy 15:12).

The point is, whether an action is right or wrong often depends on the situation under which it occurs.

Now we will tackle a word often associated with the silent treatment and that is one Lisa mentioned which is “manipulative”. Can the silent treatment be a form of manipulation? Yes. If it is a person under authority trying to change their authority’s behavior by doing something that makes life difficult for their authority then yes it can very much be a form of manipulation and a wrong behavior.

For example, think of the child who holds their breath until their parent gives them what they want? Or what if the child refuses to eat until they get what they want? Or they cry until they get what they want?

And of course, if a child engages in the silent treatment toward their parents until the parents give in and give them what they want this would be a classic form of manipulation and is absolutely wrong from a Biblical perspective as children are commanded to obey their parents.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.”
Ephesians 6:1 (KJV)

In the same way if a wife were to give her husband the silent treatment until he gave her what she wanted, whether it is agreeing to her position from an argument they had or just giving her an apology such behavior toward her husband would also be a form of manipulation toward her husband and is condemned by the Scriptures. The Bible also commands wives to obey their husbands:
“5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”
I Peter 3:5-6 (KJV)

The same Greek word is used for both children and wives in regard to their relationship with their fathers and husbands. The Greek word “Hupakouo” is translated “obey” in Ephesians 6:1 for children toward their parents and “obeyed” in I Peter 3:6 referring to a wife’s behavior toward her husband.

God wants women to be obedient to their husbands just as he wants children to be obedient to their parents.

Does this mean husbands are always right in what they say or do? Of course not. They are sinners just as women are. And there are some extreme conditions where a wife may have to choose between obeying God and obeying her husband and in such cases Acts 5:9 tells us that women should “obey God rather than men.”

But a wife does not have the right to disobey her husband simply because he acts in any sinful way toward her or he sins against God. In fact, the beginning of I Peter chapter 3 teaches that wives are to have submissive spirits toward their husbands who sin against God:
“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”
I Peter 3:1-2 (KJV)

In other words, just because a woman’s husband sins against her or against this does not invalidate his God given position of authority over her as her husband.

Now someone might say “What about I Peter 3:4?”:
“4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”

There is a difference between a woman having a “meek and quiet spirit” toward her husband and her giving him the silent treatment. One type of quietness comes from a woman’s spirit of reverence, submission and love toward her husband and the other comes from spite.

Here is the point we have clearly established from the Bible. There is stark contrast between a woman using the silent treatment toward her husband to control him and thus control their relationship and a woman winning her husband to God without a word by her pure and reverent behavior.

And now we come to the question at the center of Lisa’s email to me.

Is it Wrong for a Husband to Use the Silent Treatment with His Wife?

As I said in the beginning of this article, the silent treatment can be wrong or right depending on the circumstances under which it occurs. The Bible gives husbands the following command toward their wives:
“Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.”
Colossians 3:19 (KJV)

If a husband’s silent treatment toward his wife comes from a place of bitterness toward her then his silent treatment toward her is wrong.

However, the Bible show us that God as a husband to Israel used the silent treatment as one of his methods of discipline toward his wife:
“1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: 2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”
Isaiah 59:1-2 (KJV)
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
II Chronicles 7:14 (KJV)

And we as husbands are called to follow Christ’s example toward his church in washing our wives with the Word as he does his Church:
“25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
Ephesians 5:25-27 (KJV)

Also, we as husbands are called to rebuke and discipline our wives as Christ does his churches:
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”
Revelation 3:19 (KJV)

But we must also remember as husbands that God forgives sin and shows mercy:
“Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.”
Micah 7:18 (KJV)

We as Christian husbands must follow God’s example in not holding on to our anger forever, no matter how righteous that anger might be. The Scriptures tell us the following regarding righteous anger:
Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath
Ephesians 4:26 (KJV)

So even if our wife does not apologize, we need to let our anger go. However that does not mean our wife is free from the consequences of her actions. We as husbands can continue disciplinary action whatever that may be long after our anger has subsided.

But we must also show our wives that while we may sleep in another room for a few nights that we will never forsake them just as Christ will never forsake his church:
“Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
Matthew 28:20 (KJV)

Conclusion

Let’s review a key statement from Lisa’s email to me that cannot be overlooked:

“Sometimes we may have had a heated discussion or argument which we could not resolve but other times it is just that he felt I was disrespectful to him in something I said or did.”

This statement by Lisa makes it clear that her husband is not unwilling to have a basic conversation with her. But when the argument goes on and on and they cannot agree or she begins to start acting disrespectful toward him during the discussion this is when he shuts the discussion down and exits the discussion.

This is actually good as in most cases it is counterproductive to keep a discussion going when it gets too heated and keeps going around and around.

Of course, we will also have people saying “So you think a wife can never tell her husband what she thinks?” and I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

The Bible tells us of the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31:26 that “in her tongue is the law of kindness” and it also tells us in Proverbs 12:4 that she is never one to “maketh ashamed” her husband. The Bible also tells us in Proverbs 19:14 that “a prudent wife is from the Lord” and then it tells us in Proverbs 21:19 that “It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman”.

My point is that there is nothing wrong with a wife sharing a different point of view with her husband as long as it done with kindness and respect. But there is a big difference between a wife kindly sharing a different point of view with her husband and her entering into a contentious argument with him. The first type of behavior is to be commended; the second type of behavior should be condemned.

And now we come to a husband’s use of the silent treatment in response to his wife’s contentious spirit with him.

The Scriptures tell us in Proverbs 21:9 that “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.” We can directly relate this to our discussion and say based on the Scriptures it is better for a husband to go to his “man-cave-office” then to dwell with his brawling wife elsewhere in the house.

And the silent treatment can be a very effective tool especially with women. Why? Because most women are “Empathizers” (as confirmed by a recent Cambridge study of over 671,000 men and women ) meaning that they are driven to know the thoughts and feelings of those around them and especially the thoughts and feelings of their husbands.

In other words, in most cases, it will drive a wife nuts when she does not know what her husband is thinking. And in a lot of cases she will do anything it takes to remedy the situation to restore communications with her husband.

But then again sometimes a wife will remain in her stubborn sinful state, and sometimes we as husbands may be called to show mercy after some time apart or perhaps switch to a different disciplinary technique.

And finally, I just want to quickly address this other key statement by Lisa:

“Sometimes it is because I turned him down for sex when I am not in the mood.”

A woman turning her husband down for sex simply because she is “not in the mood” as opposed to having some serious medical condition is a serious violation of her marriage covenant:
“3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.”
I Corinthians 7:3-4 (KJV)

Men primarily give and receive love in marriage through sex. It is what bonds them to their wife. Where as women primarily give and receive love by talking and sharing feelings and this is how women feel bonded to their husbands. This is not to say that men cannot feel bonded to their wives by talking and sharing feelings nor is this to say women don’t feel bonded to their husbands through sex. But we are talking about primary means of bonding verses secondary means of bonding which are different in men and women.

Ladies, let me translate this for you. Imagine you had a rough day with the kids and lots of other things going on at home. You can’t wait to put the kids to bed and just talk and share your day with your husband and also find out about his day. So, you get the kids to bed and slip into bed with your husband. You start talking to him about your day and he stops you “Babe, I am really not in the mood tonight” and then he rolls over and goes to sleep.

That frustration you would feel as a woman if your husband did this to you is exactly what a man feels when his wife tells him she is not in the mood for sex.

So, Lisa – yes God absolutely approves of your husband using the silent treatment with you as long as he does not let a root of bitterness grow in his heart. And by your own admission, it often works to bring you to repentance as you seek to restore your fellowship with your husband.