What to Do When Your Friend Is Giving You the Silent Treatment

A woman giving a man the silent treatment.

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When friends become angry, hurt, and sad as the result of something you've done (or they think you did) they can respond in all kinds of ways—from knock-down-drag-out ranting to radio silence. And both reactions can be just as devastating to one who's on the receiving side.

If they scream and yell, however, at least you'll know what's bothering them. But if they choose to remain silent, you're left grasping at straws, scrambling to retrace your words and actions and all alone, attempting to read their mind.

You've called the friend, sent them an email, waved to them on Facebook, and even posted a heartfelt #TBT on Insta featuring the two of you in second grade—and still nothing. Well, we're no geniuses, but it looks like your friend is giving you the old silent treatment. Here, some reason why you're being ghosted—and what you can do about it.

Don't Panic

Just because your friend doesn't appear to be talking to you doesn't mean they're necessarily over you completely. It's super-easy to let your mind wander to a dark place, but until you hear from them you won't know for sure. So give your friend a bit of time to respond—and don't panic.

It's possible that technological difficulties, sudden travel, or a busy schedule could be the culprit for their lack of communication. (Hey, life happens!) At one time or another, we've all found ourselves in the weeds, with barely enough time to take a shower let alone dig ourselves out of a massive email or voicemail backlog. Or perhaps your pal is dealing with a delicate and private personal issue that you simply don't know about. Basically, nonresponsiveness could be chalked up to any reason under the sun—but just don't immediately jump into self-blaming when you're not getting immediate answers.

Put Yourself Out There

If your friend doesn't respond the first time you reach out, try a different means of communication: If you sent an email first, call or send a text the next time. Perhaps most importantly, whenever you put yourself out there, be mindful of your tone. Avoid accusatory statements, a gruff attitude, and questions that invite further conflict, such as "What's your problem?" and even the classic, "Are you mad at me?" Instead, take a gentler approach by saying you've noticed they're not responding and you're looking forward to talking in order to resolve the issues. Trust that they'll reach back out whenever they're ready.

Was It Something I Said?

It's also quite possible that your friend is mad at you for something you did or said—or they think you're guilty of. Don't drive yourself batty poring over every conversation and interaction you two have ever had, but try taking an honest look at your behavior up to now. It's possible you might be able to pinpoint where the trouble started, whether due to your offhand comments or outright rude actions.

Have you two had issues in the past? Did they tell you what was bothering them? How did you deal with it? Did you just shrug it off and steamroll over their feelings? If yes, then (tough love) you're clearly not listening. The silent treatment could mean that your friend is sick of your hurtful behavior and it's very possible they no longer want to be friends. But whenever you've discovered that the problem is you, you must acknowledge their feelings and sincerely apologize in the hope of salvaging your relationship.

Identify Toxic Behavior

Some folks use the silent treatment to "shut down" and punish others passive-aggressively. If this a typical trend in your friendship and your friend only speaks to you after you've groveled, apologized profusely, gave in to their demands, or done or bought them something nice (and so goes the vicious cycle), they may be giving you the cold shoulder to manipulate and control you. Step back and far: That's emotional abuse. And it's toxic to every relationship, so simply move on.

Give Them Time

People cut and run for all sorts of reasons. Writer Tracy Moore, of MEL, a men's lifestyle and culture mag, sought to demystify them in her 2019 article on how to "break" the silent treatment. Moore spoke to the clinical psychologist Jacqueline Duke, Psy.D., who explained, "Most often, a person walks away because they are emotionally flooded. They require some time to sort out their intense or mixed feelings. They "flight" rather than "fight" in order to avoid saying the wrong thing."

So it may take some time for your friend to come to terms with things until they're comfortable enough to talk it out. It's also possible that the initial infraction has, unintentionally, ballooned into something bigger (ironically, due in part to the fact that they've stayed so silent about it), and your friend may even feel a bit silly for feeling hurt. In that case, their silence is simply ample recovery. Until then, give them the space they need.

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