Dear Margo: A Truly Silent Partner

At 50, my husband is giving me the silent treatment. Margo Howard’s advice

A Truly Silent Partner

Dear Margo: My husband and I are in our middle 50s and have been married for a year. It’s the second marriage for both of us. I know there’s a period of adjustment for newly married couples, but how long should that period be? My problem with the hubby is that when he gets upset with me, he will not speak for days! It drives me crazy. It’s come to the point that I avoid all fights just so this will not happen. But I know this is not healthy for me because I am keeping everything to myself and resentments are piling up.

Should I just ignore him when this happens? When I try to talk him out of his “funk,” he gives me a long lecture about why he’s upset. And when I say a long lecture, it’s usually more than two hours long! But when we’re not fighting, he is a super, ideal, adorable husband. Your thoughts, please? — Really Stumped

Dear Real: There is, indeed, always a period of adjustment, but the adjustment required in this case would have to do with your husband’s emotional makeup. It is not within the bounds of integrated behavior for a super, ideal, adorable husband to punish his wife with days of silence or two-hour lectures when you try to talk to him about his “funk.” Add this abnormal behavior to your mounting resentments, and you’ve got a troubled second marriage.

While I’m sure there are times you’d like to see his picture on a milk carton, my suggestion of something you can actually do is to become a benevolent despot. Insist that he see someone, perhaps with you in the beginning, to diagnose and deal with the source of his punitive behavior and internal discontent. In your shoes, I could not continue with a situation like this without professional intervention. If he refuses, then you must decide how ideal and adorable he is, and whether the good days outnumber the bad. — Margo, decisively

Letting Things Unfold

Dear Margo: My boyfriend, “Chuck,” and I have been in a long-distance relationship for two years. We recently learned that we both got into our dream college, which means we’ll be able to live in the same area for the first time in our relationship. I’m very excited, but at the same time I’m nervous about the adjustment. Chuck is my first boyfriend, so I don’t know what it’s like to be with someone you are geographically near all the time. So far, our relationship has consisted mostly of doing our own things during the day and then talking on the phone or Skyping for an hour or two at night. Conversely, when we visit each other, that time usually consists of days and days that revolve around just each other.

I miss him all the time, but I’ve kind of enjoyed having the freedom to study, hang out with my friends and get lots of “me” time while still being in a very happy relationship. From what I’ve heard, college is a fun time, but also a busy one. I love Chuck, and I want to be with him, but I also want to have time to hang out with friends away from him and focus on school work. He wants that, too. I’m afraid that once we get to college, we’ll either get so wrapped up in each other that we’ll miss out on other stuff, or else get so busy with school and friends that we never see each other. We don’t know how to make sure we strike a good balance. Do you have any tips for us? — Mostly Happy, but Still Anxious

Dear Most: I think you two will find your happy medium, and that it will be somewhere between your visits and your time apart. You’ll find a rhythm that allows for time together, friends, studying and activities. Let it unfold, because you really can’t plan these things. Just both of you try to be open to the new experiences. — Margo, gradually

* * *

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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43 Responses so far.

  1. avatar SherryDAmore says:

    Really Stumped?  Not at all.  This is called Passive Agression.  He will not change, so you will have to.  I have cured a gent or two by making fun of them, and being cheerful and dismissive at the same time. 

    Just curious though: didn’t you notice this crap before  you married Mr. Sulking and Pouting?  This is how he gets control of you.  And you are falling for it.  You will have a miserable marriage and life if it does not change.  Maybe he will eat worms and die, or hold his breath till he turns blue…….

    • avatar Deeliteful says:

      I, too, cured a man from this passive/aggression. It’s called D-I-V-O-R-C-E! He was my 2nd husband and managed to “hide” the behavior until after we married. Then he turned into a control freak. Add to the pouting and silent treatment, his sleeping on the sofa was another way he “punished” me. I looked forward to not sharing a bed with him. We were in our early 50’s with no children or property together. The marriage was short lived and the divorce uncomplicated.

      Don’t wait for him to eat worms and die (although that thought has me laughing). Get out while the gettin’ is easy. Your super, ideal, adorable hubby is anything but! 

  2. avatar lisakitty says:

    Really Stumped:  BOTH you and your husband have some issues.  He has issues because he can’t communicate with anyone unless it’s on his terms, and YOU have issues because you allow this to happen and have indeed found ways to work around it.

    If you haven’t already, you need to make it a condition of the continuation of your marriage that you both get into marriage counseling.  I would also suggest individual counseling based on this letter.  If he won’t go, then I think you seriously rethink the marriage.  As someone wise once said: It’s better to live peaceably alone than to live in hell with a partner.


    • avatar Lisa Cornell says:

      I think we can all agree that all of us have issues and emotional baggage. That said, I don’t think it is fair to suggest that because the letter writer didn’t complain about emotional baggage before the marriage, she needs to be content owning a luggage store.

      • avatar Cindy Marek says:

        Right on, Lisa! Well said. 🙂

      • avatar lisakitty says:

        Lisa:  you write “That said, I don’t think it is fair to suggest that because the letter writer didn’t complain about emotional baggage before the marriage, she needs to be content owning a luggage store”

        I never said anything like that at all:  maybe you were responding to another post?  My point is that BOTH the LW and her husband need help.  The husband with his communication and passive aggression and the LW with her lack of self esteem.  And in my final sentence, I say it’s better to live alone rather than to be in a hellish relationship…. so I guess I’m confused why you would respond to my post like that?

        • avatar Lym BO says:

          I think she meant to respond to SherryDMore who questioned whether the bride noticed this behavior prior to the wedding.

  3. avatar Patti Spencer says:

    LW#1 – my big question would be, what caused his first marriage to end? This is not something that just comes on suddenly. The next question I would have is how long did you two date? My mom was in a relationship where he was Mr. Great Guy for the 8 months that they dated, on their honeymoon the abuse started. As others have stated, get help now! If you don’t you will either get out or go crazy. This is no way to live in a marriage!

    LW#2 – as Margo said, you will find your balance. My husband and I had a long distance relationship for about 3 months, then it was our jobs that kept us apart for periods of time. We worked it out and now have been married for almost 7 years. If you are really worried, before you both move, try setting a schedule that you will meet on certain dates for certain times 0r that you will each have alone time to spend with your friends and to study. The most important thing right now in your lives, even though it might not feel like it is your educations. If you two really are meant for each other, college is only a few years and you will be together at the end. Otherwise, this is the easiest relationship test there is.

    • avatar htimsr40 says:

      As long as we are asking about first marriages … let’s ask about HER first marriage, as well. What went wrong there? How is this marriage similar or different? Does EITHER partner show some sort of pattern that might be illuminating to know?

  4. avatar Pdr de says:

    I’ve often thought that before you marry someone who has been divorced, you should take his ex out for a nice luncheon and listen. It would save a lot of grief in the long run. When there is more pain in a relationship than happiness, when you spend a lot of time being tense and wary and walking on eggs so you don’t “upset” your partner. When you feel lonely even though you are living together and when you have rocks in your stomach and cry silent tears after he’s gone to sleep, it’s time to get the heck out!

    • avatar lebucher says:

      Wow Pdr de, yours is a very apt description of what life is like in an unhappy marriage.  Been there, done that, got out.  Much happier now.

    • avatar JoyJennings says:

      I’ve been there, too, and you described it very well. My XH treated me like a stupid teenager (I was a college-educated 24-year-old), wrecked my credit and withheld affection. I know about walking on eggshells and crying yourself to sleep, which led to low self esteem and depression. The bad days far outweighed the good, but the good days at least gave me hope. He went to one counseling appointment, then suggested divorce within days. I was so miserable I jumped on the chance to be happy. Gut-wrenching, but the best decision I ever made.

      • avatar A R says:

        Happened to me too, Joy. My first “marriage” lasted about a year and a half after we tied the knot. In retrospect, I found out that my ex treated all his exes the way he did me—silent treatment, blamed me for his emotions, withheld affection of all types, and told me that I “imagined” problems (!!) . I did that stupid thing women do: believed that my love would somehow fix what ailed him. How funny we are when we are young. Thank goodness I came to my senses and married a good man!

    • avatar Annie Chan says:

      What if the ex is the crazy one? Some people wouldn’t let go and do anything to ruin the person from having any happiness. In some cases it could be obvious… but what about the very convincing people?

  5. avatar marywells says:

    LW#2- I see why you worry, but chances are you two will be ok. It is very healthy not to have your whole schedule depending on another person.

    LW#1 – I’ve met some people like this. They are charming, attentive and cuddly until they feel you’re hooked. Then, they take advantage to the fact you would put up wiht many things to have a quiet, pacific, cozy family life and start hell. They may even not do it consciously, but they do. Demand he sees a therapist and, if he refuses, sorry, but you shouldn’t stay in the relationship unless you’re masochistic.

  6. avatar marywells says:

    *take advantage of the fact*, sorry.

  7. avatar marywells says:

    *of the fact that you would put up with*… (must’ve offended some misspelling deity)

  8. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Not a healthy situation at all. Apparently he wants control over the negatives, and his “solutions” are entirely negative. You can’t go on like this:  Ice King for days versus hours-long lectures. Dare I suggest this is a problem wife #1 also had with him? If not, then maybe it was a defense mechanism of his against her — but he’s applying it to you. I’d seek the professional intervention Margo suggests. Usually 2nd marriages have a high failure rate, so I’d go the professional intervention route. It’s that or continue putting up with his dysfunctional ways of handling tiffs and disagreements. And no, you can’t keep stuffing resentments and frustrations; those mount and your health (emotional AND physical) will begin to suffer. Try a marriage counselor (with HIM there too). If that doesn’t work…

    L #2: Once you and he are in close and consistent proximity, your relationship will play itself out. For good or not is unforeseeable; too many unknowns and variables. Give it your best shot though.

  9. avatar kate says:

    Letter One – RUN! RUN! RUN! as fast as you can! This is verbal and emotional abuse and will only get worse. I spent 25 years with a man just like you describe. Before our marriage he was polite, considerate, funny. Within weeks of our marriage he was not speaking to me for days on end, sometimes weeks on end, which would end when he had a blow up that pointed out all the faults with everyone around him that MADE him act this way, especially my faults and failings. We would then have a “honeymoon” period, where the good days would go by, but slowly the pressure would start building inside of him again, the anger would mound up and the cyle would continue. By the end of of marriage, good days were a distant memory, as was my self confidence, self esteem, will power and emotional and physical health. I tried every response and behaviour alteration in myself that I could think of and NOTHING I did made an ounce of difference. Catering to, sympathizing, ignoring, anger, begging, threats, trips to marriage councellors and therapy. The problem is with his ability to deal with his passive aggresive anger issues, stress and a lack of empathy for how his behaviours affect other people. Please do yourself a huge favour and get out will you are stilll able to make yourself a new life, perhaps with someone who will treat you with the love, respect and dignity you deserve. This is what I am now trying to do for myself and my children. It is a long and emotional process, but worth the effort I am putting into myself after years of putting my effort into someone else.

    • avatar Pinkie says:

      I’m so sorry you went through that. At least you did get out, though, and you are treating yourself as you deserve.

  10. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1: Read Margo’s response, then read it again. Hub’s silence followed by protracted lectures are only going to escalate over time time if you don’t put a cork on his behavior. Yes, counseling could help. If he refuses, pack your bags.  

    LW2: Are we sure this letter wasn’t written by some goody two-shoes mom? The writer and Chuck likely are too busy Skyping to have harbor such concerns. If necessary, they can agree to see each other only on weekends and continue their phoning/Skype routine through the academic week. Both better wise up and realize they just might need to set aside a few hours for study.   

  11. avatar Julie Cooper says:

    JCF:  My thought exactly.  L2 was written by the girl’s mother. 

    • avatar JCF4612 says:

      Julie — Well wouldn’t you know … today’s Dear Abby (3-5-2012) has the identical letter with a few changes. “Chuck” has become “Jackson” and instead of Skyping, they video chat. The sign-off is “Anxious in Florida” instead of “Mostly Anxious, But Still Happy.” What a hoot! Can’t wait to see where else this will turn up. 

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        “Conversely, when we visit each other, that time usually consists of days and days that revolve around just each other.”

        Yeah… I thought the same thing and started to post about it—but was afraid of getting attacked by the usual mob that insists they were talking in palindromes and haiku at age 9.

  12. avatar casino la fantastique says:

    No one can “make” you listen to them rant at you for two hours.

    • avatar lisakitty says:

      Exactly.  the fact that the LW tolerates this type of abuse at all is an indication she needs counseling herself.  

    • avatar dcarpend says:

      Agree. When Mr. Wonderful goes into lecture mode, I’d grab my purse, keys, and coat, and head out — to the mall, to a friend’s place, to a movie, whatever. I’d do the same thing any time he was in not-speaking mode — spend as much time away as possible. A quick “I can tell you’re upset — I’ll see you when you’re in a better mood” on the way out the door will make it very clear to him that this is his choice. He uses this garbage to manipulate and get you to come begging to him. The only possibly anti-game is to give him less attention, not more, every time he behaves this way.

      That said, this sounds exhausting, and I’d be reconsidering the marriage.

      • avatar Pdr de says:

        I think your suggestion is terrific – I laughed when I read it. Imagine if, as soon as he begins his silent treatment, she packs her weekend bag and tells him to call her on her cell phone when he feels like communicating again. When he begins lecturing her; same scenario – pack your bag and spend the night/weekend with a friend. However, as you said, it’s pretty exhausting and my question to Writer #1 would be at this point, why do you stay with him? Don’t wait until he has crushed your self-esteem and self-confidence into the ground and made you so miserable you want to die! Leave now – live by yourself until you have built yourself up again and don’t ever allow anyone to treat you that way again.

      • avatar sdpooh says:

        Decaroend…That is a good idea.  If he wants the silent treatment, give him a silent house. 

  13. avatar Lila says:

    Re: LW1, my grandfather used to give my grandmother the “silent treatment” for days on end until she was practically begging him to forgive whatever “transgression” she had made. Please. She had not committed any transgressions. It was just pure emotional abuse and his way of controlling her without actually beating her.

    She was in a generation and a family that would never have supported the idea of a divorce. Be grateful that times have changed, and toss that wonderful, emotionally abusive husband to the curb.

  14. avatar bobkat says:

    LW1: Just how long did you and DH know each other before you tied the knot? Did he do the silent treatment when you two were still dating? If yes, then that should have been a dealbreaker right there. If it only started after you married then you should’ve tried to put a stop to that nonsense right during/after the first silent treatment. What he’s doing is childish and creates a very hostile environment. Tell him he either goes with you to see a marriage counselor or you will see a lawyer.

  15. avatar Deeliteful says:

    I think it was Dorothy Parker (or some other wise woman) who said; “Every woman should have a forgetable 2nd husband.” Let this be yours LW1.

  16. avatar sdpooh says:

    LW#1 — Ignore him back.  Go about your business.  You are an adult and are capable of going thru your day without interacting with an idiot.  If he does not come around, leave his sorry ass and move on.  I don’t let other people affect my feelings of self worth.  If they cannot act like adults you don’t need to cater to their juvenile behavior.

  17. avatar A R says:

    LW1: If you have both enjoyed independence, you probably will still need that to a degree. Make an agreement that you won’t see each other in person from Monday-Friday or some other such agreement. See if you like just seeing each other on the weekends for a bit; use the justification that the weekdays are for academics and the weekends for fun. If that works, and you want to see more of each other, then you can plan to reevaluate in a few months.

    LW2: At 50, and after one marriage, that spouse of yours is too old to play the emotional games that 20 year olds play. First marriages by young folks (think 21-27) often don’t know how to communicate, disagree, negotiate, etc., without someone sleeping on the couch or remaining incommunicado for days. That’s pretty normal as a couple has to learn how to work together as a team. It took my spouse and I five years to learn to fight without it resulting in days of anger. It took us until year 8 to figure out how to negotiate big disagreements without resentment, and by year 10 we could finish a “fight” in 20 minutes and be speaking again after 30. LOL. That’s the beauty of a marriage and friendship that evolves.
    However, I find it sort scary that your spouse has been through one marriage, is older than me, and still fights like my spouse and I used to! (Except that neither of us would lecture the other for 2 hours!) Be careful with this man. He’s obviously not learned a very important lesson about communication and respect from his first failed marriage. I’d start by waiting until one day when he is not crabby and saying, “Honey, we need to talk.” Mutually agree to a few ground rules for BOTH of you for future arguments:
    1. Learn to say, “I’m unhappy at this moment. Give me a little while, and we’ll talk, but I need to get my mind right first.” Sometimes you have to act normal, while giving it a day or two; then you say, “Okay. I’m ready to talk about what happened yesterday that upset me.” What you *don’t* get to do is act weird, mad, or punitive while you wait for a good moment to talk.
    2. You get 10 minutes to monologue. Then it’s the other person’s turn. You don’t get to interrupt. Use a dang timer if you have to.
    3. Nobody sleeps on the couch; that’s silly.
    4. If either of you must pout or sulk, leave the house so you don’t do it in front of each other. Go drive, shop, see a movie, whatever it takes to get your nose back into joint. When you come back, you come back with a civil attitude.
    5. Make sure that before you talk, you identify the *real* issue that you are upset about. Be prepared to say exactly what you mean, and use “I” statements.
    6. No name calling or swearing. Period.

    If both of you can do this, you don’t likely need a counselor. If one of you can’t, then you probably do need outside help.

  18. avatar Kordellsnow says:

    My goodness people love to think that because someone does not talk to them for a few days after a fight that this is emotional abuse every time. That thought is ridiculous. There could be a long list of reasons why he prefers this method of dealing with you after an argument. (1) Maybe that is all he knows. He might hate to deal with conflict and feels that this is the best way. While I don’t agree with this theory of dealing with problems, the motive behind it is not evil. (2) He may just hate arguing with you because of what you do in arguments, that you have not shared in your letter. Many times people are so intent on winning arguments that they fight dirty, or are way too emotional, or can not focus on the problem at hand and bring in outside issue. Maybe you argue all the time because he doesn’t want to listen to you complain all the time and you think he should be your sounding board. (3) Possibly you turn everything he says around on him, putting meaning to his words that should not be there.

    Look you BOTH are on your 2nd marriages. Try to find out what the root cause of the break up is. Maybe you two will find you are dating a similiar type behavioral person when it comes to adversity. In which case this issue is BOTH of your faults. You are both around 50 years old, maybe your husband has finally said I am too old for the crap of arguing all the time, and if a situation is getting blown way out of proportion, he is going to choose to walk away from the fight and relax. You on the other hand sound like you have an issue of letting things go. You are both 50, and while you should not avoid all conflict, you need to get some perspective in life and learn that not all issues that you consider big are big to all people and that includes your husband. Also, if he disagrees with your perspective on how big a problem is he does not have to waste his time listening to you and validating you. You are 50 for goodness sake, sometimes solve the problem yourself and move on

  19. avatar Barrudaki says:

    Looks like letter no.2 is making the rounds. Just saw on Dear Abby

    DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend, “Jackson,” and I have been in a long-distance relationshipfor two years. We recently learned that we both have been accepted to our “dream” college, which means we’ll live close to each other for the first time. I’m excited, but nervous about what the adjustment will be like.
    Jackson is my first boyfriend, so I don’t know what it’s like to be with someone who can physically be around all the time. Normally, we communicate by phone or video chat and lead our separate lives. But when we visit each other, our days just revolve around the two of us. I miss Jackson when we’re apart, but I enjoy having the freedom to study, hang out with friends and have “me time” while still being in a happy relationship.
    From what I have heard, college life is fun, but busy. I love Jackson and want to be with him, but I also want to make new friends and focus on schoolwork. (He wants that, too.) I’m afraid that once we get to college we’ll either be so wrapped up in each other that we miss out on other stuff, or get so busy with school and friends that we never see each other. Jackson shares my concerns, but neither of us knows how to make sure we strike a good balance. Can you help us? — ANXIOUS IN FLORIDA

  20. avatar flagman23 says:

    Gee LW2. I just read the very exact same question in Askamy today. Did you find the answer you were looking for?

  21. avatar Davina Wolf says:

    I lived with a guy who’d give me the silent treatment for weeks at a time.  His favorite trick was to stop speaking to me at the beginning of long car trip vacations.  He always had some reason that I had caused him to do this.  I finally left him, feeling very guilty about it, but I was young and had grown up in a dysfunctional family.  Twenty-five years later I’ve discovered that this charmer has been divorced four times. 

    Counseling isn’t going to change these people.  You’re far better off single than with someone like that.  Run as fast as you can!   

  22. avatar karrezza says:

    Wait WTF??? This same letter was in Dear Abby on Monday.. You telling me you both do not get enough letters that you have to SHARE them???

    DEAR ABBY (on Monday)
    My boyfriend, “Jackson,” and I have been in a long-distance relationship for two years. We recently learned that we both have been accepted to our “dream” college, which means we’ll live close to each other for the first time. I’m excited, but nervous about what the adjustment will be like. Jackson is my first boyfriend, so I don’t know what it’s like to be with someone who can physically be around all the time.

    Dear Margo: My boyfriend, “Chuck,” and I have been in a long-distance relationship for two years. We recently learned that we both got into our dream college, which means we’ll be able to live in the same area for the first time in our relationship. I’m very excited, but at the same time I’m nervous about the adjustment. Chuck is my first boyfriend, so I don’t know what it’s like to be with someone you are geographically near all the time.

    Come on now! Are the letters just made up???

  23. avatar karrezza says:

    Ok she answered me via twitter saying writers often write everyone at once.. but thing is its completely rewritten too not just the names changed…