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I do not like the “silent treatment.” It is passive-aggressive behavior (deeds that are acted out passively but that are, in reality, very mean and aggressive). This behavior is, in essence, extremely manipulative. For instance, jokes at the expense of a spouse (or anyone else) are not funny; they are passive-aggressive. Passive-aggressive behavior is generally a result of an inability to express anger in a healthy way. A person’s feelings may be so repressed that they may not even realize they are angry or are feeling resentment. A passive-aggressive individual can drive people around him or her crazy, and does not seem to realize what he or she is doing – even when confronted with the behavior. Due to their lack of insight into their feelings, passive- aggressive people often feel that other people misunderstand them or are holding them to unreasonable standards. Thus, as you mentioned, it would probably be unproductive to confront your husband about his behavior, as it will likely lead him to give you the silent treatment.

If you feel that you need to speak with your husband about the way he is acting, it is best to use the “I feel” message. I usually recommend talking about the way you feel, rather than talking about what you do not like in the other person’s behavior. This is especially important when dealing with someone who uses passive-aggressive defense mechanisms. Make sure to stay away from attacking your husband’s behavior and try instead to make your feelings the topic of the conversation. For example, consider saying something like, “I feel bad when you stop talking to me. It would be much easier for me if you discuss with me what is bothering you.”

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My recommendation: change your countermove first and then speak with your husband if he continues to act in this manner. If these ideas are not helpful, please seek professional help. Hatzlachah!

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Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to deardryael@aol.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at www.jewishpress.com and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at www.dryaelrespler.com.