The Silent Treatment – When Those with Asperger’s Shut You Out

The Silent Treatment – How to Cope when Those with Asperger’s Shut You OutYou had a disagreement with your Asperger’s Syndrome spouse two weeks ago and rather than resolving it, he walked away and has been giving you “The Silent Treatment” ever since. (This could just as easily be describing an Aspie woman.) He’s nice to everyone who calls on the phone. But you don’t exist. He completely ignores you and shuts you out. He sleeps with his back to you. He leaves the house without saying goodbye to you, although he loves on the dog, making it a point that you see it. He mutters under his breath when he walks past you. And you feel like you’re going mad! Does this describe anything you’ve experienced? If so, you are not alone.

The silent treatment is really a cruel form of abuse and it includes more, like ignoring and shunning, and treating you as if your opinion doesn’t count.

Yes, many of our Aspies have severe anxiety, and some cross wiring that makes it difficult for them to feel and talk at the same time. Many couples have learned how to cope with these situations by creating their own personal rules for engagement. However, when the Aspie chooses to shut down, cut off, shun and even get passive aggressive, this has the result of making us feel abused, oppressed, and worthless.

Psychologists will tell you that when a person cuts you out of their life or shuts you down in these passive aggressive ways, they suffer from a narcissistic wound. They feel obliterated by your strength, so in turn try to obliterate you. It is a severe type of pathology. Not everyone with ASD takes this narcissistic path, but when they do it is devastating.

I hope that a few of you are brave enough to stand up, speak out and talk back. That’s what the next Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD video conference is about. If you’re a member of the group, please register for the call to discuss The Silent Treatment on Thursday, October 6, 2016 at 2:30 PM or Thursday, October 27 at 3:00 PM. We’ll discuss: How to recognize the abuse. How to confront your Aspie. How to take back your life, whether they get it or not. (If you’re a NT in an NT/AS relationship, please feel free to join this group.)

Also, be sure to read “Our of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”. This book discusses the science behind Aspie behavior and how you can initiate the rules of engagement that help your Aspie give you the emotional support that you need. Click on the image below to request a free chapter.

15 Replies to “The Silent Treatment – When Those with Asperger’s Shut You Out”

  1. I have lived this. It is Hell. You are not alone, you are not crazy, and you don’t deserve the treatment. It IS abuse. In my experience, even with honest talks, it doesn’t get better.

    1. Hello Bob. I am so sorry that you were abused and traumatized. One thing is true, according to Dr. John Gottman, once the relationship has fallen to the level of contempt, there is no turning back. However, if you can stop the gaslighting, and silent treatment, and general verbal abuse fairly early on, it is possible to eke out positive changes. Both people need to be committed to the process.

  2. I had this for 12 years it is hell, she was oblivious to the pain she was causing and thought it totally acceptable not to talk to me for weeks and sometimes months. It ripped me in pieces from the inside out as how do you try and resolve an issue when she wont talk about it, even to the point where phone calls were not answered or just repeatedly hung up on. This is what destroyed our relationship as i could not cope with it, there is no worse feeling that being ignored for weeks and weeks followed by threats of its over. Just abusive and not a way to traet another human

    1. I chose to stop talking to my ex spouse/ASD once I decided to get a divorce. He didn’t seem to mind at all. About three months went by. When I approached him to discuss the divorce I had planned, he thought we were getting along better. I pointed out that we hadn’t talked in three months and he agreed that was the case. For “Aspies” the silent treatment is not necessarily vindictive, but self preservation. Nevertheless it feels like abuse doesn’t it?

  3. I’m going through this with my fiancé right now. He’s not a malicious or mean or cruel person. I think it’s his way of protecting himself and I think he’s worried about saying the wrong thing. But it kills me. He told me upfront when we started dating that he was an Aspie. I love him the way he is, but the silent treatment and being shut out kills me when he does it. I don’t know how to deal with it. I think I make it worse by constantly trying to get him to talk.

    1. One way to stay calm when your “Aspie” gives you the silent treatment, is to remind yourself that they may mean nothing by it. In fact, their mind may be totally blank. Since they have nothing to say, they don’t consider that you may need to talk. We NTs talk through everything, but “Aspies” not so much. Forgetting it, or filing it away, or ignoring it — are all solutions for those with ASD. This is because they do not see solutions as a joint effort.

  4. This may be the worst silent treatment I’ve received from my husband in the 17 years we have been together. Married for 13. We have four kids, 11, 9, and 5-yr old twins, one of whom was diagnosed ASD several years ago. It was during that process we realized that my husband is ASD, likely Aspergers. Put the Jeopardy Championship in a new light. He has always failed to communicate or solve things jointly without it going very badly. We’ve been on a roller coaster ride since our eldest was born. He uses the silent treatment, usually for a couple days, and then he relents only when I am being nice. He does it in response to me getting angry and yelling at him. This time, it was a particularly nasty fight, and I said some cruel things – they were true, but they were cruel. I had been putting up with so much crap all day, and he said a few choice words, and I just lost control of my temper and let him have it, calling him miserable, a dark cloud, his whole family miserable (true; his dad is a delusional narcissist), noting how he couldn’t deal with our ASD kiddo & fomented his meltdowns. He responded with silence, and then angry silence, and then cold, vicious silence. If I get near him he storms off. If I try to talk to him he walks out of the room. He does it in front of the kids. He started something he’s never done before, these weird, business-y emails to discuss logistics. It is the only way he has communicated for the past three days. I know that eventually this storm will pass, but I feel like by my letting it happen, I make it easier and easier for him to disrespect and emotionally abuse me. I’m no innocent party – I apologized to him for my cruelty, told him I loved him, and that I was truly sorry. I asked him to put the kids before himself and not cause them any anguish by watching the way he is treating me. Your words resonated with me – that I obliterated him. I get that he doesn’t feel safe. We haven’t had sex in over a year (he has refused, even when we get along well, because he doesn’t trust me emotionally (since a number of times over the last year I have gotten angry and done something like the above). He calls me a bully. He doesn’t have friends, doesn’t have anyone to talk to. I went to our Rabbi about it a couple of times, and the Rabbi would like to speak to him about his anger problems (a few months ago he said some horrible things to to our eldest son), but he refuses to see the Rabbi. He’s long refused therapy. I’ve long felt simultaneously guilty (because I know that my emotional lack of control/abusive language to him trigger these periods, but honestly, it is like .0001 of myself, it is the perimenopausal hormonal fed-up exhausted SAHM. I have lots of friends who know me and us well, and feel like he needs an intervention. I am open with them about everything I have said to him – I don’t paint myself as a martyr or a victim – I try to be as self-aware of my role in this as possible. But I just don’t know what to do.

    1. You are not alone Ashley. There is so much I could say about your post. First of all forgive yourself. Blowing up is very normal when you are in an intolerable situation. Of course blowing up is no solution, but it is a symptom . . .of Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Disorder. You can’t carry on like this or you will get terribly sick. So if he won’t talk to the Rabbi or a psychologist, take yourself and the kids to these professionals. You have to carve out a life regardless of whether or not your husband recognizes the problems.

      1. Thank you. I just scheduled a video appointment for you in early February. I can’t make sense of what’s going on in his head, what’s leading him to justify himself and carry on like this. He’s such a loving, hands-on Dad so much of the time, but he is so intense and places so many demands on everyone, such high expectations, a place of “no” person. I can’t help but see the man I love trapped in there deep inside, and the two of us have such a deep bond. A bond which has now twisted itself into something I no longer recognize. I wish desperately he would wake up and smell the madness, and do something about it.

        1. Taking action to stop the madness is exactly the right thing to do. Don’t give up on either of you, but never put up with the abuse.

  5. Hi Ashley I am going through similar situation. I didn’t even know my son was an aspie until I disapproved of his girl friend and he shut himself out. It’s been almost a year n half since he spoke to any of us in the family. We had such a beautiful relationship n it’s completely ruined. He lives in a different city doesn’t help. I am struggling to the point of losing my mind and my health and my aspie husband is of no help. Tell me if you have overcome your situation n tell me what are you doing to help yourself and the situation. Love

  6. This is such a difficult situation and my heart goes out, I did not know my wife was an aspie until after we were married which sadly then fell apart.

    I often think what could I have done differently if I had understood this condition more but it’s safe to say this is an extremely complex condition that most NTs cannot understand without a lot of support and help.

    Someone told me once that an aspie has lived there whole lives being told what they are doing is wrong or rude etc so that pain for them must be very real gor them and difficult to process whilst living in a constant state of anxiety….even one argument or verbal disagreement can be devastating and lead to shut down to protect you and themselves …they will care but not know what to do as they do not follow social norms.

    I found in the limited interaction I now have it is best to be clear, calm and concise about your needs an aspie will not be able to recognize any NT relationship behavior …meltdowns by an aspie you love can be so heart breaking but I know now it is best not to react but try to reframe the behavior or come back later with a calm response as reacting emotionally in the moment will spiral the situation.

    Aspies are truly amazing people however as a NT I understand that some NT people may not be able to manage such a situation day by day…and everyone should ensure their own health needs come first.

    All the best

    1. Such a thoughtful response. Thank you. I quite agree that NTs need help navigating the boiling waters of an NT/ASD relationship. I also agree that it is not a relationship for the feint or heart. I certainly grieve over my mistakes and wished I’d had the insight I have now. This is also why I formed an interventional support group on Meetup, “Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD.

  7. I dont know how you al take this for weeks or even years.. I had stupid stupid argument when my aspie fiancee was lecturing me on how to do something and showed (as usual) no concern for the stress I was under at the time. I usually sit on it but for once i called it out the next day and all hell broke loose (from me) and she went dark, no responses to texts, calls or emails. It’s our 5 year anniversary and unfortunately and fortunately it’s the last I ever hear from her.

    1. I am so sorry Peter. Don’t be so hard on yourself. The oppression of living with a loved one on the Spectrum is severe. Yes, it’s true that they give up very easily and run, when we would hang in there and work it through. Be grateful that you have the stamina to do so. Others will appreciate your gifts.

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