Nikki Phillippi stopped speaking to her spouse without warning to fix their marriage. Now she says that their connection has never been better—so we asked a relationship expert to weigh in.
Good communication is considered the hallmark of a strong relationship. But can the exact opposite—going silent to prove a point—also tighten the bond between you and your partner?
That's what Nikki Phillippi, a YouTube star with 1.3 million subscribers, says she did to make her marriage better. In a video titled "Why I Didn't Speak to My Husband for 2 Weeks," Phillippi explains that she gave her spouse, Dan, the silent treatment to build their emotional connection.
"I had a realization that I didn't know my husband the way I wanted to know my husband," Phillippi says in the video, filmed a year after she went silent. Through most of their 10-year marriage, Dan would mainly talk to her about factual things, and she wanted to understand him on a deeper level and know how he "felt about something, thought about something."
In the past, when Phillippi would ask him to voice his thoughts and feelings, Dan would agree to make an effort—but he never followed through. Phillippi's therapist had suggested that instead of broaching the topic again, she should just stop talking. "If you kind of go quiet basically," Phillippi clarifies in the video, "and you decide not to talk until the issues are settled, he will start to settle them."
The day Phillippi went quiet, Dan quickly figured out why. Two weeks later, he reached his breaking point; he began to cry, apologized for his actions, and vowed to change. At that moment, Phillippi began talking to him again. She now says that their marriage and connection are better than ever.
Phillippi's silent treatment seems like an extreme way to solve a relationship issue. Of the more than 1,000 comments the video racked up, about half threw shade on her silence strategy, while the other half applauded it. So we reached out to two relationship therapists to find out if silence is a smart tool for resolving relationship conflicts.
Turns out the experts put their support behind Phillippi. The silent treatment—when one person refuses to communicate with another—can be done as a punishment or an anger response, and that's not healthy. However, it can also be used as a tool for building relationships and isn't always the mean-spirited move people commonly assume, the therapists say.
"Often when I counsel couples, I observe that one partner (not always the woman) is way more verbal than the other," Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together in Southern California, tells Health via email. "This doesn’t give the slower communicator enough time to gather thoughts and put them together."
Silence can give the less verbal partner time to sort issues out and decide how to express themselves. (Phillippi admitted that she likes to process arguments verbally.)
The experts also supported Phillippi because they felt that she and Dan already had many prior conversations about Phillippi's need for a more emotional connection. "They talked and talked and [Phillippi's] therapist said, 'you're doing all the talking' and suggested she give him a chance to respond," Elaine Rodino, PhD, a therapist in State College, Pennsylvania, tells Health. "There was a lot of work done before she went quiet."
Still, Tessina believes Phillippi should have used the silence to reflect on her own shortcomings. Her strong need for conversation may have overwhelmed Dan with words, so he never had the chance to try to be more verbal about his emotions.
"Talking to him about wanting him to be more open was not the same thing as giving him the space to be open," says Tessina. "She should learn to use this tool of silence in a less dramatic way, and learn to pause on occasion and wait quietly for him to respond."
Before you decide to give your partner the silent treatment in an effort to boost your connection, Rodino suggests explaining your plan prior to officially shutting your mouth. Otherwise your partner may misinterpret your intentions, and your strategy for repairing the relationship could make matters worse.
If you plan to go silent because you're angry with your partner and want him to cave to your demands, stop right there. "It doesn’t resolve anything and the other person resents it," says Rodino. A smarter tactic? Rodino says humans respond better to rewards, so telling your partner, "I love how you shared your feelings on that topic because it makes me feel more connected to you," will be more successful than shutting down.