Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


2 Ways to Be More Mature in Your Confrontational Style

Manipulation can creep into even the best relationships. Here’s how to avoid it.

Mimi Thian / Unsplash
Mimi Thian / Unsplash

Nothing is more important to our happiness than the relationships we have with others. If you don’t feel loved, supported, and valued by the people who are closest to you, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to sustain a positive outlook for long stretches of time, especially in the face of life’s inevitable challenges. You may feel temporarily happy when engaging in pleasurable experiences, but these short-term buzzes often give way to deeper feelings of disconnection, loneliness, and isolation.

This is why so many people enter therapy to improve the quality of their relationships, especially their romantic relationships. They know things aren’t working as they should, and they realize the problem needs to be addressed to preserve their long-term happiness.

Fortunately, psychological research identifies some common problem areas that can gnaw at the fabric of our relationships—and all it takes is a refresher, or "tune-up," to get things back on track with your romantic partner or other close loved ones.

Here are two things to look out for if you feel your relationships are out of alignment.

1. Are you choosing silence or the "silent treatment"?

The silent treatment is a passive-aggressive manipulative tactic used by people in relationships to regain control. Research published in Communication Research Reports offers some telling information about the silent treatment, such as:

  • More than half of people in marriages have used the silent treatment. In other words, even the best of us aren’t above using it.
  • It can take on a variety of forms, such as reduced eye contact and non-responsiveness/stonewalling.
  • It’s used more by women than men.
  • Once it starts to be used by one partner in a relationship, it’s more likely to be used again.
  • It’s dysfunctional.

Although giving someone the silent treatment may get your point across and ultimately lead to a successful resolution of the problem, there are more mature ways to handle confrontation. Instead of choosing the silent treatment as a relationship repair strategy, try silence instead. It is perfectly acceptable to take timeouts in the form of silence in your relationships. In fact, it is one of the healthiest ways to deal with conflict.

Tell your partner, friend, or family member that you need some silent time to gather your thoughts around what you view to be an upsetting situation. Once you’ve taken some time to calm down and process the situation, talk with them about how it can be resolved so the two of you can continue enjoying each other’s company.

2. Are you going "tit for tat" instead of hitting the reset button?

When we’re upset about something, we’re more likely to react than to observe. In some cases, this can take the form of giving someone the silent treatment, as discussed above. In other cases, it may provoke you to go "tit for tat"—i.e., if someone does something to upset you, you do something different to upset them.

This escalatory confrontation style comes at a high price. It can often spiral an easily addressable situation into something that is much harder to mend. Research clearly shows that forgiveness is always a better option for your long-term mental health than revenge. Some transgressions and fights can change the course of your relationship forever, but that doesn’t mean you can’t forgive.


None of us are above acting immaturely from time to time. We’ve all given the silent treatment and we’ve all gone "tit for tat." But we can also strive to be better. By avoiding immature confrontational styles and re-focusing on the happiness we derive from our close relationships, even challenging ones, we can reach a new level of connection with the people who are in our lives.

More from Mark Travers Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today