According to research giving your partner the ‘silent treatment’ could keep the relationship going.
A survey of US couples suggests the so-called cold shoulder may work as a manipulation tactic – depending on how much you earn.
Experts at California University in Los Angeles say ignoring a spouse’s demands is likely to be the best policy for those on a lower income.
But, conversely, it backfires among those on higher salaries.
This is because spouses who earn more have higher expectations that their partner will bend to their demands, said researchers.
Lead author of the study Jaclyn Ross, of California University in Los Angeles, explained: ‘Consider this example.
‘A wife requests her husband ask for a raise at work. For a husband in a low-wage job with less job security, that is a risky proposition.
‘By showing reluctance to ask for the raise, he can preserve his self-esteem and lessen emphasis on the couple’s vulnerable financial situation.
Dubbed ‘demand-withdraw’ behaviour, it has been documented by clinicians since the 1930s – but only recently researched.
It’s been found to be one of the most frequently used responses to conflict in romances – and a major cause of divorce.
But the US team say the classic ‘relationship stalemate’ when a partner shuts down at being asked to do something is much more complicated than previously believed.
Psychologists claim ignoring a spouse’s demands is likely to be the best policy – for those on a lower income. The controversial tactic backfires among those on higher salaries.
Graduate student Ms Ross and colleagues said previous studies on the phenomenon have focused almost exclusively on middle-class couples.
They came up with conflicting results suggesting the common behaviour could be harmful – or helpful.
So the latest research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology included more racially and ethnically diverse participants – and analysed their socioeconomic status.
It found dishing out the silent treatment helped relationships stay stable for couples with fewer financial resources – and decline for those who were more affluent.
Interestingly, relationship satisfaction dropped for lower-income couples when the picked on spouse did not ‘exhibit strong withdrawal behaviours,’ said Ms Ross.
Co-author Professor Thomas Bradbury said: ‘Even though it’s easier for wealthier couples to access resources to address their relationship problems, it can also create higher expectations that partners will make accommodations for one another’s demands and needs that underlie their problems.
‘But if those expectations are not met, rifts can occur in the relationship and exacerbate the existing problems.’
As in earlier studies it focused on the wife giving the demand – and the husband being the one to withdraw.
Examples of the behaviour included the wives being hostile, dominating, threatening or blaming – while their husbands avoided the confrontation.
Ross said the study highlights the importance of using diverse samples in research on couples because results can vary based on differing life circumstances.
The results could benefit counsellors who work with couples in therapy and policymakers focused on marriage and family.