Whoever said "Silence is golden," may not have understood how detrimental it can be to a healthy relationship.

I am 100 percent guilty of falling into the "silent treatment" trap when I am arguing. It doesn't matter if I am fighting with my husband, my mom, or my kids — if things get heated, I shut down and zip my lips until I've had some time to cool off. I always thought of it as more of a safety valve, to protect myself and my loved ones from letting the argument escalate any further, but experts say using the cold shoulder can endanger a relationship down the road.

Researchers at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth recently analyzed 74 communications studies encompassing more than 14,000 participants. They found that when one partner shuts down or gives the silent treatment to the other, the effects can be both mental and physical. The cold shoulder heightens anxiety for both parties and can also increase the likelihood of either partner becoming more aggressive. Some of the studies also found that the behavior could lead to physical ailments such as urinary, bowel, or erectile dysfunction.

The studies, which spanned the period from 1987 to 2011, were not solely centered around the silent treatment, but it did play a broader role in the scope of relationship patterns — both between romantic partners, and between parents and their children. Researchers found that in the majority of cases, it was the men giving the silent treatment, but there were plenty of women using the cold shoulder as well.

In most cases, researchers found that couples in relationships in which one or both partners used the silent treatment experienced lower relationship satisfaction, less intimacy, and poorer communication. Yikes!

So how can you break the cold shoulder habit?

Researchers say that recognizing the behavior is a good start. And that it's a good idea to have a "time-out" period during a fight that gives both parties a chance to cool their heads and warm their hearts. But after this period, respectful communication should resume with both parties listening, and speaking about what's really bothering them.

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