Silence, another day with cold stares and icy atmosphere, the unspoken cause of our frigidity resounded within the four walls of our home as though we had been having a screaming match. Our house echoed the silence, magnifying the dysfunction between us. Not that we realized it was dysfunctional we just accepted it as the way things were. The way we dealt with problems.
‘We don’t argue’, we would boast to friends. ‘We haven’t had an argument in four and a half years of marriage… not even when we were dating’. Neither of us realized that this was a lie. We didn’t understand that silence itself could be a loud argument. We fully believed that our relationship was secure because we didn’t fight, we thought it was healthy.
Standing in the kitchen breathing out a loud sigh and listening while the kitchen cupboard stopped reverberating on its hinges I reconsidered. Was this really a healthy way to deal with conflict? Neither of us wanted to admit we had a problem. Usually after a few days one of us would start to ‘de-ice’ and the atmosphere would gradually warm again until we reached a ‘friendly’ temperature.
What were the silences about? I call them silences because one could hardly call them arguments. Arguments required the use of words. They could be about the small things left undone, the big things we needed to come into agreement about. They could be about how much help I was ‘not’ getting or about Roy reading the mail before he gave me a kiss.
Silence is not harmless, silence is a weapon. Silence is sinister because it never allows the other person to know what the problem is; it is a guessing game which is not easy to win. Silence is also manipulative. The pressure of being ‘sent to Coventry’ creates a change in behavior but it also causes resentment.
The change came when we were ‘tricked’ into doing a marriage course. I don’t know whether our friends knew there were issues or they just wanted us to fill up the group but we reluctantly tagged along. I guess in our arrogance we really didn’t have high expectations, we thought there wasn’t too much to learn. We were wrong about that too! There was much to learn, we had deeply engrained patterns of behavior which needed to change and we were given the tools to cause them to change. We knew it was essential to change our destructive patterns.
The first time we spoke about things the lid blew off the can and yes, we really were confronted with a can of worms. The ‘little’ things which could have been dealt with so easily had grown out of all proportion and like some mutant species needed annihilation. The anger and frustration that had been bottling up over years poured forth. The honesty felt good and bad at the same time. The air was clearing but it was painful to learn the true condition of our relationship.
After the silence was broken we started to learn that it was better to talk than to be quiet. It was better to deal with the issues as they arose rather than sticking our heads in the sand hoping that they would go away. We also learned not to swing to the other side of the pendulum and replace silence with arguing. Angry words were no better than silence but discussion usually brought great results, even though the journey was often painful. We learned that talking about the issues didn’t threaten the relationship it strengthened it.
Now when it’s cold in the home it’s because someone left the door open. Silence is no longer a welcome guest unless of course it is that comfortable cosy silence when we are snuggling on the couch. Having just celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary I think it qualifies us to say that talking more works.