Sometimes in life and in marriage, silence can be our best friend and greatest ally. Not in the sense of the hated Silent Treatment which is abusive, but in the sense that not every difference of opinion must hashed out to achieve agreement. Where conflict in non-essentials arises in marriage, in my experience Golden Silence restores tranquillity and happiness.
As a little girl, I watched my parents engage in unnecessary conflict. Conflict that stemmed from one source: they laboured under the delusion they always had to agree on everything. Differences of opinion were highlighted, spotlighted and put under a microscope. Intense discussions followed which, more often than not, devolved into flaming rows. Eventually, after much discussion, arguing, anger, drama and tears, my parents re-emerged bloodied and bruised but, supposedly, sharing exactly the same point of view. More pseudomutuality than actual agreement, I suspect. Da had simply caved.
My parents’ marriage was my only model for how marriage should be conducted. I didn’t like it, but their bond seemed more solid than the even more volatile and unhappy marriages in our extended acquaintanceship so I just assumed they’d got it right.
When I married my husband the marriage techniques my parents modelled were really all I had. But I didn’t like it. Not at all. Yet it felt like solidarity of opinion was required for Rhys and my marriage to be ‘proper’ and solid. After all, my parents ‘agreed about everything’ and I wanted my marriage to Rhys to be at least as solid as theirs.
Then Brexit happened. Rhys felt it was in the nation’s best interests to exit the EU. I voted to remain. We both felt passionately that our viewpoints and perspectives were right. We both had cogent reasons. We both researched the issues and made intelligent decisions. Our votes cancelled out each other’s votes. We may as well have stayed to home.
Like so many of our countrymen and women during Brexit, our home became tense. We both felt our positions passionately. We both were shocked that we didn’t, automatically, share the same opinion. We both tried to convince each other of the wisdom of either leave or remain. Things became rather heated.
That’s when I discovered the power of Silence. It simply didn’t matter if I could convince Rhys to vote ‘remain’. It didn’t matter if we agreed on the fate of the nation. What mattered is that we as a couple were solid and at peace with each other. So I simply shut up. Stopped talking about Brexit. Speedily changed the subject when it arose. Rhys soon took a leaf from my book and stopped talking about Brexit too. Soon the point of conflict simply passed away and equanimity reigned again.
It worked so well with Brexit that I’ve continued the Golden Silence technique when other inconsequential yet contentious topics arise in our marriage. I’ve learnt we simply don’t have to agree about everything and not all painful subjects have to be ‘hashed out’ to the Nth degree. We can get along quite nicely while not agreeing about everything. In fact, it was trying to agree that caused the most conflict in our marriage, not the actual differences of opinion at all.
One such topic is the sexual abuse (incest) Rhys endured as a child. It’s one of those silent topics where talking about it doesn’t make it better. It happened and nothing he or I can say will ever remove his pain. Like so many painful topics, we discussed the abuse he endured one day and far into the night. The next day we woke up like nothing had ever happened and never mentioned the topic again. Rhys has taught me the ‘sufficient to the day is the evil thereof’. There’s no need to drag pain from one day to the next.
Rhys has to live with the agony of being sexually abused as a little boy. I have to live with knowing how much he’s hurting and that at family events, if we even attend, I’ll inevitably find myself looking into the smiling face of the old woman who, decades ago, raped my husband and stole his virginity.
Silently, I live with the fact that, due largely to the abuse, Rhys finds porn use much less complicated than intimacy with me. Talking about it changes nothing. It merely heaps shame on shame. Again, silence has proven to be golden.
We silently live with the pain of Rhys being the victim of Parental Alienation and missing his children. Talking about his kids doesn’t help, if anything, it exacerbates the wound that is already raw and festering. The pain of missing his children, the anger at being alienated, lied about, cheated of the joy of being the father he wants to be to his children is not helped or softened by discussing it.
Common marriage advice would have us talk about everything. Hash it all out. But sometimes, that causes more pain and anger than simply agreeing to disagree and avoiding painful subjects. Sometimes in marriage Silence is Golden.
Photo by The U.S. National Archives