Most couples know the positive sounds of silence–the mutual experience of sharing time and space together without needing words.
If we recognize “ talking together” as a metaphor for the communication of confidantes, the collaboration of partners and the pillow talk of intimates, then the experience of “silence between us” can start to feel emotionally deafening.
How do couples who once had so much to say end up trapped in silence?
- Is it inevitable as time passes in a marriage?
- Is there a way back?
Years together need not result in negative sounds of silence.
Yes, events can disrupt harmony and patterns can erode vitality; but if couples become curious rather than blameful about the silence between them–they may find reasons and remedies to speak together again.
If we look closely at those partners who end up sitting in a restaurant with nothing to say, painfully aware of couples happily chatting around them, we find that partners are often unaware of what they may be doing wrong or what has happened to shut down verbal connection.
Here are some possibilities:
Sometimes a partner is in so much need of attention or affirmation by the other– they never stop talking. More interested in what they have to say, they barely realize there is no space for dialogue. The listening partner often complies as audience for a time but as there is less and less sharing –there is less and less reason to talk.
Sometimes speaking has become unsafe if one or both partners imply by verbal criticism, overt disinterest or non-verbal behavior that what the other is saying is of little interest or importance.
Some are embarrassed or enraged into silence. Some give-up. Some find outside confidantes who want to listen—while the silence at home builds.
Demands that a partner report feelings, the day’s events or reactions to what has been said, take the wish to share and turn it into obligation. The result is an emotional shutdown. Events may be reported but there is no sharing as partners.
Often when a partner is holding a secret from the other – be it a financial problem, infidelity, self-doubts, fears, illness or even a new personal goal – authenticity is impossible and real communication compromised.
Sometimes a couple has suffered a traumatic event outside the realm of everyday life that has taken their breath away as well as their words.
Be it the traumatic loss of a loved one, a serious injury or unexpected destruction, they avoid talking about it as a way to avoid the feelings attached.
Until they find a way to talk, however, talking about anything else can feel impossible.
Can couples find a way to speak again?
I have maintained in working with couples over many years, that if partners want to re-set their relationship—-almost anything is possible. Here are two remedies that work in tandem with each other.
Self and Mutual Reflection:
It is always valuable to start with self as we have more capacity to change self than anyone else. We also know that if we are doing something for reasons that we do not own, raising our awareness puts change back into our hands.
Accordingly, it would be valuable for each partner to personally consider and then possibly share the following:
- Am I speaking in a way that makes my partner want to listen?
- Am I listening in a way that makes my partner want to speak?
- Would I be willing to share my thoughts with my partner?
- Would I be willing to ask for some feedback?
- Are my non-verbal communications (eye contact, touch, body language) shutting down communication and closeness?
- Should we seek consult from a professional?
- Would outside help offer a perspective for healing and reconnection that we may be unable to find on our own?
The Re-setting Experience:
- A quick way for partners to re-set a pattern of shared connection, interest and talking is the decision to share something new together.
- Be it getting a new pet, planning a trip, starting a mini business, joining a club, competing as a couple etc., couple research tells us that what is novel can stimulate interest, co-participation, reasons to talk, neurochemistry and even sexual arousal.
- While this may seem simplistic, what we know about domains of communication is that when two people are doing something with a mutual goal, they inevitably speak.
- When they speak, they are interested in what the other has to say, which helps them feel valued and valuable.
- They see each other in a new light.
- Often they even feel desire.
When there has been considerable pain connected with “ talking,” there is often more mileage in initially doing something positive than saying something positive. The shared positive experience can often be an important step in resetting the connection.
When attempts to move out of the painful silence are impossible, it is very valuable for partners who want their relationship to recover to seek professional help. The mutual goal is an important step toward “ finding something to talk about.”
“Many times in life I’ve regretted the things I’ve said without thinking. But I’ve never regretted the things I said nearly as much as the words I left unspoken.”
― Lisa Kleypas,