Want some relationship advice? Maybe it’s time to be quiet.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. I LOVE to talk. It’s one of the gifts God has given me. The unfortunate “flip-side” of that gift is that it sometimes gets me in trouble. Chances are, you’ve experienced a similar situation. People have called me in the past saying, “Zakk, how can I get my husband to listen to me. He doesn’t hear a word I say, and what I’m saying is important!”
Listen. I UNDERSTAND. It’s hard, especially for those of us who love to communicate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to get my point across to my wife… to the point that she’s ready to strangle me. But I was speaking with a friend once, and he gave me some of the best relationship advice I’ve ever heard: sit down and be quiet. To me, this was a foreign concept. Why in the world would I be quiet? In fact, the look I gave him was something like this:
But here’s the thing: sometimes we need to be quiet to give the other person a chance to process what they’re hearing. Remember, fellow communicators, sometimes our spouses aren’t as open and willing to share their emotions as soon as they feel them. Many times, they need time to organize and “file” their thoughts. Giving them this space will give them time to find the answers the two of you are looking for, and it also makes the situation less threatening. In fact, this scripture probably says it best:
“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven… a time to be silent and a time to speak.” -Ecclesiastes 3:1,7b
And we must accept that sometimes, the other person just has nothing to say. Sometimes, the other person’s silence is misinterpreted. Therapist Suzanne Phillips explains it best:
Your partner comes home from work, says hi, and then silently goes through the mail.
Worried you ask, “Is everything OK?”
“Fine.” Still worried you ask, “Why are you not talking?”
Now he/she sounds irritated “I don’t feel like talking.”
You move from worry to anger: “I wait for you to come home, and you don’t feel like talking?”
Partner walks into another room.
But, as Phillips shows us, there are other ways of handling the situation better.
Remedy: Undoing this type of vicious cycle takes a mutual effort of trust. Try the following:
- Drop the Assumptions: Once you ask your partner if he/she is OK and your partner reports “fine,” assume the best, give him/her the space, then proceed as normal, “Do you feel like watching TV?”
- Pick up the Clarifications: It is invaluable in a relationship, whether you are a very close couple or a couple repairing your bond that you clarify the meaning of your silence. “I’m just dealing with something at work. It’s not about us.” This drops the fear out of the situation and makes it easier for your partner to give you space or more calmly ask, “Can I help?” To which you may want to say, “No” or “Yes.”
- There is room for options without assumptions. What this does is set up a pattern of mutual respect for separate problem solving on non-couple issues. Usually, when such space becomes part of a couple’s relationship, they don’t have to guard it so fiercely and they may more frequently ask the partner for an opinion.
- Separate There and Then vs. Here and Now: If you find it very hard not to worry or assume the worst, NO MATTER WHAT YOUR PARTNER CLARIFIES, you might consider if you are mixing your history and the people from your childhood, or earlier relationships, with your present partner. With enough fear, accusation and insistence you can pretty much get the present to replicate the past.
The problem in relationships is that a lot of times, we find issues that just aren’t really there. We pick fights because the other person doesn’t respond how we want them to. We get angry because someone said something that hurt our feelings. And sometimes, we just get mad because tensions get high when you share your life with someone. And so, we fight, bicker and argue. How do we stop the cycle? Paul gives us a great indication:
Finally, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, affectionate, compassionate, and humble. 9 Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing. -1 Peter 3:8-9
Remember, the best thing you can ever do for your better half is love them the way Jesus calls us to love.
Still struggling? Check out our free resource, 10 Communication Tips to Improve Your Relationship in Just One Week!
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