silence can be more destructive than an argument

Changing Destructive Patterns.

Silence, another day with cold stares and an icy atmosphere, the unspoken cause of our frigidity resounded within the four walls of our home as though we had had a screaming match. Our house echoed the silence, magnifying the dysfunction between us. Not that we realised 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 realised that this was a lie. We didn’t understand that silence itself could be as destructive as a full-scale argument. We fully believed that our relationship was secure because we didn’t fight; we thought it was healthy. Of course, there are times when it is wise to keep quiet, but this wasn’t one of them. 

A time to be quiet and a time to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:7

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 or 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 that is not easy to win. Silence is also manipulative. The pressure of being ‘sent to Coventry’ creates a change in behaviour, 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 ingrained patterns of behaviour 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 needing annihilation. The anger and frustration that had been bottling up over the 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 learned 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 they would disappear. 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. This week we will celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. I think that qualifies us to say that talking more works.

You can lean more about healthy communication within relationships in our “Improving Communication, an Essential Guide for Couples” book. Available by clicking here.



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