By Heather Gray
Constant conflict, chronic disrespect, and serious betrayals get a lot of air time when we’re talking about bad relationships. It’s easy to understand that relationships fail when conflict is unrelenting.
However, after working with couples for 15 years, it has become crystal clear that those couples have a leg up on other couples that are struggling. At least they’re talking, even if they’re arguing, because as Lisa Brookes Kift, LMFT explains, not arguing means you’re not communicating.
Some partners avoid conflict because they think they’re keeping the peace. They tell themselves that whatever is bothering them isn’t worth bringing up. It’s no big deal. Dr. Gottman’s research has revealed that for some conflict avoiders, this interaction is good enough for them. It works.
However, as he details in Principia Amoris, these couples are at greater risk of “drifting apart with zero interdependence over time, and thus being left with a marriage consisting of two parallel lives, never touching, especially when the children [leave] home.”
The unspoken issues and irritants add up until the tension will hit a breaking point.
Eventually, partners explode, or worse, shut down. They try to speak up, but by that point, it’s often too late. They don’t have any gas left in the tank to fight for the relationship.
They’re just done.
Maybe at some point, one or both partners did fight. They did try for an improved understanding. They worked for it. However, improvements failed to stick, nothing worked and needs failed to get met until one or both decided it was better to retreat from the relationship emotionally and stop fighting for it.
Sometimes silence is a deliberate choice. No one is yelling or using disrespectful language. However, those on the receiving end of such silence hear the message: You have ceased to matter. You’re not worth my time or my attention.
So how do you break the silence in your marriage? Start by acknowledging it.
Phrases to Break the Silence
- Hey, we haven’t really been talking lately. I have been feeling X and just haven’t known how to bring it up.
- Can we check in? I know I’ve gone radio silent and shut down. I’m not even sure I can explain it all but I’d like to try if you’re willing to listen to me bumble about a bit while I sort it all out.
- I’m not sure what’s going here but I feel like we haven’t really spoken in X amount of time. Do you have time to talk tonight?
- I miss you. We don’t really talk anymore and I am not sure why. I haven’t asked because I am afraid you’ll say it’s my fault that I miss you. I miss us.
Partners stop talking because they fear what might happen after the conversation starts. What happens if we start talking and can’t work it out? What happens if I ask my partner what’s bothering them and I can’t handle the answer? What happens if I tell my partner what’s bothering me and they don’t care?
Those fears play into why people stay silent. Tell your partner what’s on your heart.