At some point or other, all of us have been recipients of a very powerful but non-verbal weapon – silence. If not in our adult relationships, at least as a child when curiosity or notoriety got the better of us and we went against our parents’ orders, admonishment would often be followed with silence and no amount of tantrums would work until the parent decided that the dose of silence was enough.
When it comes to relationships, the saying goes that silence is golden. In fact, it is said that a good litmus test for relationships is when partners are able to spend quiet time comfortably with each other without a word being said. This is a plus; especially when the relationship is going well and both parties do not have any issues with each other. Neither party needs to question if there is something wrong in the relationship.
However, silence where both parties know for sure that something is not right but none of them is humble/willing enough to break the silence can be detrimental. Adams and Eves use this tool differently and also react to it in different ways. Undoubtedly, it triggers a lot of negative feelings on either side and while it may seem like a powerful tool to use, it might not always produce the desired effect.
One of the reasons that silent treatment in relationships is supposedly so ‘effective’ is because it is mostly about control. It is a power struggle that can quickly trigger feelings of abandonment, guilt, fear, or responsibility in others. Most people wield it expecting that it will make the other party ‘realize what they have done wrong and act responsibly’; the flip side is that this form of dealing with issues in relationships can end up doing more harm than good. Often times, (and mostly in hindsight), one realizes that there was no point using the weapon and some issues can be sorted out amicably without the unnecessary strain brought about by silent treatment.
A friend once told me that there is a reason why people call each other ‘baby’ in a relationship. I had no idea what he was referring to so I inquired. He told me that it is because at some point in the relationship, one partner will act like a baby (tantrums and all) and the other party is supposed to ‘baby’ the other out of the situation. I was of the feeling that since we are all past kindergarten, no one should act like a kid; instead, people should act like adults, say but in a respectful why they feel wronged/hurt and leave it to the other person to apologize or explain his/her behavior. I was reminded that in the real world, life does not always ‘flow’.
However, silence should not be confused with ‘cooling off’. You know those times in relationships where things get heated (and we don’t mean ‘that’ HEAT ;)), but rather when your partner is treading on ground that you know or feel will drive you to the edge of the cliff and because you do not want to give the relationship a sudden death, you decide to cool off before discussing or dissecting the issue. It goes without saying that even then, it might help to let the other party know that you have reached some sort of ‘boiling point’ and need to cool off and therefore need time.
Sometimes, even in the most functional relationships, a ‘cooling off time’ may be necessary but this is different from silent treatment. The cooling off period is usually where a person is overwhelmed by a situation in a relationship that they need a bit of time to mull over the situation, so that when time comes to discuss the issues, the person will produce some coherent sentences. It is usually helpful because it checks over-reactions, especially hurtful exchange of words that cannot be taken back.
Everyone reacts and handles conflict in a certain kind of way so maybe it is should be left to couples to decide how they want to treat these episodes. But then we have to ask ourselves: to what extent are we willing to wield the sword of silence and win the battle at the risk of losing the war? Can we ‘baby’ each other out of such situations?
Have your say.
After an argument, silence may mean acceptance or the continuation of resistance by other means. – Mason Cooley