The Power of Silence

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.

By Joyce

After an argument, silence may mean acceptance or the continuation of resistance by other means. – Mason Cooley


14 thoughts on “The Power of Silence

  1. Silence, some wag once said, is an unbearable repartee. Question is, in all circumstances where silence might be needed, is the silence is a response to a need or an answer to a demand?

    As a struggling ‘writer’ I guess I need my moments of silence – could take weeks on end at times – and my partner needs to understand that. Regardless, whether silence is the requirement of a proffession or the curse of a temperamental disposition, it behoves all concerned a duty of understanding where a partner is coming from

  2. Great article. However I feel that it is the Eves who are wielding this power negatively more than the Adams to advance their interests. As an Adam I have to say it is very hard to practice a vow of silence in a relationship.

  3. I like !
    Who does not want ‘that’ heat?
    Anyway,it is true that Eves are the ones who wield this weapon,however even Adams go quiet at times and we are left trying to understand what the silence is all about. However,Adam’s silence often means that he is not excited about the relationship anymore and could be looking for exit( i could be wrong but from what i have seen and heard)Eve’s on the other side go silent as a way of communicating that things are not all good and she is looking for attention;i think this is where ‘babying’ each other comes in…..

    But like the piece says,maybe it is good to let the other person know that you need cooling off because silence can send the wrong signals.

    • 🙂 I used to assume the above too (about Adams) but later on, I came to realize that there are some guys who prefer stormy silence to fighting it out…I think it varies from guy to guy…

  4. @Kidi, Ghafla and Mimi, thanks for weighing in.

    @Kidi, silence is to be cherished as it is underrated sometimes but as you and Mimi say, it needs parties to understand one another so as not to send the wrong signals.

    @ Mimi, someone say HEAT 😉

  5. woow great piece there but not to be left out in the art of plagiarism “from whence we cannot speak from thence we must listen” still stands the test of time. Question is when should we speak and when should we not? Sometimes its worth speaking though the knowledge that speech wuld trigger tantrums shies the wiser of us from voicing our concerns. Kidi takes a higher road though

  6. Hmmm…I think the other party should be aware that you’re cooling off otherwise they may take your cooling off period negatively, making things worse (the feeling of being hurt may fester if not taken care of soonest) for the silent treatment/cold war, that can backfire badly…I dated this guy once and when we had our first fight, he resorted to serious cold war (which sucks like hell when you’re on the receiving end)…yours truly, being the paranoid lady that she is, took it to mean he’s no longer interested and quietly left. Later (when he didn’t hear from me) he decided to call…we eventually made up and even laughed at the way we got our wires crossed…

  7. They say silence is golden…but it always depends on who is doing the talking. On a serious note, each partner needs to strike a balance on when to use silence or not, because silence can breed that unwanted stranger in the house.

  8. For me silence is the best weapon! I’m not the kind that argues endlessly on top of my voice. Never ever!!! I will shut my mouth, think through what I have to say and when the *Heat has died – say it politely. If my S/O insists on a shouting match, I go quiet.

    The other silence I looooove is where I’m so comfortable with my S/O that even when we’re sat in silence, it’s perfect.

  9. @Nyambura, Munene, Farmgal, thanks for visiting and weighing in. As Nyambura said, wires can cross, then it becomes a lost game of ‘silent chinese whispers’ and no one wants that unwanted stranger that Munene has mentioned. Farmgal, love that other silence too!

  10. The silence that I hate is when it is being used as a weapon. It really gets to me but then after a while it is all hugs and kisses and forgiveness and forget…except that the Eves never forget!

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