“Silence is a true friend who never betrays.” – Confucius
What goes on in your head when your partner is silent and not paying attention to you? Do you start to freak out if your partner is quiet?
Are you able to sit in silence and be comfortable? If your partner is engaged in something and not paying attention to you does it drive you crazy? If you’re in one room and they’re in another do you feel a deep space between you? Does silence make you question everything?
I’m not talking about the silence of being alone or sitting quiet with your own thoughts and I don’t mean the silence of reading a book or laying on the sand at the beach or the silence of taking a walk by yourself.
I’m talking about the silence that exists between a couple when nothing is wrong.
There are times when silence is an indicator that something is wrong and/or someone is upset or bothered and you should know the difference.
What Causes Silence?
When I’m sad or angry or unsure how I’m feeling I become silent because I have so many thoughts in my head and so many things I want to say and I know if I say the first thing that comes to mind it would likely not go over well.
Normally the first thing that comes to my mind when I’m hurt or scared is something along the lines of, “fu** this. I don’t need you. I’m out of here. Run. Run. Run.” Maybe some of you can relate.
However, I know running and/or closing off and/or becoming silent is not really a good answer to any problem and ultimately won’t really fix the issue or make me feel better. So, I’ve learned to stay silent just long enough until I can figure out what is really going on inside my head and my heart.
In the past I would just go silent and not open back up which closes off your ability to be vulnerable and to share yourself with someone. Luckily, I also have a partner who recognizes that my silence means something is wrong and he will ask me what’s going on.
Know that it’s okay to be silent at times and to take your time to think and process before you react. Not everyone knows exactly what and how they feel the minute they feel it and can express their feelings adequately and without blame. So, take your time. Just don’t shut off entirely.
We all want connection in our relationships. The key is finding out how MUCH emotional connection you and your partner are comfortable with and understanding when you are either seeking too much closeness or when you are creating too much distance.
What is “The Silence”
There are many forms of silence in relationships. Some forms are good and some are bad and first you need to differentiate between a good silence and a “bad” silence.
To me silence represents emotional distance. We all have different comfort levels when it comes to emotional intimacy. The problem is that what we crave may not always be what we can handle.
I have always craved massive amounts of intimacy (or so I thought) and I never realized until recently how absolutely terrified I am of letting someone in. I thought I was good at closeness and I thought I was the emotionally secure one in my relationships. Over time I came to realize this was completely false.
There are some things to know about silence/emotional distance. Some partners use silence as a means of control. Some use it to punish. Some partners don’t know how to cope so it’s their natural reaction to stress or pressure. Here’s a short article on the issue that you might find helpful.
Silent Treatment Speaks Volumes About Relationships
Sometimes silence from one partner can lead to what is called a “Distancer versus Pursuer” relationship in which one person is continually withdrawing and the other person is trying to close the gap and pursues their partner to get them to emotionally connect.
None of the above are good for a relationship or for building intimacy.
So, the next time you are with your partner and there is silence try to figure out how you feel about it. Are you extremely uncomfortable with any silence? Do you crave constant attention? Are you allowing enough space between the two of you or do you allow too much space?
Is the silence between you unhealthy or natural and you’re just uncomfortable with it?
How much silence was there when you were growing up? My parents never spoke about anything emotional or difficult. Our house was happy, but everyone had their own emotional space and that’s just the way it was. As I got older I wanted to close that space, but of course I chose men who were exactly like my parents and there was TOO much space.
The silence was deafening and I would literally sit in angst for hours out of my day trying to figure out how to get them to attach to me or talk to me or stop looking at their phone for five minutes.
Too much silence and too much distance will eventually create a rift in the partnership that is unlikely to be filled up again because the chasm is too deep.
Silence is a good thing. Silence is a bad thing. Know which is which.
Men V. Women and Silence
Always keep in mind that men and women are different in the way they think and interact. Our brains are literally wired differently and if you can try to remember this when you are dealing with your partner you will already be ten steps ahead.
There are disputes about these whether the differences in brain functions really exist to the extent portrayed by authors such as John Gray, but frankly I believe it. I live with it.
Women are able to process and recall emotions better than men which is why we have 10,000 thoughts going on at once and we will remember that you forgot our birthday six years ago. Men are more single focused and are able to compartmentalize much easier so it’s natural that they won’t understand why you need to vent and talk and not get to the point.
Understand that when a man is silent he isn’t processing or brooding or trying to shut you out. He is literally shutting down his brain to preserve energy which is a biological imperative (save energy-kill beast type of thing).
Try to remember that silence from a man can be a good thing. Men like silence. My boyfriend can talk a lot, but he also needs time to just sit and do nothing and play around on his phone in an endless search for gun parts or some such thing. It allows him to zone out and decompress. As long as he isn’t in the space too often I’m good with it and I just leave him alone.
However, silence from a woman is not usually such a good thing. It usually means she is either mad at you, is brooding is stressed or is trying to figure out how to tell you what a jerk you’re being without getting into a fight.
When you view your relationship try to view actions or inactions from the other persons perspective and not always your own. The more you can get out of your head and see things objectively and not take silence personally the happier you will be.
Closing The Gap
So, how do you close the gap when there is too much silence and you need more communication? How do you learn to sit in the silence and have that silence be okay? How do you keep an emotional connection while keeping a healthy amount of emotional distance?
I’d say you need to:
1. Understand your partner
3. Remember gender differences
One-The Personal Operating System
Most people have what is called a Personal Operating System which is like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We all have fundamental basic needs like water, food and shelter but we differ in our personal values and motivations.
What interests you most? What do you spend most of your time and energy and money on? What do you think about? What are your priorities in life? Everyone is going to be different in regard to their needs and values.
Humans value things such as work, exercise, relationships, stability (financial or just having a regular routine), job satisfaction, community, family, friendships, socializing, learning, self-fulfillment, personal growth, spirituality, need for meaning etc.
For example, I would place relationships on the top of my list followed by personal growth, stability and a need for meaning as my highest priorities or what I value most in the world. For my boyfriend his highest priority would be his work or finding and having purpose through his job. He isn’t interested in spiritual growth, personal growth or relationships really.
If I sit around and talk about our relationship or his friends and their relationships his eyes will glaze over and starts making the Charlie Brown teacher noises, “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah”. It isn’t interesting to him and although I make him talk about it sometimes I understand that this is something I need to discuss with girlfriends.
So, if you are motivated by relationships and your partner is motivated by work then naturally they aren’t going to want to sit around and talk about feelings and emotional interactions. At the same time if you aren’t motivated by work you may have trouble relating to what is important to your partner. One isn’t better than the other they are just different.
The point isn’t to never share or avoid getting your needs met. The point is to first understand your partner and how they think and try to work within the framework that they have and not try to change them to make them be something they’re not so you can be more comfortable. If you can ‘t do this then you have to find a partner who has the same personal operating system.
Next, Practice, Practice, Practice. Practice communicating the right things when you do talk and practice being okay in silence when you aren’t talking.
When my boyfriend and I talk I try to ask him about work or things that I know interest and motivate him. The more I take an interest in him and his life the happier he seems. I try to focus on the good things he does or his good qualities rather than harping on the things he doesn’t do and the more I take an interest in him the more he seems to take an interest in me.
Learning to sit in the silence takes practice. Learning to understand your partner and communicate with them about things they find interesting takes time and skill. Normally we all want to talk about things that interest us and motivate us, we’re human. Just remember that a relationship takes two and sometimes one person will have to be the leader.
Lastly, remember that men and women are different. When you start freaking out because he’s zoning out on the couch and your mind starts saying, “What is he thinking? Does he want to break up? Is he mad at me? Did I do something? Doesn’t he like me anymore?” remember that he is mostly likely thinking absolutely nothing or he’s thinking that he’d like a sandwich. I’m serious.
The next time there exists a silence between you breathe deeply. Tell yourself that everything is fine and all the bad thoughts swirling around in your head are just a figment of your imagination and let the moment exist for what it is.
Realize that men need more silence and that this isn’t unhealthy and there’s no gap you need to fill by talking. Don’t pursue him and make him talk. He doesn’t want to. Respect your differences.
There is nothing wrong with healthy emotional space between two people. Learn to recognize when silence is okay and when it’s not and learn to sit in the silence without freaking out.