Silence. Weapon or Communication Tool? by Dr. Marty (NJ Marriage Counselor)
Warning from a Couples Counselor
Before I discuss how to use silence as a communication tool, I want to give a word of caution about how not to use silence: do not use silence as a weapon, a way of getting back at them.
During a marriage counseling session I have heard countless number of times: my partner has given me “the silent treatment”…
…for days, weeks, even months. It is not unusual that for periods of time partners choose not to talk to each other, or just talk about “business” issues, like – did you pay the electric bill? or pick up the children at 2:30? But when silence is used as a punishment, it tends to make things worse, and resentment grows until the silence is broken.
First Lesson Learned During Marriage Counseling
What couples need to learn is that the “silent treatment” sets up a pattern of win/lose – the first one to break, loses. In reality, both people are losing. One of the important positive things about marriages and meaningful relationships is having someone to talk with and share. When couples resort to the silent treatment, there is tension and even a feeling of loneliness. If there are children in the relationship, the bad feelings may spread to them as well.
Second Lesson Learned During Marriage Counseling
Silence can be used as a positive tool for communication. Silence is important to use when sometimes you may want to give your partner a chance to absorb what your are saying. If you are quiet and allow your partner to say what’s on their mind, it will help them to feel as if you are connecting with them. During couples counseling sessions I set a number of rules, and the first one is not to cut off your partner. In other words be quiet and really listen, and don’t interrupt them.
One “trick” I suggest during marriage counseling sessions is to ask the person who is the “listener” to write down what they want to say rather than interrupting their partner.
In addition, if you’re talking while your partner is thinking, that will tend to irritate your partner, and they won’t be able to give you their best response. When you say something to your partner that is emotionally charged, it may take them time to absorb it and figure out how they want to respond. When there is too rapid an exchange, or too heated, or too loud, not responding immediately can take some of the intensity and negativity out of the communication.
If conversations seem to be going south, an effective use of silence can be saying something to your partner, “We are just getting angrier or more upset with each other, let’s slow this down and think about what we are going to say before we make this worse”.
A good marriage counselor is a coach, and during the marriage counseling session teaches the couple things that they should and shouldn’t do.
Please send me your thoughts about the “silent treatment” and I’ll give you a $10 discount off of any my downloadable books, plus an additional $20 “surprise bonus”.
Dr. Marty’s books include many of the techniques he has used during couples counseling sessions.
Dr. Marty is a licensed Marriage Counselor in NJ. He has been in practice for over 30 years.
Another great post, Dr. Marty. I use silence when I don’t know what to say or when I don’t want to say something in anger. Is this a good idea?
Thanks for the question Shellye. How about verbalizing and saying something like: “I’m too angry to talk right now. Let’s talk about this when we are both in a better place.”
Hi Dr Marty,
The Silent Treatment is something that I use quite often , for me it’s the alternative to getting angrier and arguing . Besides arguing; the silent treatment is the only way to show that I’m hurt or upset. But by doing that it does become an issue of who breaks the silence first or feeling like breaking the silence means everything is now ok when it is not. Interrupting my partner is also something I do because I feel like I need to respond or defend every specific issue he refers to; me interrupting always makes him much more upset. This article was helpful to me and I shared it with my husband so we hopefully both learn something from it.
Always grateful for your posts
Thanks so much for the kind comments. In future blogs I will talk more about handling anger. Maybe even do a workshop on it. If folks are interested they can email me and if I get enough response I’ll put a program together on advanced techniques to deal with anger.