By Mel Schwartz, L.C.S.W.
Over the many years that I’ve been practicing therapy, I’ve found that couples that are struggling in their relationships often succumb to the default mode of silence. Sometimes, it’s one person who defers to the unspoken, and at times it’s actually both. In either circumstance, such silence—not a healthy pause or meditative break—speaks to the absence of verbal and emotional intimacy. Unless we’re communicating on levels of extra sensory perception or body language, words are the only tools available to us to communicate let alone resolve our issues. There’s little sense to being in a relationship and resorting to silence. Not only does it sabotage the lifeline of a healthy coupling, it chokes your expressive needs.
When you can express what you’re feeling—in the moment that you’re experiencing it—there’s much less likelihood that you’ll act out on that feeling. Problematic feelings that go unexpressed tend to percolate and boil over—they take on energy of their own, and the ensuing conflict hours or days later may have little correlation to the original emotional insult. When this occurs there’s little chance of being validated, as there may be little correspondence between your hurt feelings and the disruption of the moment.
Telling someone that you feel angry, and explaining why you do, will ordinarily sever the reactive state of being angry or acting angrily. Furthermore, the non-verbalization and suppression of your feelings will—over time—result in substantial resentment, with the accompanying behavior that we might expect. If you don’t share your problematic feelings, there is a great probability that you’ll act out on them, in any number of unrelated ways. Having done so, you now become the problem in the other’s eyes. We’ve now entered into a negative spiral of silence and struggle.
Silence is Controlling
When we think of controlling people, we ordinarily conjure images of loud or aggressive individuals. They may, in fact, appear to be bullying and controlling of others. Yet we know exactly what we’re dealing with. There are no surprises. here’s a much more insidious type of control, however, which is predicated upon silence. When we don’t share our thoughts with each other, we are often doing so to control the other’s reactions and behavior. If they don’t know what we’re contemplating, then they can’t possibly respond. At times, people who are inclined to please others or avoid confrontation fall prey to this dilemma. The tendency is to choose silence rather than upset the other party.
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