When it is quiet in the house parents wonder, “What’s going on?” or “Is anyone here?” Why? Because silence communicates something. Silence can communicate a sense of safety, understanding, and emotional or relational messages of need. At the same time, being silent can be a way to communicate disapproval, or be tool for being passive aggressive and controlling. Silence leaves the person at whom it is directed to interpret it and human nature dictates that we make it mean something negative without verbal communication to confirm or negate what the silence means.
Years ago I was in a relationship in which he was upset about something, did not communicate verbally, but would meet my “good morning” with silence, go to bed without a word, and slept with his back to me. Those were definitely forms of communication. Additionally, that is not the first time I have experienced silence in a relationship in which a person simply will not communicate. That has caused me to reflect on what silence does in relationships. Reading Silence: A Relationship Killer from Psychology Today resonated and gave me that chance. Though silence communicates something it can cripple relationships because it leaves someone on the outside, reduces the sense of closeness, security, importance, and “chokes expressive needs.”
Although silence is a form of communication no one is a mind reader. The only way humans have to communicate clearly Is speech or some form of it such as sign language or writing.. Even when someone is unclear of what is being communicated through writing, sign language, or being spoken they can at least ask a question. Silence deliberately shuts that down. Nowadays silence can take many forms from no answering texts and returning voice messages to ignoring direct communication. There is something to be said for the ability to express your thoughts and feeling to a person. Suppression of this builds resentment, feeds disconnection, and erodes trust. Deliberate silence, in essence, is withholding self, control, and passive aggressiveness at their best.
Being silent, as suggested in the article, can be used as form of punishment. Withdrawing from a relationship in that manner breeds anger, obstructs resolution, encourages internal dialogue on both sides, resolves nothing, and builds another obstacle. When we use silence as a weapon we diminish our power to effectively communicate, resolve issues, and live fully in the face of fear or circumstances. It opens the opportunity to place a relationship in a place where trust is irreparable.
Here are some tips to improve communication:
- When someone is sharing their thoughts, feelings, or concern ask if there is more they need to day. This communicates a desire to understand and fosters security emotionally.
- It is not just about you, but the thoughts, feelings, needs, issues, desires, and judgments of the other person due to their experience, perspectives, and reality.
- It is also about you, your thoughts, feelings, needs, issues, desires, and judgments. They are valid, yet, have little to do with the other person. Take ownership of our experience and communicate your experience only.
- Complaints are often not heard in the context of a solution. Make a request; say what you want to have happen to the other person because a complaint can spark the fire of an argument with no resolution. Make a request.
- Tell what is true for you. Being transparent takes being brave and authentic enough to be vulnerable. Suppressing our truth often causes withdrawal, resentment, and acting in other ways.
Though silence is a form of communication it may not be communicating what is intended but killing the relationship. Take on communicating verbally to clarify misunderstandings, feelings, thoughts, and resolve issues. Silence is not always golden.