Silence in a relationship can provide a useful time out. It’s a way to enjoy some space.
Silence used to blame or punish is a destructive style of communication.
The underlying issues and purpose of silence is described more in this accompanying post entitled Silent Treatment.
Silence may be an important way for partners to reflect and enjoy individual time. It’s not always a signal that there is anything wrong.
However, long periods of silent withdrawal, accompanied by anger or blame forms a negative cycle of interacting. Some men fall into this way of coping with conflict in their relationship.
In this instance finding new ways to communicate are vital.
Developing a strategy to stop silence ruining your relationship requires some thinking and a clear plan of action. Most guys enjoy a good plan of action or step by step guide!
If you are a man or you know a bloke who falls silent and withdraws take a look at the steps below.
4 way to stop silence from destroying your relationship
Name it to tame it!
Withdrawing in silence with recurring negative feelings is a major problem in an intimate relationship. Naming it will reduce the initial intensity of the feelings between you and your partner.
- Let your partner know you can see yourself closing down and moving away from them.
- If you name it with your partner they are less likely to pursue you further and have to guess what’s going on with you.
- Remember, your silence could take on a life of it’s own. It can continue to cause negative emotional and behavioural reactions to escalate in your relationship.
Pay attention. Don’t personalise it
When you enter into negative moods of silence and withdrawal, notice your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Notice yourself before you notice your partners’ reactions.
Easier said than done. It takes practice.
It’s normal for couples to become ‘flooded’ with thoughts and feelings when in conflict. This is often when blame, attack, punishment or anger can be highly destructive.
During this time your brain is working overtime. Your parasympathetic nervous system prepares you for fight or flight as you perceive some kind of emotional (or behavioural) threat. Any capacity for rational thought can be lost!
Recognise the need for a break (see step 3) and name it.
An effective way of preventing negative cycles escalating is for you and your partner to agree on taking a break.
A phrase or word agreed upon with your partner may help to take a step back from higher levels of reactions. Literally you could say “let’s take a break”.
Defusing and taking a break means taking time out to reflect on your thoughts and feelings. Agree on how long the break will be. 20 minutes is a good amount of time, just avoid leaving it for too long.
In your break find a useful way of processing. Go for a short walk. Write down your thoughts and feelings.
It’s vital to regroup and return to talk with your partner (see step 4).
Following a break return to the discussion. Talk calmly and rationally about two things:
THE PROBLEM – what was it that actually triggered you?
THE FEELINGS/THOUGHTS – what are your underlying feelings and thoughts in the conflict?
Avoid punishing or blaming. Make peace and establish some relief at being able to influence the negative cycle from escalating out of control.
Discuss how to change your reactions to your partner. Take responsibility for your part in the negative interactions.
The art of recovering from negative cycles of communication takes practice. It’s an active process for both you and your partner.
To summarise, remember:
The more you initiate steps to recover and reflect, the negative cycle will diminish.