Some couples avoid conflict because they think they’re keeping the peace. They tell themselves that whatever is bothering them isn’t worth bringing up. But research conducted by relationship psychologist Dr. John Gottman reveals that these couples are at greater risk of “drifting apart with zero interdependence over time, and thus being left with a [relationship] consisting of two parallel lives, never touching.”
Inevitably, the unspoken issues and irritants add up until the tension hits a breaking point. Eventually, one or both partners explode or, even worse, shut down. They try to speak up, but by that point, it’s often too late. They don’t have any gas left in the tank to fight for the relationship. They’re just done.
Sometimes silence in a relationship is a deliberate choice. Maybe you or your significant other think, “Well, at least neither of us is yelling or using disrespectful language. That’s an improvement, right?” Well, not so much. Because the partner on the receiving end of such silence interprets it as, “You have ceased to matter to me. You’re not worth my time or my attention.” Ouch.
So how do you break the silence in your relationship without resorting to the cringe-inducing “We need to talk”? Here are some tips:
- Start By Acknowledging It.
- Hey, we haven’t really been talking lately. I have been feeling X and just haven’t known how to bring it up.
- Can we check in? I know I’ve gone radio silent and shut down. I’m not even sure I can explain it all but I’d like to try, if you’re willing to listen to me bumble about a bit while I sort it all out.
- I’m not sure what’s going here but I feel like we haven’t really spoken in X amount of time. Do you have time to talk tonight?
- I miss you. We don’t really talk anymore and I am not sure why. I haven’t asked because I am afraid you’ll say it’s my fault but I miss you. I miss us.
- State Your Fears.
Couples often stop talking because they fear what might happen after a tough conversation starts. One or both partners may think, “What happens if I start talking and we can’t work it out?” “What happens if I ask my partner what’s bothering him/her and I can’t handle the answer?” “What happens if I tell my partner what’s bothering me and they don’t care?”
If you’re worried about what your partner might say, think, or do, be transparent about that:
- I know I’m not the best communicator but silence can’t be good. I’m nervous that we’re going to end up in a fighting match. I really don’t want to fight with you. I want us to work this out together.
- I know we keep trying and that we are both frustrated. But silence is giving up and I don’t want to do that.
- I know that we haven’t been talking. The truth is, I’m scared because I’m desperate for us to connect. I feel like we are on opposite sides and I want to feel like we’re a team again. I want us to figure out some way to work this out even though neither of us really knows how to start.
- Hey, I don’t want you to feel under attack here. I know I am to blame, too, but this conversation must start somewhere. Our relationship is too important to me to not try so, here goes…
- I caught myself the other day, telling a friend about how great you were with X. I realized I never told you that I thought you did that well. In fact, I can’t remember the last time we had a conversation that went beyond our to-do lists. Can we figure out a time to just check in, please?
Now that you’ve broken the silence in your relationship and opened the door to connection, the next step is to walk through it together.