Tips for Examining the Silence between You and Your Partner
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, October 2013
It seems that when dating, we have a lot to say. Strange, then, when we are in long term relationships, there is a lot less conversation. Some silence is "golden" in that it allows for contemplative connection. Other silence is distancing in that we keep conversations going in our own heads with the thought that our partner is not interested, will not understand, or well, there is simply no point to share. And then there is talking just to fill the space; this generally causes partners to feel MORE distanced from each other and to actively NOT listen.
"Golden" silence can be comforting, reassuring, and loving - a shared experience. "Distance" silence can reveal a gap between partners. There is silence in the room but our mind is far from quiet. By having significant conversations in our heads, we may be actively engaged in excluding our partner from our lives.
Sometimes being silent is used as a manipulation or punishment (silent treatment) and not only does it not work but it is cruel, controlling, and can have deleterious effects on a relationship. Issues remain unresolved and the person on the receiving end of the silent treatment usually feels awful. When I am referring to silence, I am not talking to this type of silence.
If we believe that we are in a relationship where there is just too much silence, or our only conversations are about perfunctory issues (household chores and the day to day), then we need to take it upon ourselves to try to reconnect with our partner. The first step is to recognize and acknowledge that, as a couple it is important to talk about things that matter to us, individually AND as a couple. We need to give thought to how we address what bothers us, where we are disappointed, and then pay attention to the role we play in perpetuating a cycle of silence or disinterest. We are more likely to feel connected to our partner when we share experiences that have meaning to us.
Here are additional tips to consider:
Find a Date to be Available to Talk to Each Other. - We need to put away the remote and the phone and the other devices that get in the way of "REALLY CONNECTING" with our partner. When we are alone, we can jot down some of our feelings and thoughts that we would like to share when we have a chance to talk.
Introduce Topics That Matter To You and Your Partner. - We change as we age, and sometimes we forget to tell each other the ways we feel we have changed. It may or may not be obvious but the likelihood of our staying meaningfully connected to our partner is greater if we stay focused on the relationship and keep one another informed of what we are doing, what interests us, what we want to learn and why, and how we are feeling.
Revisit Previous Experiences. - There is a difference between living in the past and appreciating and enjoying a shared history, especially when you look at it through "seasoned" eyes. Whether it is visiting places, listening to music, watching movies or plays that were significant to you in an earlier time, sharing an experience you have enjoyed in the past can rekindle or enhance the way you see and relate to one another.
Develop Common Interests. - When we think about the time when we dated our partner, we likely looked for common interests that got excited about doing things together. Examine if that is still the case. When we think about what we might like to share and what prevents us from doing so, we are more likely to address what gets in the way.
Compliment Your Partner. - It is invaluable to let our partner know that we notice when they do something that is helpful or that makes us (or someone else) feel good. Acknowledge the way they live their life, the choices they make, the way they treat other people. Notice. Acknowledge. Appreciate.
When we find common interests, we will likely feel more connected to each other. When we support one another in pursuit of those interests, we likely feel noticed and acknowledged.