Rodney Wilson is a regular guest post writer on Selma on Leadership. Rodney has been a marriage and family pastor/counselor for almost 20 years. Rodney and Selma have been married for 40 years and they have spoken and written on marriage and family issues for most of their married life.
Is silence really golden? Not usually so in a marriage. Oh, there are times when perhaps he should be silent about her mom’s choice for a Sunday church dress, but that’s not what I’m talking about. In the marriage relationship, silence can be a subtle poison that creeps into the marriage, quietly creating distance.
Here are five reasons silence can be deadly in a marriage:
1. Silence is easily misinterpreted. This is the umbrella of reasons. A wrong impression is often the basis for misunderstanding. Spouses take their impressions of a mate’s silence and go with it to a place nowhere near what their spouse is feeling. For example, she might think her mate is furious by his quietness when he might not have an opinion at all. The more she stews on it the angrier she gets – over nothing but an assumption.
When in doubt over your mate’s silence, ask for help. Clarifying up front can alleviate a lot of needless confusion and possibly needless pain.
2. Silence can perpetuate suppression. If “stuffing” becomes the style you guys use in addressing your conflict, it is problematic. Suppressing your anger/conflict encourages whoever is silent to continue that pattern. This is trouble because you can only stuff a volcano for so long. It will erupt. More than once in my counseling I have seen it erupt in an affair. Or a person leaving the marriage after years of stuffing.
Silence can provide short-term relief (no conflict) but creates an unfortunate long-term debt that will be paid.
As awkward as it might feel, fight through your silent moments to share with your mate where you are. If you need some help with a counselor or trusted friend, then seek help. Just don’t be silent. It is really dangerous.
3. Silence can say you do not care about the relationship. This is probably not what you mean to say, but think about it. Do you care enough to speak your mind to your mate when needed, even when your feelings might cause conflict or anger? Conflict is not always a bad thing in a marriage. Clearing the air can be healthy. Where there is anger there is passion. There is caring. Remaining silent can say you do not care, thus sending a message you might not be intending to send. (See #1 again.)
4. Silence can feed your lack of confidence in the marriage. For the one who is not articulate, not as argumentative as his/her spouse, this is a painful truth. The downward spiral is real. Each time you maintain your silence because you feel your spouse will out-debate you, you are reinforcing the idea that you cannot confront him/her. And the spiral gets deeper and deeper to the point where you feel you could never express your opinions or feelings.
What can help is to concentrate on how you initiate your concerns. When confronting your mate ask for help. Here is an example: “I need your help with something. I don’t understand why you didn’t do what you said you were going to do. Can you help me with that?” Asking for help keeps your mate from getting defensive. You are not blaming, you are asking your teammate for help.
I encourage couples to take a “low stakes” subject they disagree on and solve that one first. (Squeezing the toothpaste in the middle for example!) This can build confidence in the team as opposed to harming a mate’s self confidence brought on by silence.
5. Silence can be sinful. Ephesians 4:26 talks about anger. It says when you are angry, do not sin. Then it says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (My translation for this post: “Don’t be silent!”) I tell couples not to be legalistic about this verse. If you stay up till 2:00am trying to solve an issue, I’ve got news for you. The sun already set hours ago! The spirit of this passage means to deal with your anger (fight the silence!) soon, while it is fresh. Do not let bitterness set in. Do not give the devil an opportunity to divide you two. Keep the slate clean, the air cleared. Settle your differences quickly so your relationship can be closer.
The opposite can be sinful. If the silence you offer your spouse is due to unshared anger, this is harmful to your marriage. Letting resentment slowly set in because you don’t want to deal with your issues is wrong. You are not holding up your end of the agreement. Fight this enemy! Silence is not golden in this case.
Yes, sharing your feelings can sometimes lead to a “spirited discussion” with your mate. Don’t panic if that happens. Simply tell how your feel and don’t attack your spouse. Breaking the silence is critical for a marriage to be all that God wants it to be. So combat this deadly enemy. Be honest and vocal with your mate. As you do so, remember another Ephesians 4 thought to speak the truth in love.