I have an experiment for you to try. I want you to look at your partner in the eyes and maintain eye contact for three minutes.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
What were the results?
Now that you’ve done that, can we all agree how uncomfortable you were doing this?
Did you feel that tension in your body? How about that yearning to look literally anywhere else but back at your partner? That feeling is the same feeling you get when there is silence between you and a stranger, friend, family member, or even your partner when there is lengthy silence between you, and you realize it.
Silence is NOT a bad thing
Counselors know that silence is a hugely beneficial tool in the counseling process and to be patient with it. It prompts the client to say something more about what they were talking about. The same can be said of relationships.
Think about the last time you felt this pressure to say something. I’m betting that either something completely random came out of your mouth, you repeated something, or you changed the subject to something different. This is what makes it a useful tool in a relationship. It forces you to get to know each other a little bit better (or think the other person is very strange; it can go either way).
Silence is also really useful when you and your partner are fighting
In that silence, there are echoes of what the argument is about, how it started, how you are feeling, but most important, you listen.
If you make a conscious effort to keep silent for a moment and really listen to your partner, a solution to the conflict might be seen. It also signals to your partner that you are hearing to them and trying to understand, rather than coming up with a retort.
These are examples of when silence can be a useful tool. Not saying anything when you feel that you’re being disrespected, intentionally hurt, or not having your needs met is not useful in a relationship. Much like a hammer can be helpful in building a house but harmful if you hit your finger with it, silence is a useful tool, but only when used in the appropriate time.
Think about a road trip. No, better yet: take a road trip with your partner. Leave your phones out of reach, turn the radio off, and just sit in silence and see what happens. Find out who is affected by silence more and work through that feeling of unease in the void. Being comfortable in silence between you and your partner is a very concrete indicator about how secure you are together, depending on the relationship. If you can sit in silence, great. If you can’t and end up chatting the whole car ride, you learn more about each other. It’s kind of a win-win situation, which is why I love this exercise.
Final thoughts – Consider silence as a tool
Take that absence of sound to reflect on what you are really fighting about and regroup your thoughts about the situation. Use it to learn more about each other. You may be surprised by what comes to mind for both of you.”