You didn’t just run out of things to say. Richard Gatley has some guidance for how to start talking again.
Ever watch couples in restaurants? Have you noticed whether they look at each other as they talk? Or, are their eyes focused elsewhere, on what they’re eating, perhaps? Some couples don’t seem to talk to each other at all. One wonders if this is the way they conduct themselves in the car on the way home, in their living room, or even in their bedroom?
Have they said everything they have to say to each other? Have all the subjects been covered? Or, are they so disinterested in one another it doesn’t occur to either of them to initiate a conversation? Are they angry? Too furious to speak? Or, is silence a way of saying something too dangerous to put into words?
You might think couples like this are doomed to an early divorce, yet many people sustain a relationship for considerable periods of time in this manner. They do lots of things together — attend a movie, go to dinner or a party, even travel or vacation together — yet manage to have very little to do with one another. One wonders about their sexual relationship — if any.
Sometimes, this kind of sterile relationship is a kind of holding pattern in one’s life, a safe place to hide, to avoid repeating some horrible mistake, to keep from breaking another’s heart, or from going through the terrible pain of having one’s own heart broken again.
Is that such a horrible thing? Can we be forgiven for accepting something far less than what we really want in a relationship in order to avoid further tragedy? Or, if we take a much longer view, is this a way of buying time until our authentic soul mate finally appears? We really don’t know.
Are you reminded of your own relationship?
Do you see yourself sitting in that restaurant, quietly eating, hardly a word between you and your partner? Eyes that once met adoringly now afraid to meet? Does the silence that separates you enfold you in sadness? Or, do resentments reign, filling your mind with things you’d like to say to the unresponsive person sitting across from you? What stops you from talking? What creates this strange paralysis that allows you to lift a fork to your mouth yet leaves you speechless?
If you feel distress, because this does remind you too much of your own relationship, you obviously care about it. Would you like to do something to change the isolation and loneliness? Does it scare you to think about it? If so, ask yourself which emotion has been more helpful in getting you to move when you’ve been stuck: anxiety or depression? If you’re scared, it means you have the ability to get in trouble. If you’re depressed, it means you haven’t the energy to make a move. Under these circumstances don’t be afraid to scare yourself.
Begin a conversation with your partner.
You don’t have to get to the heart of the matter in your very first sentence. You don’t even have to make sense. What you do need to do is begin a dialogue.
Break the ice.
Initiating a conversation in the restaurant may be possible if you choose a topic that isn’t contentious, one in which you share common ground.
Acknowledge the hardships.
When you have more privacy, move carefully into what may be bothering you, areas that may have become blockages to further discussion.
What are the sources of silence?
Differences in child rearing practices are a common cause, while disparities in sexual interests and practices create a whole lot of silence between couples. Wherever there is a lack of common ground there is room for resentment.
Anger and fear make intimate conversation something to be avoided. And yet, ultimately, we need to air these grievances so they can be sorted out and mended.
What happens if you have no idea how you got here?
When there are specific grievances, we generally have no problem zeroing in on what we want to talk about, but sometimes the distance we feel with one another may be much harder to pin down. We may not even be at odds with one another and yet find ourselves isolated.
When we are dealing with something disturbing, for example, like health concerns or job worries, we often disappear before our partner’s very eyes, and they feel abandoned. But, it needn’t be a crisis that makes us vanish. Disappearances occur in everyday life when men and women go to work and couples become preoccupied with raising children. Sports, hobbies, shopping and other activities that capture our attention for long periods of time take us away from those we love.
Understanding disappearing acts
The couple in the restaurant could be experiencing one of those episodes when one or the other is preoccupied with something. Although they care about their mate they simply aren’t there.
This can be harder to deal with than disagreements because the “disappeared” often have little awareness of the impact of their absence on their partner. The abandoned one has to bring this vanishing act to their partner’s attention. Some people end their isolation by joining their partner in what they are doing. After years of being a “golf widow,” for example, my mother took up golf, to my father’s great amusement. (She seldom managed to hit the ball farther than ten or fifteen feet.)
Remember The Golden Rule of Relationships
As usual, “I” statements work better than “you” statements. “I miss us.” Or, “I hate the way we are, saying nothing to each other.” “I” statements allow your partner to respond without becoming defensive, so you can get on with discovering what is actually going on with each other. Problem-solving to see how you can mend this tear in the fabric of your intimacy then becomes possible.
Sometimes, it gets worse before it gets better
It may not go very well at first. It may, in fact, go rather badly. You may become painfully aware how difficult it is for the two of you to talk. After all, you haven’t had much practice. That’s when the idea of getting help should occur to you.
At times like this, distance doesn’t make the heart grow fonder.
Remember, this isolation separates both of you. It may be tempting to blame your partner, but the truth is you don’t really know what’s going on, even though you may have a favorite theory about it.
Hope begins when you start talking.
Leave room for discovery, because that is what is likely to happen if you begin to talk to one another. Be kind, loving, and honest. Abandon games you may have played in your relationship. It is your authentic self you want to bring to this conversation, your partner’s authentic self you want to talk to. Have courage and leave some room for hope.
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Photo: Getty Images
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