The Silent Marriage Killer
When you said “I do” to your partner, I’ll bet you never thought you'd become passing ships in the night, tag-teaming to bring one kid here the other kid there, so busy that there would be no time to nurture your relationship.
You may have even vowed to never let that happen to you.
In 2010 - our kids were 6 and 8 - my husband and I reached a crisis point in our marriage. He insisted we speak to our Rabbi. I was not excited about this idea. I was really unhappy, dissatisfied and didn't see how we could make our marriage work. I agreed to go. As we sat in front of Rabbi Michael, he looked at us with so much compassion. Me with my arms crossed. My husband distant but wanting to know how he could fix our marriage. After we shared a bit about what was happening with us, Rabbi Michael said a few things. But the one thing that stands out most is when he said "Silences Kill Marriages." And it's stuck with me ever since. In fact, we did repair our marriage and now, 11 years later, whenever I feel distance between us, I always wonder which one of us has something we're withholding, not sharing, not asking, not speaking.
Just to be clear here, I’m not referring to talking to each other about all the stuff related to kids or logistics or money.
I’m talking about "real" time connecting with one another.
How often do you make time to connect with your partner?
How often to you make time to genuinely check in with one another?
What are you withholding? Not saying or sharing, but it weighs on your mind?
As the years pass while raising kids, it's not unusual to stop talking about the important stuff that resides in our inner territory. It seems like we become more crisis managers - focusing on what’s happening in front of us or right around us – the kids, the neighbors, the stock market, the news, the school, and other “stuff.” We may become quick to react and criticize, but might stop saying what is really in our hearts. We often become externally oriented and lose touch with what's meaningful and significant in our own personal lives. We become detached from who we are and what our own deep needs are and we look outside of ourselves to find “happiness.” Perhaps it's a new hobby or our work. Maybe it's friendships. Or sometimes it turns into an affair.
“A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day.” - Andre Maurois
Rather than come together to discuss what we long for, what we struggle with and what we're unsure about - we get good at suppressing, avoiding, distracting, numbing and running away from those messier spaces. It's often all in the name of raising kids, other priorities, and not enough time.
Often, it feels too awkward - like, where do we even start???
Some of us become strangers in our own homes. We might even blame our partner for why we're not as happy as we think it should be (at least that's what I did!)
“But behavior in the human being is sometimes a defense, a way of concealing motives and thoughts, as language can be a way of hiding your thoughts and preventing communication.“ Abraham Maslow
We start feeling scared to bring up things that bother us. We try to avoid conflict. We want to “keep the peace”. We don’t want to rock the boat.
We might even think we know what our partner thinks and there’s no point in talking.
We think we know one another - but forget that we're ever-changing creatures.
Sometimes we're afraid of what we may find out if we look inside of ourselves. Or if we listen to what's on our partner's mind or in our partner's heart.
But there's a part of us that knows that there are important things that aren’t being said. Assumptions being made. Issues not being surfaced. Silences that really are avoidances.
IF YOU WANT A THRIVING MARRIAGE … S T O P THE SILENCES.
Re-surface discussions that feel meaningful to you. Invite your partner to re-surface discussions that are meaningful to him/her.
You know those topics you never want to talk about and you avoid? Those are the ones to go for! Those are the ones that are fertile ground for re-invigorating your marriage.
That is, if you follow some ground rules:
- Make time. When we try to talk about important topics when we feel rushed, we don’t get to the heart of the matter and our partner might not give us the space we need to really open up. It’s too easy to be impatient.
- Breathe. I like to suggest that people start all conversations with three deep belly breaths. Breathe in so that your belly expands and then breathe out by pushing your belly button towards your spine to release the air. Do this together. Once you are in discussion, remember to breathe. Intentionally breathe each time that you are noticing yourself judging your partner or when uncomfortable feelings are coming up.
- Try to move from your mind to your heart. The breathing will help. The analyzing and strategizing keeps you in the mind. To move to your heart, ask questions like “what do you feel in your body?” And try to have compassion.
- Provide a safe space for your partner to share. When he/she talks, listen with an open heart and mind and patiently allow for the story to unfold. It's okay to ask for a pause if you feel like you're a little activated. Breath, regroup and then come back to listening.
- Tell the truth. Be prepared to HEAR the truth and tell the truth. Throw away any thoughts that your partner cannot hear the truth. That is absolutely not true. What people can’t handle is their partner infantilizing them and believing they cannot handle the truth.
- No interrupting. Stay in the moment. If you forget what you were going to say, it probably didn’t need to be said.
- Meet your partner with a “beginners’ mind.” Ask questions, be curious. Try to think of him/her as someone you don’t know rather than someone you think you know so well. (It’s likely you don’t know him/her very well at all. It may have been years since you have connected after all.)
- Try not to contradict or have a “better idea.” This is very important. As soon as you move from “creating safe space for your partner to talk” to “listen to me and my great ideas,” the conversation is likely to change directions and your partner will likely shut down. He/she may feel that they have not been heard.
- If you feel attacked, remind yourself that if you feel activated by something that someone else says, you've been triggered. You have discovered a place in your life where you have pain, most likely very old pain from your past. Be gentle with yourself and have compassion. As for your partner, thank him/her for pointing out a place where you need to heal ;)
- This is extremely gender-stereotypical, but I am throwing it out there anyway because it will be helpful for some of you who aren’t eager to start having these conversations. For the guys reading my blog – I believe there are times when you want sex and your wife doesn’t (quite possibly she can’t see the point or thinks that she needs more connection before having sex). But, in actuality she needs it, you need it and your relationship needs it…so sometimes she participates when she doesn’t “feel like it” but knows she will end up happy she did. Emotional conversations often are like sex – the woman might feel the need for more conversation and you can’t see the point. Or you may prefer to just have sex to re-connect. But in actuality, you need it, she needs it and your relationship needs it. So, sometimes you need to participate it in when you don’t “feel like it” and you might end up happy you did. You'll be saving your marriage by stopping the silences.
One parting thought – be patient with yourselves. Re-opening the lines of communication takes time and persistence. But it’s worth the effort.
Post in the comments below to share your experience with breaking the silence.
“Have compassion for everyone you meet, even when they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.” - Miller Williams