There are silences and silences. There are silences that heal and silences that hurt. Silences that bring calm and silences that predict storms. In a relationship, silence can quickly become a smokescreen to hide conflicts, tensions and unresolved problems that remain simmering under the surface, undermining the emotional bond until turning the two people into enemies or perfect strangers.
The different faces of silence in a relationship
Silence is usually much more than the absence of words. In fact, its power is such that it can often convey more emotions than a long speech. It also manifests itself in various ways within the framework of a romantic relationship, each with different motives and objectives.
1. Introjected silence
There are external silences that hide a deafening internal rumor. When two people entrench themselves in their positions, their silence can resonate louder than any words. This type of silence in a relationship occurs when problems are not addressed, but each person continues to turn them over in their mind.
It is common after an argument in which many things were left unsaid, so that since people do not talk to each other, they end up talking to themselves. It is also a common strategy for those who find it difficult to express their emotions with words and choose to withdraw into themselves.
The problem is that this inner dialogue only exacerbates the distance in the couple since each one takes shelter in his position, trying to prove to himself that he was right, forgetting the other’s motives and ignoring his needs. Meanwhile, that silence fuels an atmosphere of tension, uncertainty and latent anger.
2. Evasive silence
This type of silence has the main objective of evading reality. It involves tiptoeing around sensitive topics to avoid open confrontation. Therefore, it is a calculated strategy to prevent a potentially negative reaction from the other. A tactic by which an attempt is made to maintain a tense calm.
When we resort to this type of silence, we create an internal monologue in which we project our own fears and insecurities onto others. In other words, we create a script in which the other’s role is predetermined, so we get stuck in that loop. As a result, communication breaks down and problems grow.
This type of silence in a relationship usually occurs when an elephant has entered the room. The curious thing is that the bigger that “elephant” is, the greater our tendency will be to ignore it because the more complex and sensitive the problem will be. In this way, the feelings stay inside and the wounds do not heal while the conflict grows, lengthening its shadow over the couple’s relationship more and more.
3. Manipulative silence
This type of silence is possibly the most conscious of all, and is often used as a tool to exert power or even intimidate the other. It involves imposing a kind of “silent rule” in the home, so that one stops talking to someone as a punishment.
If one dares to address the problem, the other remains silent, trying to control the situation through the weight of unsaid words. In this way, the person who had started the conversation feels anxious and uncomfortable upon perceiving the rejection and is forced to guess what is going through his partner’s head.
This silence is used as a form of control since, although it says nothing, it actually says everything. And what it says is “I’m in charge here” or “Whatever I want is done here.” Power is demonstrated through indifference and apathy, withdrawing support and love with the aim of subduing the other.
Silence, a great killer of love
Silence is not always negative. In fact, sometimes it is essential because it gives us that space for reflection to try to understand what is happening inside us and put ourselves in the shoes of others. There are reflective silences and empathetic silences.
However, in the end communication must prevail because problems that are not overcome end up dynamiting the relationship from within. When silence becomes the norm, it becomes a barrier that prevents people from understanding and supporting each other, deteriorating the bond and increasing the distance. And the greater the emotional distance, the more difficult it will be to talk to resolve disagreements.
Sometimes we remain silent thinking “He doesn’t listen to me” or “I don’t want to argue.” And although this desire is perfectly understandable, the basic reasoning ends up being self-destructive because it only serves to reaffirm our antagonistic position.
Instead, we must remember that if the other person does not know what we are experiencing, they will not be able to respond accordingly. Therefore, it is important to find a way to express what we feel and think in an environment of emotional validation. Assertive communication is the only way for a relationship to emerge stronger from the challenges it will encounter on its path.
Herzberg, B. (2023) 4 Types of Relationship Silence and the Trouble They Cause. In: PsychologyToday.
Oduro, J. (2007) Semiotic silence: Its use as a conflict-management strategy in intimate relationships. Semiotica; 167(1/4): 283–308.