Hello, again! Today, I would like to talk about how adding mindful, contemplative silence into our relationships can help us make our relationships and social interactions with our loved ones and even strangers much more fulfilling, genuine, and, ultimately beneficial.
Hope you have enjoyed reading this multi-part blog post so far! If you are here for the first time, in The Power of Silence – An Introduction, I described what I meant by silence, and I introduced some benefits that practicing silence can add to our lives. In SilencING the Self: Religion and Spirituality, I talked about religious and spiritual evidence, which suggests that increasing silence in ourselves and in our lives will make us better people. Then, in my most recent post on the topic, Silence in the Self – Science and Health, I discussed the physical and mental health benefits of silence that could help us live more meaningful, healthy, fulfilling and satisfying lives. Today, we focus on Relationships.
Normally when people think of silence in relationships, they think of the infamous, oft-dreaded “silent treatment” from the person that they are in conflict with.
This usually means that the giver of the treatment is potentially angry or upset and expresses this to the “getter” of the treatment either non-verbally through gestures, or by actively ignoring the other person’s words, actions, or sometimes even his/her mere presence.
Other times, especially in the beginning of relationships, silence may seem inappropriate, frightening or awkward.
When there is too much silence in the beginning of any type of relationship, we might think “Am I talking too much?” or “Is he/she not interested in me?” or even “Is he/she even listening to me?” Silence can be mistaken for the lack of passion, a lack of interest or a complete lack of personality in the other person, all of which could be blatantly false!
Yet in other times, silence is seen as a symptom of “the beginning of the end” of the relationship. In fact, the majority of the human population has become so unused to the idea of comfortable silence, that silence in relationships has automatically, and quite falsely come to symbolize the death and demise of relationships!
These types of instances are not what this post is about. I truly believe that silence in relationships can be a very important factor in developing healthy, sustainable bonds as long as we practice good, healthy, comfortable silence. In addition, we also need to contemplate some very important roles that silence plays in our day-to-day interactions with strangers, acquaintances, friends and family.
1. Silence in relationships = SUPPORT.
Sometimes, it actually is as simple as that. Silence really is the best kind of support you could offer another person at times. Think about it. For instance, your dear friend’s favorite grandmother passes away. What could you possibly say in such a situation that would not sound trite, clichéd or even somewhat moronic? Everything you say sounds awful, and you wonder in your head if you are actually making the situation worse. Stop worrying! Silence really is the best answer for that situation because it is all the other person needs, and really, sometimes, it IS all you can give. Anything other than silence might even take away from the gravity of the situation.
The story doesn’t end there though. What complicates matters are the definite tangible gender differences we see manifested in society, which makes “silence” the topic of many a “spat” in relationships. Men generally tend to be “problem solvers”. This has been their role since the beginning of the start of civilized society. Men had to solve problems about critical survival issues such as shelter, food, security and all other basic necessities for themselves and any partners and offspring.
Women had a different role to play. Women had to rear the offspring, teach the offspring the customs and traditions of the group, and guide and mentor all female children in the group so that they may understand how to fulfill their obligations when they reach adulthood. Men with the best problem-solving skills kept surviving, as did women with the best emotional and cultural skills.
These have been the mechanics of human existence since human beings started gathering together and forming clans, tribes, groups, and ultimately, societies. Added to that are the various stereotypes that society has tacked on to men’s and women’s roles, over and over again through the course of human history.
Thus, even today, men are automatically considered problem solvers. Whether it’s in their DNA, or in the way it has been engrained into all of us because of societal norms and rules, the fact is, most of the women that I’ve spoken with about this (I lost count somewhere around 110), have admitted to their male partners often being unnecessarily cold-hearted, insensitive and focused on getting the problem solved without realizing how feelings were hurt!
Therefore, this point might especially relevant to most men, and anyone else out there who thrives on being “the problem-solver” in every situation. Sometimes, when someone in our lives is having a nervous breakdown, a total meltdown or just a momentary “life crisis”, our job is to just listen. Our job in that moment might NOT be to try to immediately think of solutions to that person’s problems. Let us not have an internal dialog with ourselves about how we are going to make the other person’s life better while they are pouring their heart out to us.
Instead, let’s give the other person the gift of silence by just listening. We may actually learn a lot of valuable information about the other person, and sometimes we may even surprise ourselves with a bit of self-discovery! And no matter what, at the end of the day, either you or your friend will have a much clearer path to the solution of the problem, or at least have much more defined and clarified statement of the problem; and your friend will most likely be feeling a whole lot better and appreciative of you! And several times, silence ends up being the solution anyway!
2. Sometimes silence in relationships is necessary so that the other person can just “vent”.
Most of the time, when someone unloads on us, male or female, we may have nothing to do with their underlying issues. The person unloading just needs to vent out some steam so that they can return to being a relatively normal, somewhat rational person. We just happen to be there when this person reaches their critical pressure. As long as the other person only vents, and doesn’t physically, verbally or emotionally abuse you or debase us in any way, I really think it is okay to just be silent, and let the other person purge all the emotions and negativity they have kept bottled up. Whether this person does really have a personal issue with us or not, they are getting their opinions and thoughts out. The first step towards a resolution has already started!
Word of warning to the “venters” though: Be very careful and very selective about who you vent to. Not very many people in our lives are equipped to be good listeners, and most of them do not have our best interests or motives in mind!
Additional word of warning to the “silent listeners”: DO NOT make the mistake of internalizing everything that is being vented out to you. Whether the other person is blowing off steam about you or anyone else, do not take anything to heart. In that moment of frustration and complete irritation, things might be said but not meant. If you interrupt a venter because you have internalized or been offended by anything he or she said, then you completely defeat the purpose of the silence. Remember: Let them vent. IF the other person does bring up any real issues pertaining to you, you and he/she can talk about it at a later time, when you are both calm.
3. Silence in relationships can simply mean that you are being a “sounding board” which sometimes is all that people need from you in that moment. ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS LISTEN.
This blog post was in fact inspired by one of my closest friends Janea who just lets me talk things out. In the beginning of our friendship, I found this really odd, but over time, as we got to know each other better, I realized that she adopted this Zen attitude of silence really early on in life.
She has this amazing gift to let me just sound things out; she does interject to let me know that she is listening, or to point out something I may have missed or to let me know that I am over- or mis-analyzing the situation. For the most part though, she understands that is sometimes all I need is someone to listen to me while I flesh out my crazy, sometimes really out-of-this-world ideas! (I’m serious. Imagine a mad cackling genius in a lab coat with crazy wild hair, and you will have a very accurate mental image of what I look like during my regular conversations with her)!
My point is that sometimes, we just need to talk it out with another person, and somehow, magically, in their silence, we reach our answers. And sometimes, when other people call you and start talking about whatever they need to talk about, and they seem annoyed when you interrupt, just stay calm! They are probably just using you as a “sounding board”, which, if you think about it, is a huge honor, considering the amount of trust it takes to get to that place in someone’s life!
4. Sometimes, it is best to be silent because the alternative is much much worse, at least in that immediate moment.
You have to know when to start, or possibly continue a crusade, or when it might just be best to stay silent till you have whatever you need to put up the best, and strongest fight you can.
When you don’t have the material needed to win a fight, it is best not to fight. Think about all the times you are having a discussion, or an argument with another person, and they keep battering you with completely valid points, to which you don’t have any rebuttals. In these types of situations, staying silent prevents battles or skirmishes which involve emotions, and would have potentially physically or mentally hurt you or the other person irreparably. It is best to just walk away from these situations till you can think with a calm, rational mind again.
Other times, even if you do have everything needed to win a fight, the best “win” happens when you walk away from a battle. This time, think about all the discussions or arguments where you have had with another person, where no matter how many valid points YOU make, the other person does not budge in their opinion which might be completely irrational and illogical. Their stubbornness, naiveté, or just simple ignorance prevents them from seeing anything beyond their own noses. In such cases, it is best not to waste your words and your energy.
5. Silence in relationships can increase security, comfort and satisfaction of the quality of the relationship.
Silence in relationships can make us better communicators. Practicing silence in our lives will guide us in thinking twice about whether what we want to voice is necessary, relevant and kind, as the Buddha said.
Silence in relationships also shifts the focus to the quality of the relationship, away from the quantity and noise.
So, practicing silence will not only make us more articulate communicators, but it will also make communication more valuable and meaningful in the quality.
Silence is a very powerful tool we can use to communicate with our loved ones, especially our significant others, partners and/or spouses. We can use the power of silence to let each other think, breathe, speak and act without fear of being stopped or judged. Practicing silence in relationships ultimately promotes more meaningful, thoughtful conversations, improving the quality and longevity of all of our relationships!
Of course, silence is not ALWAYS good in a relationship, but that’s a topic for another post!