- Gary Malone, LMFT
When Silence Isn't Golden
Updated: Sep 1, 2019
A 3-Step Approach to Repair
80% of my job is to listen well. Listening involves being silent and it is one of the best tools to implement in any relationship, especially your marriage. There’s this great verse about silence located in the Bible, Proverb 17:28, “Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.” (NLT)
However, there’s a time when silence does more harm than good in your relationship.
I get it, there is a balance and sometimes it is hard to find. Throughout history silence is voiced as a virtue and Plato even chimed in at one point when he said, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” Knowing when to speak is important and below is an outline of how to speak to your partner when they express hurt.
Alright, let’s prime the situation. Say your spouse is voicing frustration from a hurtful comment you made 4 months ago. They are obviously upset by whatever triggered the thought and are currently reliving the experience/hurt/pain right in front of you. In that moment, you may, like the many times I’ve heard from clients, think the best route is to say nothing. Countless times I’ve heard in my office, “When my partner gets upset I get quiet because there is nothing I can say that’ll make it better.” Your silence may actually be perpetuating their reoccurring pain.
So, instead of going silent, here’s what to do:
1. Own Your Shhhh..Stuff (Take Responsibility)
I know you may’ve acknowledged your mistake before, but do it again. Repetition is often the best key to repair. Here’s how this would sound: “You’re absolutely right, 4 months ago I said something horrible and I’m very sorry for that.” It’ll be easy to think, “I already apologized once, why do it again?” But, like I mentioned previously, repetition is often the best key to repair.
2. Validate the Feeling
Validating doesn’t mean that you agree or that they’re right. It simply means you are choosing empathy over trying to prove you’re rightness. Be present. Ask questions if you need to clarify what they’re saying. Reflect the event back to them. Reflect the feelings you’re hearing and then normalize them. It would sound something like this, “From what I hear you saying, my words really hurt you (or use the specific emotion that was spoken). I imagine me or others would feel the same if it were spoken.”
3. Express Your Heart Toward Them and the Future
Up until this point the entire conversation has been about the past. It’s incredibly important that the last words you speak are about your heart toward them and how you’ll work hard to make the future different. Here’s how this last part would sound, “I love you. I cherish you. I know I hurt you. I also know that I’m going to try my best to make sure I don’t do it again.”