He was frustrated.
I felt unheard.
And the conversation ended with no resolution.
We didn’t really speak for the rest of the day.
In the silence, I filled my mind with a list of reasons why he was wrong and how unreasonable he was being.
He did the same.
Do you know how tense it is to be in the same house with someone all day and barely say five words to each other?
You avoid being in the same room. You avoid making eye contact. You avoid anything that would open the door to a conversation.
It feels pretty awful.
The reality is, behind the anger is still the desire to connect and feel understood. But as the time in silence passes by, it becomes more difficult to reconnect and to hear each other out. Difficult, but certainly not impossible. So today, I wanted to share a few strategies I’ve found helpful to start talking again after the silent treatment.
I always go here first and try to ask myself, “What am I really upset about?” Most times, it’s not about the specific argument. It’s really important to try to find the answer as well as the reason why you are reacting the way you are. The ability to self-reflect is one of the most important skills in being able to relate well with anyone. Get inside your head and process all the thoughts running through your mind. Some helpful prompts include:
When things like this happen, I automatically think… which makes me feel…
When I really think about it, I could have…
2. Ask to talk about it
It’s really tempting to try to sweep it under the rug and move on without addressing what happened. But lack of closure to a heated conversation only builds up and magnifies problems when they arise again. Asking to talk about it, doesn’t mean some long drawn out conversation rehashing who said what. It also doesn’t mean that you have to find a resolution. It just simply creates space for each of you to share your perspective when both of you are in a position to really hear each other. When talking, you could ask something as simple as “is there anything else you want to say about the disagreement we had?” If the response you get is still an angry “no” consider sharing that you have a few things on your mind, and ask when it’s a good time for you to share those thoughts.
3. Listen without interrupting
At whatever point you are able to have a conversation, try your best to listen, truly listen to what your loved one is saying. Without interrupting. Once they are finished, you may ask clarifying questions – those that help you to gather information so you understand what they are really saying. Most times when people disagree, they just want to feel heard. Even if you don’t ultimately agree with their perspective, you show a great deal of respect just by listening and acknowledging or playing back to them what you heard.
4. Explain in detail
It’s also important for you to be able to explain what was happening for you. This is where you’ll draw upon what you gathered in your self-reflection. Here, try to avoid placing blame or making accusations. Instead, state the facts of what was going through your mind. Remember those “I” statements we learned about in middle or high school? They will also come in handy here. For example, in the disagreement with my husband, I said something like, “I really wanted you to understand where I was coming from and for us to reach a compromise. When it felt like the conversation was going nowhere, I thought we should take a break from talking about it anymore. I was not trying to be dismissive; I was trying to end the conversation before it got even more heated.” Sounds so polite, right??! I know it’s not that easy all of the time. Try your best, and speak only what’s true for you. Don’t make any assumptions about what they were or were not trying to do.
5. Be honest
Sometimes when we get upset, we spend so much time sitting with our anger, we forget that there is a sadness and pain underneath. Sharing something as honest as, “I don’t like it when we argue” or “it makes me sad when we are not speaking to each other” opens the door for reconciliation without the need to make one person right and the other person wrong. It’s so easy to say that we are mad at the other person and to focus on all the reasons why we feel wronged. It’s natural to want to protect ourselves, and making them the “bad guy” helps us to feel better. It also makes us the victim. If we can take an honest look at ourselves, we’ll see that we just want to be loved, accepted, and heard by the one we love the most.
Now, your turn! What strategies have you used to start talking again after the silent treatment? We’d love to hear! Post a comment!