Thursday, September 2, 2010

Silence Is Golden....Or Is It?

Silence is golden, assuming of course the silence is one of peace and tranquility and not one imposed by "The Silent Treatment" (TST).   I'm sure everyone has been on both the giving and receiving end of The Silent Treatment at least once in their lives and it's certainly not a golden silence by any stretch of the imagination. 

In our minds we believe we have a good reason for giving someone the silent treatment and feel justified in our behaviour.  Some of the top reasons are:  "I don't want to fight about X", "I don't want to say something I'll regret", "They don't understand why I'm...(hurt, angry, upset, whatever)", "They weren't listening to me".  We can all come up with some great 'reasons', except the reasons are really just an excuse to punish/control/manipulate/hurt the other person often because we feel they have hurt or betrayed us.

Yes, I understand not wanting to fight with someone, or to say something you can't take back.  I've been there and done that, as the saying goes.  Yes, there are times when others don't understand our feelings or don't really hear what we are trying to tell them, or we need time to sort out what we're feeling and how to express it, however none of these things justify giving them The Silent Treatment.  Shutting down communication without any explanation is at best an unconscious act of punishment/manipulation at worst it is a deliberate act knowing it will hurt/upset the other person.

You see, while TST may get you the short term results you *think* you want, the truth is every time it's used it does more damage to your relationship with that person; it breaks down communication and more importantly it breaks down trust and respect.  Rather than working to create a balanced healthy relationship, TST becomes a power struggle and in the end the relationship suffers and will likely breakdown. If you cannot communicate your point of view or feelings without it turning into a fight, a huge emotional drama or without saying something you will regret, then by all means, step away from the conversation.  This does not mean giving the person TST, it means tell them you cannot discuss it right now AND agree to discuss it later at a specific time.  So, if you're too upset and things are getting out of hand, admit it and agree to discuss it later in the day or even the next day being specific as to when exactly you are going to sit down and discuss it.  

By temporarily walking away you give yourself and the other person the opportunity to think about the situation, what each of you want to express, whether it's facts or feelings, in a way that is not accusing or assigning blame.  Remember how you feel is your responsibility, you are choosing your response, so "You made me feel ...." is not an acceptable statement.  Something triggered your emotional response and you alone are responsible for that response.  That being said, it is acceptable to say "When you did (or said)  X, I felt Y"  Recognize what the trigger was (something done or said) that caused your emotional response rather than blaming the person for how you feel/felt. 

Often what triggers us is not what we are currently experiencing, but instead, our current experience triggers something we associate into from our past>  In other words, what gets triggered is all the baggage from our past that we unconsciously drag around with us.

The best way to avoid The Silent Treatment is to come up with an agreement when both individuals are in a good frame of mind and there are no outstanding issued between them.  Sit down and just write out some rules to follow so you both know and respect the process of resolving issues when they do arise.

A few ideas would be:

1.  If the matter cannot be discussed calmly, agree to walk away and meet again later at a set time when you both have had time to think clearly and unplug from the emotional drama.

2. Agree that past issues are PAST and will NOT constantly be brought back up days, weeks, months or years later in other disagreements.  Keep the discussion revelant to the current situation.

3. Work to find common ground.  You want a win-win, not a win-lose.  When someone wins and the other loses you are creating resentment and a me vs you situation.  You want a win-win, you want a partnership, an opportunity to work together towards a better relationship.

4.  Own what's yours - you feelings, your thoughts, your behaviour.  So statements are "I" based.  "I felt...", "I said..". "I acted/behaved..."    Guilt, punishment and manipulation are unacceptable.

You have to be able to communicate openly and honestly without fear of it being held against you or thrown back in your face days, weeks, months (or even years) from now.  A healthy relationship, regardless of the type of relationship (adult/child, spouses, friends, lovers) grows healthier and stronger when those involved can share openly an honestly anything and everything and still be loved and respected.  Knowing you have that kind of relationship will make your time together golden.