Sure, you’ve been talking for basically your entire life, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Communicating with your partner can be hard no matter your age or how long you’ve been dating, and silence is one of the most misinterpreted forms of interaction. There’s a reason that people look up things like “silence quotes” and, “what it means if they don’t text you back”; it’s not uncommon for people to be unsure how to interpret silence from their partner.
Silence in a relationship is often perceived as a red flag, but it isn't necessarily a bad thing. It happens. Just because you are with your partner doesn't mean you need to be talking 24/7. Sometimes, one or both partners are busy or tired or just don't feel like talking, and that's completely OK. A healthy, long-term relationship will have its fair share of comfortable silences. It’s typically a good sign if you and your SO can enjoy each other's company without even saying a word.
That being said, you don’t want a completely silent relationship, and some types of silence can signal deeper issues. Below are four types of silence that often signal a deeper issue. Before digging in, remember that just because you experience one (or more) of these quiet lulls doesn't necessarily mean your relationship is going to suffer — but it's worth opening up to your partner about what the silence really means.
You Give Each Other The Silent Treatment.
The silent treatment is where silence gets its bad rep — and for good reason. Dr. Patti Feuereisen, a psychotherapist specializing in sexual abuse and author of Invisible Girls: Speaking The Truth About Sexual Abuse, previously told Elite Daily that expressing yourself to your partner — especially when there's a conflict — is crucial. "Partners need to communicate," she said. "When something is wrong they need to discuss and not be afraid that the confrontation to the problem will end up in a blowout."
Sometimes the silent treatment happens even with the best intentions. You're still mad after a fight, so you're not talking. You mistakenly think that by ignoring the other person and avoiding the situation, it’ll eventually blow over. You might even think that the silent treatment will make things better. Spoiler: It won't.
The silent treatment is pretty much never a good idea. "From my experience working with couples, the silent treatment is often used as a punishment and therefore I find it to be ineffective the majority of the time," marriage and family therapist, Erika Labuzan-Lopez, LMFT, LPC, told Bustle. This type of punishing silence only exacerbates the disagreement; it makes your partner wonder, causes confusion, and builds resentment.
It’s completely OK to need some time to yourself after a fight, but expressing that need is what differentiates healthy from unhealthy silence. A simple statement like, “I’m not ready to talk right now, but I’ll let you know when I am,” can give you both the time and space to think things through without the added pressure of the silent treatment.
There’s Nothing Left To Say.
Having occasional lulls in conversation is very different from having nothing to say to each other. For example, if you meet up after class or work, sit down to dinner, and find you have nothing to talk about, it can be a sign that you’ve lost your spark. That might sound pretty bad, but, before you freak out, this type of silence does not mean your romance is doomed to fail. It’s actually pretty standard, but it is a signal that you’ll need to start putting more effort into your relationship if you want it to last.
“It's normal,” relationship coach Laurel House explained to Brides. “Your lives are melding and so are your interests, activities, and stories. Just because you aren't jumping from one topic to the next and you are no longer staying up all night talking because you have so much you want to say, doesn't mean that the relationship has gone stale. Your conversations need to shift from fresh to in depth.”
If you can’t make that shift, however, it could mean a difficult future together. Pricilla Martinez, a life coach at Blush Online Life Coaching, previously told Elite Daily that "communication is key to any relationship in order to ensure both partners are moving in the same direction in terms of commitment." Without being able to talk about the deeper stuff, it can be really hard to keep a romantic relationship strong, happy, and healthy — and you shouldn’t settle for any less.
You're Shutting Down.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re arguing, but you’re not getting any closer to common ground. One or both of you retreat. Someone might shut down and stop fighting, or agree simply for the sake of peace and quiet.
This type of silence is often referred to as stonewalling — and if it’s happening in your relationship, it could mean both of you need to pursue some emotional growth. “Stonewalling is one sign they are emotionally unavailable,” says Kali Rogers, relationship expert and founder of Blush Online Life Coaching, previously told Elite Daily.
“It typically happens when emotions are triggered. Maybe something stressful happened at work that day or an uncomfortable situation came up at home,” Rogers explained. “Instead of inviting a dialogue about the incident, they shut down and aren't open to communicating at all.”
Instead of resorting to this type of silence, try expressing to your partner that you’ve reached your emotional capacity for the time being. If you are in a tense disagreement and feel the urge to stonewall, simply let your partner know that you need some time to consider what’s been said. Explain that you need some time to soak it all in. If they’re reasonable, they’ll understand and allow you to have it. If not, it may be time to look for emotional support elsewhere.
FYI, these rules apply to both of you. No matter who is doing it, stonewalling in a relationship means something is up that needs to be addressed.
You Aren’t Excited To Text Them Back.
It’s true that some people are more responsive texters than others. And although you’re not responsible to anyone for being reachable at all times, a certain level of communication with your partner via text is expected, though it's totally normal if you're not able to keep bantering over text while you're at work, studying in the library, working out, or otherwise occupied. Ahead of those times, you might even shoot off a quick text that says, "Hey, I won’t be able to reply for the next few hours, but I'll respond to your messages when I'm free." Easy enough.
However, if you get an incoming text from your partner and simply have no desire to write back, that type of silence could be more meaningful than a packed schedule — mostly because it signifies a lack of effort on your part. “Relationships take a lot of work on the part of both parties. A key to a successful long-term relationship is that both partners are motivated to put the necessary time and energy into the partnership to keep it going,” Ronald E. Riggio, PhD, professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College, wrote for Psychology Today. “They look for ways to keep the love flame burning. If one or both partners has stopped trying, that’s a very bad sign.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change all of your texting habits, but try to take notes of moments when you no longer feel connected to your SO — and, more importantly, the times when you no longer want to feel connected to them. That silence may mean you need to take a step back from the relationship.
Silence is the most misunderstood and misinterpreted type of human interaction, and it often leads to people feeling hurt or rejected. But not all silence is bad. The key in distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy silence in a relationship is communication. Letting your partner know you need some quiet time alone before going AWOL can eliminate the unnecessary stress and confusion that often accompanies silence. When you take the guesswork out of silence, it’s easier for both of you to understand, accept, and even enjoy.
Dr. Patti Feuereisen, psychotherapist and author of Invisible Girls: Speaking The Truth About Sexual Abuse
Erika Labuzan-Lopez, LMFT, LPC, and marriage and family therapist
Laurel House, relationship coach, author of Screwing The Rules: The No-Games Guide to Love, and host of The Man Whisperer podcast
Kali Rogers, relationship expert and founder of Blush Online Life Coaching
Ronald E. Riggio, PhD, professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College
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