When we first got married, it’s quite possible that I was the worst wife on the planet.
Granted, we were pretty young when we got married — barely 21 — but aside from the fact that we were young, I had a lot to learn.
It may have stemmed from the dynamics in my family growing up, as all good love stories go, of course, but I never really learned how to properly “fight.” In our house, it was a lot of hurt feelings, emotions brushed under the rug, cold shoulders, and then, finally, when the tension moved from “simmer” to “burn,” a giant, violent explosion.
No one is perfect of course, but looking back, I can see how unhealthy my version of dealing with conflict was.
And of course, like a dowry from the blushing bride, I was only too happy to bring my conflict baggage straight into the sacred bond of our marriage.
My favorite form of fighting in those turbulent early years?
The silent treatment.
I’m not sure what I thought was so brilliant about the use of the silent treatment, but it was definitely my preferred form of fighting.
I would get upset about something or have my feelings hurt or be exhausted from working two jobs and staying home full-time with our newborn daughter, but instead of talking to my husband, I would emotionally shut down. You know that expression, “There’s a wall there?” That’s exactly how it was.
And it was so, so ridiculous.
I mean, what exactly did I think I would accomplish? I’d like someone to analyze why exactly we use the silent treatment. Is it because I was afraid of being rejected if I shared my true feelings? Did I fear that deep down, my husband didn’t really love me? Or is it because I didn’t think I was worthy of being loved?
Deep thoughts towards an action that basically resulted in me sulking like a rebellious toddler.
But that’s how it went, for one, two, maybe even three years of our marriage. I’d get upset, I’d resort to using the silent treatment, quietly simmering and stewing while my husband probably had no idea I was even mad, and then one day, I’d explode over something totally unrelated and end up in tears, storming off to sulk (silently) yet again.
And so the cycle would continue.
Until eventually, my husband had had enough. He had this crazy thought that two people in an adult relationship should be able to, well, act like adults. He would refuse to let me shut down or run away or give him the silent treatment — there we would stand, usually in the kitchen, because inexplicably, that’s where most of our fights would happen, until we hashed it out. He would stay calm and rational, almost too much so for my liking, hmmmpph, but nonetheless it was exactly what I needed.
It’s embarrassing, really, how bad I was at fighting. And where did my husband come up with his therapist-like ability to stay calm and reason our way through an
argument spirited discussion, I have no idea.
But it worked.
I learned to use those cheesy catchphrases that a good-natured family drama on TV would display, like: “I feel like ___.” or, “When you do this, it makes me feel ____.” Nowadays, our trademark form of broaching what has the potential to be a fight starts with a Frozen-esque, “Can I say something without making you mad?” Sure, it sounds corny, but it puts us both in the frame of mind to remind us that it’s about working on the issue, not getting mad at each other.
I feel like I’ve come a long way in my marriage and my ability to work on issues with my husband. For one, I’m a lot less stressed these days when I don’t have to go around bottling everything up and hoping, just hoping, that he will notice that I’m even upset in the first place.
It’s a much nicer place to be in, to know that I can tell him when something is bothering me and expect a calm, rational discussion of how we’re both feeling, instead of my fight-or-flight syndrome of past.
So, wives, I am here to say:
Using the silent treatment doesn’t work.
Which, I dare say, is a lesson applicable for more than one aspect of your marriage, if you catch my drift.