The Relationship Killer—Silence!

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Suzanne Carter, MA, LPC | 

There are many things that harm or kill relationships, but ignoring someone or choosing to not respond is a major killer.

Lately, I have heard people say: “Well, I am choosing to just ignore their drama.” I always have a visceral response to this.  I almost feel as if I have been “gut-punched.” Often what we may think of as “drama” is a person’s pain, pain possibly stimulated by something the “ignorer” has done or not done. And, many people who profess to be “spiritual” are the biggest ignorers of someone’s pain. (This topic is for another article called “Fake Spirituality”)

John Gottman, Ph.D., a world-renowned relationship theorist, tells us that humans are constantly making “bids for attention.” This is how we connect.  When a parent says, “They are doing that for attention,” I try to breathe in and then kindly and professionally say: “Yes, children and all humans need attention.” Our brains are wired to seek out attention and to respond. So, when we choose to ignore a “bid for attention,” we are going against our very biology. I want you to understand this– ignoring or using silence in response to a “bid for attention” is not the correct response. It is harmful.

If someone says something that you don’t like, the only right thing to do is to respond.  If someone says something you do like but feel embarrassed about, the only right thing to do is to respond. We have learned not to respond if someone says something that makes us mad or uncomfortable. We may ignore someone to “avoid conflict.” Not responding, ignoring conflict, and avoiding the topic, removes an opportunity to deepen the relationship.

There is an advanced communication tool called the Feedback Wheel that makes even uncomfortable responses possible. I make sure all my clients become proficient in its use. This communication tool gives the speaker a way to communicate without attack.  The speaker must be willing to speak from the “I” rather than saying “you, you, you.” When we learn to speak from our inner truth, all our relationships will change. The relationship can reach its full potential if the other person is willing to listen and learn to use this amazing tool.

Here are the steps for using this amazing tool:

The Feedback Wheel includes four steps: 

  1. What you saw or hear about the event in question. (State Observable behavior: i.e., WHEN YOU LEAVE THE DISHES IN THE SINK…………”; in this step, you stick to the FACTS–the observable behaviors of both you and your partner.
  2. What your perception is about the BEHAVIOR in #1. (State the meaning you give to it, and DO NOT bring in past behavior) i.e., “My perception about this is,,,,”  (This should not be an attack.) Some say, “This is what I make up about this.”
  3. How you FEEL about it. (The word, feel, should always be followed by a feeling word, and the feelings expressed need to be about this incident only….i.e., “I feel__”(feeling word(s), joy, pain, loneliness, helplessness, powerlessness, anger, fear, love, shame, guilt……..
  4. What you would like to have happen in the future….” What I would like is…………” (either now or in the future, and this  can be a request to dialogue about the issue or negotiate, etc.) This step requires that you ask for what you need. We can be vulnerable when we ask for what we need; without vulnerability, a relationship cannot grow.

So, for now, please get this: Silence as a way of communicating harms the world. It can harm the one making a “bid for attention, but ultimately it harms the one being silent. When we choose to ignore or not respond, it usually means that we have gone into our minds and have chosen judgment over an authentic response.  When we choose silence, we have missed the opportunity to connect with another genuinely. When we connect with one another authentically, on all levels of our being, we are helping our relationship and even creating world peace.

Suzanne Carter, MA, LPC, is known as the “communication and relationship expert” and helps people worldwide how also to be a “communication and relationship expert.”

She is in private practice in the Loveland area.


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