When silence is not so golden

Imagine the following scenario:

A husband and wife out for a nice dinner. The wife starts to talk about their daughter Kate; she then moves on to mention their son’s baseball practice that has just been rescheduled. And then it’s straight on to how the kids are constantly arguing.

The husband interrupts his wife. “Dear, can we please try not to talk about the kids while out on this date?” The wife agrees.

Cut to silence. The husband and wife chewing their food, not talking.

And the silence continues: husband and wife, eating a nice dinner, at a lovely restaurant, with no conversation.

Does that hit home for you? That actually comes from a cartoon my husband and I saw at a marriage conference a few years ago. And it came back to me while reading a recent NYT article, “How the ‘Dining Dead’ Got Talking Again.” The writer, Molly Pascal, describes a marriage, her own, that started with lots and lots of talking and dreaming. But over the years, it turned into a marriage where talking was limited, mainly to organizing the kids. She describes being discontent with the new status quo and then takes the reader along on their journey to fix this lack of communication.

One of the author’s big points is that “falling in love for [them] meant falling into talk.” In the beginning stages of a relationship you spend lots of time talking, asking questions, learning about one another.

So if falling in love requires falling into talk, does falling out of talk lead to falling out of love? I’m not a fan of the language ‘falling in love’ (a post for another day), but the question has some merit. Communicating is crucial for investing in marriage, and not communicating can put the account into deficit. So what are ways that we can safeguard our marriage from being communicatively-challenged? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Put your cell phone down

I ran across another cartoon recently that showed a husband and wife looking at their phones, with the caption, “Did you just text me to tell me we don’t talk anymore?” Worth a smile, but does this hit close to home? With cell phone in hand, we may be close in proximity but far from actually communicating well. It is almost as though we use it a substitute for actually talking.

But what about when we’re in different places? Maybe hold on to the cell phone but use it as an actual phone. When I was younger, I remember my dad calling home daily from work to just check in and see how my mom was doing. In modern times, that phone call I remember quickly turns into the following text exchange:

Spouse 1: How R U?

Spouse 2: K. U?

I’m pretty sure picking up the phone trumps this exchange (that admittedly my marriage has been guilty of at times).

  • Put your other devices down too

It is not just our phones, but all technology can pose the same risk as the phone. Relaxing and watching a show together can be fun. But often before you realize, it is 10 p.m. and time to get ready for bed, and you haven’t even debriefed on the day or what is on tap for tomorrow (along with all the feelings that have been brewing).

  • Schedule regular dates

Dating shouldn’t end when the marriage starts. Pencil in time to go out for dinner or get a coffee after the kids are in bed. If your budget doesn’t allow for this, consider swapping babysitting with another couple. And make sure it’s a date that makes you communicate, not just that you sit side by side watching the same movie. A good date which foster good talking is worth a bit of money and inconvenience. The way we spend our money and time reflect our priorities. So let’s not be too frugal in our marriages.

  • Get away

An older, wiser person once gave me the advice to get away once a year for a weekend with just your spouse. There are seasons of life when this is challenging, but I do think it’s worth striving for. The NYT article touched on how getting away from the tasks of ordinary life can spark communication. Pascal writes, “We chatted about nothing, then a little something, and as we walked, we forgot about trying to talk and ended up talking. We were freed from the mechanics of life, so our talk could be, too.”

I think the away part is key, especially if kids are involved. It doesn’t have to be that you go away, maybe it’s the kids who go away to their grandparents or cousins for a weekend, and you just stay home. Of course, the challenge here will be to be disciplined to not just catch up on what you can’t do with kids at home.

  • Ask questions

All relationships begin with question asking – at a bare minimum, “Will you marry me?” – but likely many more. Just because your relationship has progressed doesn’t mean that you know everything you ever will about your spouse. Asking questions and continuing to cultivate getting to know each other is a really great way to grow and allow each other the freedom to change and mature. God willing, the person we marry will not stay the same, but instead will keep growing in wisdom and godliness. Failure to ask questions can unintentionally assume that these things aren’t happening for your spouse. Instead, asking a question like, “What are you looking forward to this summer?” shows genuine interest in your spouse and communicates love. It may be that a fun marriage activity could be asking each other questions out of a question book. It may be that you actually learn something and laugh a little along the way!

This list is just a beginning and is not at all meant to be comprehensive. That said, it also isn’t meant to feel like a burden. All marriages go through seasons so not all of these must be done all the time, but they all should be done at some point with the goal of moving closer to your spouse through good communication.

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