Question: There are times when I just don’t feel like talking. My spouse understands, but my kids get upset. Can’t I just be quiet if I want to?

Answer:

If you’re serious about solving this problem, you’re going to have to engage in some intensive self-examination. Why is it that you "don’t feel like talking?" What is the precise nature of your silence? You’re part of a family, and you owe it to the people who live with you to answer these questions as honestly and straightforwardly as you can.

Introverted or angry?

Some people are simply "quiet," a character trait associated with a more introverted personality type. If you fit into this category, there’s no reason to apologize – it’s just the way you’re made. But while you don’t need to feel guilty, you do need to take stock of the way your behavior affects others around you. If you tend to be withdrawn, family life may require that you force yourself to break out of your shell and speak up more often. Remember, communication is the heart of husband-wife and parent-child relationships.

Naturally, there’s an important difference between natural "quietness" and intentional silence – the kind of silence that’s designed to manipulate. That kind of silence can be a powerful form of communication in and of itself. Some people use it to "send a message" to family members. They "punish" their spouses and children by clamming up and withdrawing affection so as to stir specific responses in others. It’s easy to think of silence as something neutral, but in cases like this the absence of a positive message can sometimes be as damaging as the presence of a negative one.

If your silence is a form of messaging, you can be fairly certain that your kids will misinterpret your intentions. This is particularly true of teenagers. Teens will almost always assign a meaning of their own to parental silence. Coupled with the insecurities that usually go with adolescence, it can suggest anger, condemnation, or lack of love. If you feel you must be silent, at least try to offer a few words of explanation so that your kids will know you’re not mad at them.

Showing love through honesty

In short, it’s important for you to be honest with yourself about your motives. Don’t hide behind silence. Instead, be direct with your feelings. If you’re angry and awaiting an apology, say so. Avoiding such confrontation only delays the inevitable, and can actually make the situation worse. If you need help sorting out these questions, we hope you won’t hesitate to call and speak with a member of our staff. Our staff would be happy to provide you with referrals to qualified therapists in your area who specialize in marriage and family concerns. They’d also consider it a privilege to discuss your situation with you over the phone. If this option appeals to you, feel free to call our counselling department Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.


© 1999 Focus on the Family. Used by permission.

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