You Have the Right to Remain Silent
Yes! We have the right to remain silent - but that isn't always the best choice and today we talk about why, for the sake of our relationships.
We also talk about WHY and HOW we get to the place of thinking silence is the answer... and no, it's not always because anything you say can AND WILL be held against you!
Communication (or lack of) is one of the leading causes of relationship breakdown. So lets get chatting about the silence part of communication and keep our relationships as healthy as we can.
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You Have the Right to Remain Silent
Most of us are familiar with these words. And no, not because most of us have been arrested… but probably because so many of us are obsessed with crime shows. This line comes up over and over again in the movies as well, so we’ve heard it there also. Perhaps some of us have heard this from our partners or even our parents growing up… maybe we are chatty people… who knows. All I’m saying is that it’s a familiar phrase, when we hear, “You have the right to remain silent”.
AND it’s the truth. You, and I have the right to remain silent. We just do. It’s our right. It’s our privilege and within our power to make the choice to remain silent. And I know a couple people who I wish would exercise that right more. I’m sure a few people or more feel the same way about me.
But here’s the thing about this RIGHT, and I’m not talking legally here… because I am not a lawyer or any other form of legal counsel… I’m talking about within our relationships, within our marriages and friendships and partnerships – we may have the right to remain silent… but that may not be the best right to practice.
Communication is one of the leading causes of relationship breakdown. Poor communication, that is. And silence is part of communication, as in a lack of communication. Silence can be deafening, and it can say a lot. But it’s what it doesn’t say that makes a difference. Silence can kill a relationship.
Now let’s be honest, the reason why so many become silent in their relationships is because anything you say, can and will be used against you.
We are often become silent, not because we can’t talk, but because it doesn’t feel safe to do so. The person to whom we need to talk to doesn’t really listen anyways, they don’t react well, they don’t reciprocate in the conversation.
So, we no longer trust the environment in which we used to try communicating in. And we stop communicating. We use our right to remain silent.
Sometimes we choose silence because the words we need to say are beyond our comprehension of sharing. How do we say that “you think you married a strong man, but below this rugged surface is a scared and hurt little boy”.
How do we say that “when you said what you said to me the other day I heard my mother belittling me as a child, like she so often did”.
How do we just open our mouths and say “I’m so hurt that I’m afraid that I’ve lost my passion, and I don’t know what to about it now”.
We become so scared of what we need to say and how it may be received that we decide to practice our right to remain silent.
And our relationships begin to die.
It was Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw who said, “the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.
Now, I’m sharing this for all of you who think silence is sending the intended message. It’s sending a message, but without communication, there is no way to know if it was interpreted as you wanted it to be.
And maybe you’re thinking, but I wanted it to say that I am hurt, and I don’t want to speak to you. Then say that.
Perhaps your silence was meant to say that I am so mad I can’t articulate well, and I’ll be mean if I try. Then say that.
If your silence is because you no longer trust their response, say that.
We can’t be sure our silence is getting out the right message. We have to say what we mean.
I don’t know how many times my husband has told me that he’s not a mind reader. And he’s said that because I have too often exercised my right to be silent.
And I’ll be honest. Often it is because I’m hurt and now angry and if I open my mouth it will be cruel. But guess what I’ve learned. It’s better to say that than remain silent.
Because he at least knows what’s going on if I say that much. And although he is a bit scared… that I may give up that right and let him have it, he’s also relieved that he understands the silence.
Because do you know what we do when there is a gap in understanding? Do you know what we do when there is something we aren’t sure of and don’t have the answers for? We either look it up, which you can’t do when a partner is silent, or we ask, which doesn’t help if the response is silence, OR – we make it up.
We guess. We fill in the blanks with a guess. And we build a whole scenario in our minds that we mull around and confront and attack and defend and so on, all in our heads. Because we didn’t know what it really was, because of silence. So we guessed, and made it really bad, had a whole fight in our head, and then stood ready for the fight in real life.
Maybe you are silent because you prefer to process your thoughts thoroughly before speaking. That’s not terrible. Just say that’s what’s going on first.
It’s totally ok to say I’m going to talk this out, I just need to think it through first. Please give me a bit of time. Do you know how much the other person will relax and be a calmer listener when you do speak? And all because instead of silence, you spoke first to explain the quiet.
For those of you who have heard someone remind you that you do have the right to remain silent, you are probably the people who process your thoughts while talking. Which again isn’t wrong, but better to say that’s what you’re doing. That breaks the wish for the silence to come, with an understanding of why it doesn’t happen. Ever.
People who process and communicate the whole times, they are interested in figuring out the “what” of the situation. They are looking to get to the WHAT of what’s going on.
They want to know what happened, what do you want, what do you need, what is the problem, what is the solution.
Forget trying to tell them why or how. In fact, if you try to tell them how, they will figure out another way because they didn’t want your “HOW”. Just your “WHAT”.
Those who want to think it through first, really think it through. And when they do speak, it will make sense and it will be articulated well. Not in many, many words, but in clear words. Bullet points almost. Because their silence while processing was not to write an essay to share with you as their answer, but to make sure they were clear in their own understanding before sharing it.
And while there are certainly other communication styles as well, let’s just take these two for a moment and make them a couple. Let’s have a crazy chaotic morning of trying to get out of the house with all of the luggage and equipment and food etc to head off on a week’s camping trip. There was squabbling and arguments as frustration unfolded about having everything and getting it to all fit in the vehicle.
As the car pulls out of the driveway, for the 3 hr drive to the campsite, the morning processing begins. And one starts talking to figure out WHAT happened, WHAT was the problem, WHAT will happen when they get there, and WHAT will it take to resolve all this tension and have a good week.
While the other ponders the same thoughts, but with all the possibilities and ideas along the way of why that all happened and how it can be resolved and prevented from happening again... but silently.
And the silent processor doesn’t speak enough to say they are processing and will be ready to talk about it in a bit. They aren’t ready to communicate because they want to do it well. But they don’t say that. They sit silent. Irritated. Overwhelmed, and ready to burst with all the talking going on.
Because the talker is processing as well. But by talking. Thinking out loud, really. Which is very different than communicating.
And the talker becomes frustrated, feeling alone in what they see as an important conversation to resolve an issue and return back to peace and harmony. They feel hurt by the lack of connection and see it as not caring about the relationship like they do… So, they give up and decide, they too have the right to remain silent.
And they resort to practicing that right. And now there is no talking to be done. No communication.
Because everyone has the right to remain silent. No one is explaining the reason for silence, and both are filling in the blanks and guessing – out of their frustration, hurt, and loneliness. And now we go from a communication problem to a relationship issue, and no one wants to be setting up a tent with anyone they don’t have a great relationship with.
I know, not everyone can relate to that specific example, but we can get the idea can’t we? That we all have communication styles that very well differ from each other. And that’s not wrong or terrible. And I’m sure you caught the message there that being silent is not wrong or terrible either.
There are many times when silence is best. Especially when to speak would be cruel, abusive, demeaning, or argumentative just for the sake of arguing.
But even if you are choosing silence, even for a good reason, if it is with someone you love and respect and are trying to maintain relationship with, maybe just maybe we could waive our right to remain silent long enough to explain why being quiet right now is for the best.
But at the end of the day, we all have something to say, we have a story to be told and truths to be shared. And they are so important to share.
They are essential for a life partner to understand – to respect and be aware of and nurture.
Truths are essential for the truth holders to share because that is how and when shame, especially false shame dies.
When the truth hits the air and is heard by a safe and loving listener, healing happens, and growth begins.
But that doesn’t and can’t happen if we just choose to practice our right to remain silent.
In the silence of the room, gaps form between people and relationships.
Truth builds bridges and brings people together.
And these sound like simple facts. Why is it so hard for us to share our truths instead of going silent? Especially when our truths reveal explanations to our feelings, our thoughts, are actions?
Somewhere along the line, we’ve been taught to battle our hard feelings in silence. We’ve been made to feel like negativity insists on silence.
The tradition of silence implies that what you’ve been through is something to be ashamed of. Something that devalues you, the survivor.
It has a way of telling you that your emotions, fears, depression, trauma, are not real. They’re at least not valid and justified.
Oh sure, you can speak of overcoming. You can speak of survival. We glorify survival. Just not the process of surviving.
We don’t give the due credit and accolades to the journey. We imply that that must be done quietly, in silence.
But that is so confusing when we KNOW that healing happens within relationship and relationship requires communication.
We have to be willing to share the truth of our journey. And we are all on one. We are all healing from something that happened in childhood, or 10 years ago, or 6 months ago, or this morning.
We are all living this life and having experiences everyday and some of those experiences cause pain. Sometimes too, the pain is from within our relationship.
But instead of silence, we need to be able to say, “that hurt me”. Because humans can not go their whole lives carrying the burden of all that hurt, quietly and alone. Not without hurting themselves or others along the way.
When we defy the tradition of remaining silent in our suffering, change happens. We gain power. We can see shifts begin to happen.
The tradition of silence requires your co operation to bury your story, your truth, and consequently your healing. When instead we could break the silence even to just say, “I’m sad. I’m hurt. I’m scared”.
A partner trying to guess at your reason for silence and building a defense for when you break the silence and possibly reveal their fears that it was about them in the most negative way, will not respond when you do speak, in the same way as if you had just said, “I’m sad”. Or “I’m hurt”. Or “I’m scared”.
If we can take the anxiety-provoking guess work out for them and speak our truth, there is a greater chance that they will hear our vulnerability, feel trusted, and respond with compassion.
And maybe not the first time. Not if this is new for them. It’s as scary for them as it is for you to being new to having the right to remain silent but waiving it for speaking your truth.
Over time, and with practice, and more and more communication, it becomes the norm for conversations. It becomes part of the relationship. And that relationship grows, evolves, becomes stronger and feels safer.
And I know this. Because I went from yelling and throwing a fit and learning that doesn’t work – to silence. And learning that doesn’t work either.
Being loud and crazy put my husband in the position of needing to defend himself. That didn’t feel safe for him.
Silence made him assume I was wanting to yell and scream and just might at any minute. That didn’t feel safe for him. Because it also feels like rejection.
It wasn’t until I started, and I’m still working at it, to speak my truth in the moment.
Saying, “that hurt me, and I need some time to sit with it before I can talk about it”. Or “I’m just sad. My heart hurts and I just need some quiet time”. And still the occasional, “If I speak now it’s going to be really mean, let me calm down a bit first”.
Cause to recognize my whole truth is for me to know I’m still intense, I’m still a bit crazy, and I can still destroy you with my words in a matter of a few. So, even when I need to exercise my right to remain silent, for everyone around me’s sake, I will first speak my truth to tell you why.
Because anyone I want to have a good relationship with, deserves to know. And the potential of that relationship continuing to grow, requires it.
So, all I’m really saying today friends, is this… yes, you have the right to remain silent. It might even be the best choice in the moment. But can we just say that first?
Can we waive our right to be silent and speak our truth, which will nurture our relationships, allow us healing, and grow us as humans, closer together.
We deserve to speak, we deserve to be heard, and we do have the right to remain silent, but let’s say what we need to say anyways.
Until next time friends, this is Tina saying good-bye for now, and we’ll speak again soon… because I’m never good at staying silent for too long anyways.