As a counsellor and a champion for peacemaking, I find there are two noteworthy kinds of silence that occur within conflict. One is very dynamic, but the other is very destructive.
We have all engaged in both types. But we are not all yet characterised for the application of the dynamic type.
Destructive silence leads to frustration, anger and despair.
Dynamic silence leads to hope, healing and restoration.
The destructive silence is that which occurs when conflict cannot be resolved, and either the conflict is swept under the carpet, or it produces passive aggressiveness in one or both people. This latter form of the destructive silence is particularly problematic, because one or both get involved in manipulating the other, and it is not unusual for a pattern of abuse or toxic relationship to form. The former kind, whilst it is understandable, and incredibly common to the family experience of so many, ensures that poorly negotiated conflict negates the opportunity that well negotiated conflict presents.
If we insist nothing gets resolved, then we insist that at least one person stays frustrated, and that can never be good, and it certainly isn’t demonstrative of love.
One person’s insisted-upon silence,
(their silence of control)
is never an action of love.
Many people do need time
to reflect and recover,
however, they ideally reinitiate
without their partner thinking
they’ve been abandoned.
Some people, indeed some couples, have no frame of reference around dealing with conflict in the safe way. Their families of origin gave them little to work on and were perhaps either violent or denying when conflict around the home got hot.
But if relationships have any hope there must be a commitment to work through conflict – to believe that conflict is an opportunity. But conflict can only be an opportunity if wise and loving minds apply mutual submission by each getting the log out of their own eye. And, as a husband in an egalitarian marriage, counselling marriage partners to apply egalitarian principles, I ask the husband to lead by example. I guess I do this because I acknowledge that, in many cases, wives are already doing it better. (I do concede this is not always the case.)
If the destructive silence turns bitter, one or both engaged in it don’t look like they’re hurt by the conflict, but it can simmer for hours, days, weeks, forever. It is children in the home that particularly notice it.
When nothing gets resolved,
nobody has any peace.
A silence that fails to resolve conflict,
only serves to infuriate all parties.
But I want a focus on the dynamic kind of silence.
The form of relational silence I want to focus on is that cherished moment when one or both cease to argue, where they both sit in the awkward silence and ponder what could be from what is.
It takes one to initiate
what both need: silence.
For those who believe in God, those who believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, there may be faith enough to trust that more said is not necessarily better said. There must come a time when hostilities cease; a time when the spirit of a soul surrenders its strong desire (the desire that has become a demand) for its own way. If one is content to sit in silence oftentimes the other is content, also.
Desires taken too far become demands,
and when demands aren’t met,
the person judges the other person,
and then punishes them.
In these moments, a wise couple or good friends or co-workers or parents with their children, may sense the opportunity to look inward, to enquire why their desires have become demands, and to also become curious about what the other person’s realistic desires are.
The only hope two have
of winning in conflict
is if both win.
If one wins, both lose.
That’s certainly the way
that negotiators see it.
This dynamic variety of silence has the power of God about it. There is a much bigger chance that true resolution and reconciliation can take place from the safer ground of the ceasefire.
There is a time for silence,
but silence should never be weaponised.