They sat quietly, slowly eating their dinner. This was the third day of their Carribean cruise and the pattern was already set. The came to dinner each evening without a word. They sat at the same table – ordered the same cocktails – ordered from the menu with as few words as possible – and then just sat and looked at each other. When the food arrived, they ate in silence. But, oh – the words racing through their minds were etched on their faces – but to hear these words, you would have to be listening with your heart.
SHE: He just sits there – slowly chewing each bite over and over again so he does not have to speak to me. I remember when we first met – oh, how he went on and on about his future plans and how I fit into his life. We would talk for hours. And he was always taking my hand – putting his arm around me – stroking my hair – lavishing me with little kisses that spoke volumes. Now after years of marriage – raising children – becoming grandparents – retiring in comfort – we never talk. I convinced him that this cruise would help us to reconnect – I all but begged him. I told him that time alone would allow us to talk – to rekindle our relationship – to help us create a new vision for our future together. He finally agreed that we needed to do something and booked the cruise. Now here we sit – silent – as if we have nothing to say to each other anymore. How did we get here?
HE: Go on a cruise, she said. It will improve our relationship, she said. We will talk, she said. And yet, here we are – eating in silence. We could have done this at home for a lot less money. I try to talk to her but she never really listens. She either replies with something about the kids and what they have been doing or criticizes me about something she feels I did not do or did not do correctly. I stopped trying to share my feelings with her a long time ago. I remember when we were dating – she hung on my every word – she shared my enthusiasm for our future together – she even added to my plans in a way that told me she wanted to be with me forever. So, here we are – at forever. How did we get here?
SHE: Please, talk to me! Say something. I don’t know if I can take this silence much longer. Please! Wait – he is opening his mouth. Finally – just maybe – he will start a conversation. I will lean forward to show interest. Oh, he was just getting something to drink. More silence. How did we get here?
HE: If she would just give me a sign – anything that would tell me she still cares – she still finds me engaging – she still loves me. Wait – she is leaning forward. Finally – just maybe – she will start a conversation. I will smile to let her know I really want to hear her voice. Nothing – more silence. How did we get here?
SHE and HE: I don’t think we are going to make it. How did we get here?
Hazel and I just returned from a wonderful Carribean cruise. Each night when we went to the dining room, we laughed and joked with the staff – asked questions to get to know more about them – engaged other couples sitting near us – in all, had a wonderful time. But there was one couple who sat at the same table in silence every night. I can’t tell you that the above internal conversation took place – but I can tell you that their faces reflected what I wrote.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of taking each other for granted – of focusing more on our children instead of our soulmate – of allowing life to get in the way of living. If you recognize yourself in this piece, then you can fix it. It starts just by talking. You don’t need to go on a cruise or any other fancy get-away. Get a cup of coffee and sit at the kitchen table and talk. Be honest – be respectful – be attentive to each other’s words. Laugh – cry – hold your head down in shame that it has gotten this far. But please, talk. When you are done there will be some wounds to which you must attend but remember – wounds do heal if bandages are applied by someone you love.
If you do this, then you will never have to ask the question that haunted this couple. You will never say to yourself, “How did we get here?”
Extraordinary reflections Len.
The silence of the partner or, more generally, the silence in the couple can be experienced with discomfort, suffering, even anguish. It can arise from injuries sustained, as punishment, as a consequence of routine and for other reasons.
Silence in itself is not a problem. It is when we mean that continuous non-talk, not having exchanges, intimacy (physical, but also verbal), interactions, becomes a constant, which dominates all aspects of the couple, or many of them, or some considered “vital”.
The basic idea is that you have to do it in order to change. Mulling over what is wrong and not working, “fidgeting in the brambles”, will only increase the scratches and the distances, in all probability: if in fact it had worked, it would have already done so long ago.
Likewise, keeping the gap, perhaps in the hope that the other person will take the first step, is not a winning strategy.
The important thing is to talk: we meet, we put our cell phones away and we are together: we tell the day, have an aperitif, drink wine, joke … All we want, as long as it is clear that the protagonists are both.
Aldo – Thank you for your insightful comment. I learn from you every time I read your articles and your comments. So grateful for your friendship.
Len, this is perfectly timed. I have needed to get to this level of discussion and honesty with my husband for quite a while. Just this morning as I was out taking a walk it came back to me again. Wondering how I could make this happen. Now I have a little bit more inspiration and wisdom for the experience.
Jane – I answered your comment on LinkedIn – but let me add that as you talk together, you both commit to setting aside time to “unplug” (Dennis’ wonderful idea) and talk about “us”. Most of all, make each other laugh – that has been the saving grace in my marriage many times. Prayers for you both.
Great story and oh so true! 2 books, Love and Respect and Five Love Languages ( my favorite).
Johnny – Thanks for reading and most importantly, sharing additional resources for those who may see themselves in this article. We may help a couple reconnect by starting this discussion. We can only hope.
Great question and one that should inspire many people to sit back, unplug, and consider fully. My wife and I have witnessed precisely the “zombie” couples you speak of, and it’s sad to watch. But rarely is it ever too late to change the trajectory if both parties are prepared to focus on what’s important. I mention “unplug” above as it’s simply amazing how many couples we witness in restaurants that, although sitting at the same table, are entirely focused on their devices versus each other. And this includes families who all come prepared to have dinner with their devices versus each other. A sad commentary indeed…
Without the willingness to keep your relationship alive, we can quickly become broken. Face to face conversation is so important. Technology, though an asset, can very easily become a thorn in our side. If you love someone, make them feel important – and conversation is a great first step. Thanks for adding your experience to this discussion.
Great Story Len and great advice.
Thanks, Larry. Your input is always welcomed.