Dear Rabbi and Shira
Hi, I’m engaged to a great girl. We are getting married at the beginning of July and there are a lot of decisions to make. The problem is every time our discussions become too intense, she shuts down and gives me the “Silent treatment.” This ends the discussion, and nothing is resolved. It is obviously very frustrating. As our wedding is really soon, we really need to come up with an action plan, and even an alternative action plan in case restrictions ease. Do you know why she shuts me out when we are in conflict? How can I get her to open up, be vulnerable and talk?
Silence is not golden in Brooklyn
Dear Silence is not golden in Brooklyn,
Mazal tov on your engagement.
There could be several reasons why she is responding to conflict with the silent treatment.
It could be she is overwhelmed. Sometimes when emotions run high, and we don’t know how to deal with them, our bodies shut down. There is a process known as the fight or flight response, which underlies many of our actions and reactions. When we perceive a threat, our nature is either to physically fight or to run away. We become aggressive, and our adrenaline begins to flow, preparing us for one for these eventualities. When we cannot do anything with this adrenaline and energy, we are like a car spinning its tires which can overheat its engine. When we get stressed, with no way to calm down, instead of fighting, getting defensive, some people shut down.
In situations like this, we need to practice self-soothing. Both of you need to learn to calm down, cool off and readdress the issue in a calmer emotional place. Discuss what the stressors are that are overwhelming her. You can ask “What parts of this conversation are hard for you to talk about? Why? Does this remind you of something else you experienced?”
It could be she is running away from the conflict because it’s scary for her. She may believe in a false pretense that getting married means living happily ever after, without ever having a fight. It could mean that she has seen couples fighting and think that it means that this will lead to a broken engagement or divorce.
Of course, this is all new territory for the both of you. So, we’ll tell you, couples disagree, and they fight. The both of you are two separate people, with different points of view and different families of origin. You should be more anxious if there aren’t disagreements!
Another possibility is that maybe that she is already trying to calm down and is staying silent to accomplish this goal. In a situation like this, you could begin the discussion by saying, “You seem overwhelmed. Is that why you are quiet? Do you need a break and we’ll talk about this later?”
It could be that she is doesn’t know how to communicate when she is upset or unable to have a relationship with someone when they disagree with her.
When you are not both in the middle of a disagreement, start the conversation, “I’ve noticed that when we have a disagreement, I feel like you tune me out and you are unusually quiet. Can we talk about it?”
If the issues persist, we recommend that you seek professional assistance.
Rabbi Reuven and Shira Boshnack