Intimacy in silence
I am sitting in the restaurant, elbows on the table, fingers covering my mouth. They have to. Because if my fingers free my lips, I will say something. And right now, he doesn’t need words from me. He’s talking. Explaining. He’s normally so cool and collected but tonight there’s a bit of an edge and as he talks, the edge comes out. He’s angry.
And uncomfortable as it is, I keep my fingers over my mouth.
The restaurant is dark, candles flickering delicately across the silver. Tables dressed in white are close together, creating a sense of intimacy despite the nearness to other couples. It’s a favorite place of ours – romantic energy meshes with reliably superb meals. The white noise of conversation around us is loud – giving us an audio curtain of privacy – and I have to lean in to catch his words.
When he first started talking, I matched assertion with defense, accusation with attack. I can be self righteous with the best of them. And I had it all planned – how I would present my complaint, my Art of War nine lines of defense and attack mapped out, ready for the coup d’etat before dessert. I walked into this conversation so sure I was right.
But as he started talking, I realized… so was he. He was right. And this was the first time I was truly hearing it. He doesn’t really express the deep seated emotions much. He’ll joke about them, skim along the surface. He’ll even poke fun at mine to get me to “lighten up.” But now, he was genuinely feeling a pretty deep emotion. And it was anger.
I don’t know exactly what happened in those moments but a spark lit up amid the nine variations of tactics playing out in my head, and my hands moved up to cover my mouth. There is no defense, no offense that makes sense in this moment. We have been wrestling with this argument for months, and I can never understand why my point of view doesn’t make sense to him. And as he spoke, I realized… his point of view didn’t make sense to me either. Because I never really listened to it. I was so locked in to my point of view that as open minded, self aware and logical as I believe myself to be, I never considered that there really could be another way to look at it.
But clearly, there is. I hear his frustration at not being understood. I hear his irritation at my interpretation of events. I hear his attempt to find common ground. I hear that he is mad at the situation, mad at me, and… somewhere in there, unspoken but still there, I hear that it’s going to be ok.
It’s what happens next that is important. He finishes talking. I don’t argue. I don’t defend. I tell him that I hear him and we agree… we have no solution right now. But we’ll figure it out. So we finish dinner. The conversation moves on to other topics. But we now have a different understanding – of each other, of what it means to listen and of what it means to trust. The shift in our relationship is tangible.
Honestly, I still don’t fully understand his point of view. But I heard it. We are not wired the same and in this instance, we don’t place the same value on the issue in contention. We didn’t solve it. There may be no solution for it, anyway. But the energy that was pent up in the repeating argument is gone. I don’t need to understand his point of view to understand that we have different values here so while my feelings are valid, the judgement I am attaching to the situation is not. And knowing that, the power it has to stir up anger and hurt is… not quite gone, but definitely diffused.
I was fortunate that somewhere in me that night surfaced the mental order, “Shut up!” I strongly encourage that the next time you find yourself in an argument with someone close to you, especially a recurring one when you are so, so sure you are standing in your righteousness, you summon the inner voice – and inner strength – to choose to not be right in that moment. Stop talking. Listen. Accept. Trust. See what happens next.
There is intimacy in silence. And the reward in that is far, far greater than any word you can utter.