Peacemeal

Creating a life of harmony one choice at a time.

Selective Silence: An Experiment in Connection

What happens when one couple takes silent vow during romantic getaway?

"Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Every July, my hubby and I leave behind the three Cs of our daily existence (Children, Computers, and Calendars) for a two day get-away to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

This year, as an experiment in fun and connection, we decided to leave behind another big C: Conversation.

At first glance this might seem odd. After all, here is a chance to finally talk heart to heart, unhurriedly, without frequent interruptions (by you know who) or pressure to "decide what you want already!"

Yet, I had been having the growing suspicion lately that the sheer number of words between us were actually blocking our communication and connection instead of enhancing it.

Then, a few days before our trip, we were sitting together on a park bench in a rare contented silence, watching our daughter splash in a sprinkler. In the space created by our quietness, I became aware of feeling more alive and more peaceful at the same time. I could sense the slightly misty breeze on my arms, hear the squeals of children colliding with icy sprays of water, and feel the resting weight of my husband's hand on mine.

As though sensing the same thing, my husband sighed languidly and said, "What we need is more touching - and less talking."

Despite the playfulness in his voice, I sensed the "truth" in what he said.

And so, before we left for our two day cabin retreat, I brought up the possibility of spending our time together in selective silence.

"Hmmm..." my husband said, sounding skeptical, "how would that work?"

I wasn't sure but figured it would be fun to find out.

We agreed that we would try communicating non-verbally when something was important enough to be shared (pointing, nudging) and speak out loud only when it was really needed. We also agreed we would keep it within our little unit. That means we would NOT be miming our orders to restaurant waitstaff or trying to charade "broken porch light" to the cabin owner.

So, how was it and would I ever do it again?

We wound up practicing the selective silence for about a day and a night, and to be quite honest, we both found it quite enjoyable.

For me, it definitely contributed to feeling both more serene and more connected.

It was as though my feelings and thoughts were sediment from the bottom of a pond that I kept raking up into a cloudy, swirling mass by speaking them out loud. When I did not voice every thought and feeling that passed across my mind, after a while, the swirling sediment seemed to settle to the bottom, leaving my mind more clear and still.

Suddenly, I could see the exact hazel green of my husband's eyes, lit up by a stretch of barely moving river bend behind him. I could taste and re-taste the perfect tingling contrast of sweet and tangy in my chilled mixed drink. And I could share how much I enjoyed these things (with a crooked smile or a slurpy "mmmm") without the interruption of dozens of words passing between us.

After a while, it seemed like everything started to slow down to match the pace of the restful quiet that we were weaving around us. With the added spaciousness of companionable silence, there was more time and room to notice, to note, to notate.

And as my husband had forecasted on the park bench, there was more cause to touch -- to nudge him as my gaze followed a flock of birds across a slice of blue sky, to lean on him as we rested in the welcome hum of the air conditioning after a sweaty six mile hike, or to brush my hand against his as we walked down to the corner (organic) grocery.

I seem to have a memory of us, just this way, as a young couple first falling in love: savoring the quiet between us, enjoying the opportunity to communicate by touch, smile, physical contact.  I sense that, over our many years of living and learning together, we have come to over-rely on the power of words to form the bridges of connection between us.

Perhaps selective silence is not for every day. Yet, having discovered it, I want to continue looking for opportunities to practice it again.

Maybe my kids might enjoy an afternoon of less talking and more touching?

Not sure how that would work. But it will be fun to find out...

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Copyright Elaine Shpungin 2010

Elaine Shpungin, Ph.D. enjoys enjoys writing about her "peacemeal" attempts to create harmony one choice at a time. At the moment, she is a student of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and Restorative Circles (RC), a budding writer, a humbled parent, a work-in-progress romantic partner, and a director of a psychology training clinic for doctoral students in Clinical/Community Psychology.

Elaine Shpungin, Ph.D., is the director of the University of Illinois Psychological Services Center.

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