We hear it from every direction, don’t we? “You’ve got to talk it through. When you two are fighting, the best thing to do is to communicate.” Okay, that’s a good rule of thumb. But there are clear exceptions to that rule—like when the costs outweigh the benefits.
In other words, there are times when a couple simply needs to stop talking. Here are five specific times when, instead of talking more, it’s probably best to just be quiet.
Stop Talking when one of you isn’t Ready to Talk
There are times when someone’s simply not in a good place to have a fruitful discussion. Maybe that person is extra busy at the moment. Maybe he or she is intensely focused on something else, or is just plain uncomfortable with the subject. If you have something on your mind and your partner isn’t ready to talk about it, don’t force the issue. But let your partner know you want to talk. Say something like “I want to talk about what happened last night. It doesn’t have to be right now, but I’d like to discuss it soon. Will you let me know when you’re ready?” That’s all it takes to make sure your partner is in a more receptive space before you begin.
Stop Talking when you’ve said it a Million Times
If you’ve been telling your partner ever since you met that it drives you crazy when he chews with his mouth open, and he still hasn’t stopped, then give it a rest for a while. Or if you two constantly argue over how long it should take to get ready for a date, now might be the time to take a semi-permanent break from that conversation. At some point you’ve got to realize that talking hasn’t done much good and, in this case, is not going to provide a solution. There are times you simply have to agree to disagree, or table all discussion on the matter for, say, the next six months. The bottom line is that you need to give up the conversations you keep having over and over and over without any resolution. They will only grind both of you down.
Stop Talking when one of you is Being Extremely Unreasonable
Imagine that you’ve initiated a discussion about finances or the future, and your partner flies off the handle, condemning your attitude and accusing you of attacking her: “You’re always criticizing me and you never appreciate what I do for you!” You may not know exactly where this strong emotion is coming from—maybe something happened at work, or maybe your partner had a negative interaction with a friend or a family member—but you know that at this particular moment, your partner isn’t being fully reasonable.
At this point, the wisest tack is to avoid discussing either the issue or the bizarre behavior. Instead, just pull back from the conversation. If you can do it without sounding condescending, you might even say something like “I didn’t mean to upset you. We can talk about this later if you’d rather. I can give you some space right now if you need it.” You don’t need to be judgmental—after all, this happens to all of us from time to time. Just take a break until a little more sanity enters the picture. Of course, the same holds true when the shoe is on the other foot. When you’re feeling a little insane and your emotions are like a ticking time bomb, you need to give yourself some space.
Too many couples try to have rational conversations when one partner is in an irrational space. It never works. So the next time one of you is being unreasonable, put off any serious discussions and provide a space for sanity. Then, once you’ve had some time away from each other, you’ll be much more likely to have a more rational conversation.
Stop Talking if you have a Limited Amount of Time
You know you’ll be at the movie theater in five minutes. Or you’re about to meet friends for dinner, or arrive at a party. You have only a small amount of time, and that can be one of the worst moments to initiate a conversation about something that really matters or that you care a lot about. The danger is that you will simply introduce the topic—perhaps a complaint about how your partner handled a certain situation, or a controversial issue that you disagree about—and then you’ll have to stop the conversation just as things are beginning to heat up emotionally. Then, all of a sudden, you’re both upset, but you can’t continue the discussion because you’re meeting your friends or entering the party. You’ll have a hard time enjoying yourself because of the high emotions you’re experiencing. Keep in mind, raising an issue when you have only a limited amount of time can cause new problems that are actually bigger than the one you want to address. So if the conversation is going to be contentious in any way, don’t try to “squeeze it in.” Just wait until you have more time.
Stop Talking if you’re Especially Tired
When we get tired, we get more irritable, less reasonable, less tolerant, more defensive, and less patient. Does that sound like a recipe for a good conversation? Do yourself, your partner, and your relationship a favor and avoid serious conversations when one or both of you are really tired.
This may mean banning serious discussions after a certain time in the evening, or when one of you has worked hard or traveled all day. Or maybe you can agree not to debrief about the visit to your parents’ house until the next day. The point is that there are times when you’re going to be tired—physically and/or emotionally—and
at those times, it’s best to put a moratorium on serious or “flammable” conversations. These suggestions are fairly simple, but they also can be difficult to follow, since they call for awareness—about yourself, your partner, and the circumstances. Like so many other relational issues, knowing when to shut up is often about paying attention and putting forth a little effort. If you do your best to remain aware of whatever is going on in terms of your relationship, you’ll be much better at knowing when it’s important to communicate and when it’s best to simply be quiet.