Maybe It’s Time to Stop Talking
Maybe it’s time to stop talking
I am a technology sales guy. I’ll spare you the details but in short, I talk for a living. Sometimes, I find myself talking to a potential customer that clearly has no intention of buying anything from me and is looking for the quickest exit from the conversation. Now occasionally, I’ll meet someone who even though they aren’t interested in buying from me, we develop good rapport and have meaningful conversation. But in either case,
one of the hardest things that I have had to learn is when to stop talking.
According to my Myers-Briggs profile, I struggle with awkward silence. You know, that moment when the conversation has been flowing but without warning you find yourself sitting eyeball to eyeball with the other person in complete silence?
Yeah, that moment.
I used to stink at navigating silence and just had to fill up the space with words that were likely meaningless but were nonetheless wasted. Over the years I have learned the art of silence and have in fact, learned to embrace and even look forward to the discomfort of silence.
As a general rule of sales, specifically negotiation, the person that speaks first, looses.
Over the past year of blogging and talking with dozens of people about their marriages, We have been blown away at some of the efforts made by people in an attempt to save their marriages.
In most cases, we find that it is usually just one spouse that is actually trying to save the marriage. And we typically find that person is completely exhausted as they beat their heads against the wall of their spouses hearts, begging them to listen.
That was definitely the case with our marriage. Although we started seeing a therapist just after I was caught in the affair, I was really just going through motions. Sure, I would show up for the session but I wasn’t doing anything beyond that.
Erin, on the other hand, was reading every book she could get her hands on and she was watching every YouTube video she could find that seemed to point her towards how to fix our marriage.
But there was a problem. —
Erin couldn’t fix our marriage. And you can’t fix your marriage.
We once walked into a couple’s session with our therapist and like most of the sessions before, we were absolutely pissed at one another. And my agenda was clear,
Fix her and we’ll get better!
Erin’s agenda was similar but opposing —
Fix him and we’ll get better!
About half way through the session, he stopped us and said — “Guys, you are not ready for couples therapy” he continued “Erin, you go work on yourself and Jason, you need to work on you.”
(this is what we were thinking but didn’t say)
Wait, what? Go work on ourselves?
Over the next several months, Erin started seeing her own therapist and I started working with someone on my own. From that point on, we only discussed our individual contributions to our marriage. That is when we really started seeing our marriage improve.
But here’s the point —
Wives, you can’t fix your husband. Husband’s, you can’t fix your wife.
Maybe it’s time to stop talking.
We talked a lot about your role in the marriage in Are You Owning Your Part and while important, that isn’t the message here.
The message here is that there comes a point where it may be time to stop talking. What I mean by that is that maybe it’s time to stop telling your spouse how they need to change. Maybe it’s time to stop trying to change your spouse. Because, while you may be able to guilt them into a temporary change in behavior —
You can’t fix your spouse.
No, the only thing you can control is your contribution the marriage.
Just after we started therapy, Erin would do things like: Ask me to read certain books or portions of books. She would passively leave out books that she wanted me to read with bookmarked or dog-eared pages. She would send me YouTube clips or excerpts from books or quotes via text and email. Or she would come home and try tell me all about something that she had just learned. All in an attempt to make our marriage better.
But she couldn’t (and still can’t) change me.
You see, that approach to trying to fix your marriage is like forcing a child to apologize. “Go tell your sister that your sorry!”
Sure, they may go and apologize to their sister but that doesn’t make them sorry. That just makes them temporarily compliant.
What you are hoping for is a change or heart, not just a change in behavior. Besides, you want a spouse that wants to get better because it’s the right thing to do. Not someone that you had to manipulate into change.
Maybe it’s time to stop talking —
Here are 5 things you can do to impact your marriage when it’s time to stop talking.
1. Set boundaries: Humility, sacrifice, patience and even love are not invitations for your spouse to walk all over you. Work with a therapist, counselor or mentor to establish healthy boundaries with your spouse. But remember, a boundary is only as good as the rules used to enforce it. So, you have to establish the consequences for crossing your boundaries. In the case of emotional or physical abuse, you have to be prepared to leave. You should not stay in the home if you (or your children) are being abused in any way. Develop and escape plan to include a hotel or friends house that is a safe place for you and your children. You can learn more about boundaries HERE.
2. Develop a Mantra: If your spouse is acting in a way that is destructive to your marriage then you may need to develop a mantra. A mantra is simply a word or saying that helps you get through certain situations. It is commonly used in meditate to help you stay focused so the same idea applies here. When you see your spouse presenting a recurring destructive behavior, then you simply repeat your mantra over and over until they either stop the behavior or you follow through with your promised recourse.
Erin did this in our marriage. Anytime I would become emotionally abusive, she would simply say “Jason, I love and I am not your enemy. But if you are going to continue acting like this then the kids and I will leave (the house, restaurant etc.) until you can treat me/us with respect.”
It’s important to note that the mantra is never to be used as a form of manipulation. The mantra is designed to keep you focused on preserving your marriage without becoming overly emotional or simply reacting to your spouses behavior.
3. Be the kind of spouse that you want your spouse to be: This one is simple. Model the behavior that you want to see from your spouse. Read, if you want to read. Go see a therapist, counselor or mentor, even if your spouse refuses. Be the very best version of yourself, despite how your spouse may or may not respond.
4. Do the next right thing: A marriage, whether good or bad, is simply a series of choices and actions. So, use the tools that you have and the things you are learning about how to have a successful marriage and do the next right thing. Don’t focus on what your spouse may or may not be doing, just do the next right thing.
5. Allow your spouse to hit rock bottom: Rock bottom looks different for all of us: Loosing a job, divorce, bankruptcy, rehab for an addiction, etc. But sometimes, we want so badly to keep the peace in our marriage that we enable bad behavior. Sure, you may not be fighting with your spouse but their behavior is robbing your marriage of the joy and the intimacy that you, your spouse and God really desires for your marriage.
Regardless of what rock bottom may look like for your spouse –
A successful marriage is not rocket science. In fact, I would argue that a successful marriage is far more difficult than rocket science. And it certainly has a greater impact on future generations than rocket science.
But you will not have a successful marriage through nagging, shaming or manipulating your spouse. Because much like some of my potential customers, they probably aren’t listening anyway.
A successful marriage will only happen when both you and your spouse decide to do the work required. Until then, do you part.
But remember – that may not require that you say anything at all.