If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of the silent treatment, you know it feels awful. You’ve been iced out and it can feel like it is up to you to make the first move.
We want to close the gap.
In your mind, that feels like a major step. It’s risky to know you might be the one in hot water. It’s scary to invite someone to share their negative emotions with you. However, it is a very important and courageous step to take in our relationships. Your ego is going to be kicking and screaming the whole time, because it is so resistant to anything that will make you feel bad. But you might march forward anyway and bravely ask the big question, “What’s wrong?”
Ever get this answer? “Nothing.”
Wait, what? Here you are feeling vulnerable and scared and this is what the other person comes back with?
This is what I think is going on when that happens. Despite the fact that you won the battle with your ego and chose to approach the person, you are actually asking them to take the bigger risk. You didn’t have to share anything. You didn’t tell them how you were feeling. You didn’t offer up anything other than a question. Your courage was all internal. They are the ones who have to take the external step and actually say something aloud.
They have to be willing to share their pain. And if someone is hurt, they are probably feeling rejected. Why in the world would they welcome another potential rejection? Simply answering that question might make them feel too vulnerable.
Plus, we added a layer of judgement by using the word “wrong”. It automatically positions them as right and whatever has happened (maybe you) as wrong. That might create an obstacle to a love-based conversation. We have a much better shot at connected communication when we leave right/wrong out of it. Those types of exchanges just end in blame and fault rather than at the feelings behind what happened.
What if we try a different approach?
Let’s lead with vulnerability and love. Share how you are feeling and then ask something more neutral.
- I’m worried that I hurt your feelings when I… What’s going on?
- I feel sad that you are not talking to me and really want to hear what you have to say. What’s going on?
- I don’t feel connected to you but I really want to be. What’s going on?
It’s probably not going to be a much bigger step for you since you already made the decision to inquire. But the change in approach can be huge. By adding in your feelings you are sending the following messages…
- I care about you and our relationship.
- I am open to whatever you might need to share.
- I want to hear about how what happened made you feel.
The more we practice opening conversations in this way, the less scary it is to approach the person in the first place.
The silent treatment is used either because the person isn’t ready to share or they are trying to punish you for an injustice. Approaching with your feelings and a neutral question can be helpful in both situations. After all, we just want to re-establish that connection and get love flowing again. Sometimes, we have to be the first one to jump in and how we do it can make a huge difference.
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