The Bible warns us about the power and dangers of the tongue. In marriage, just like in every relationship, disagreements, and arguments are inevitable. When we are blindsided by the truth, the tone, timing, and emotions determine if the truth-telling is perceived as bullying, nagging, criticizing or blaming behaviors.
The silent treatment can enticingly present itself as a response more fitting of taking the high road, one of grace and dignity, but the evidence dictates otherwise. Having been married for nine years to my beloved wife Sarah, an introvert and of quiet personality, I can confidently differentiate ordinary silence from the silent treatment. Webster dictionary defines silent treatment as an act of fully ignoring an individual or thing by resort to silence particularly as a method of expressing contempt or disapproval. Silent treatment as a way of retribution is an example of non-verbal aggression, to purposely not to engage with an individual. In Luganda, it’s referred to as Lusirika. I have been both a subject and giver of the silent treatment.
According to Professor Dr. Paul Schrodt, graduate director of communication studies at Texas Christian University, it’s the most common pattern of conflict in marriage or any committed, established romantic relationship. It also involves holding back on love or affection hence doing tremendous damage to a relationship. It reduces relationship satisfaction for both partners, hinders feelings of intimacy, limits the capacity to communicate in a healthy and meaningful way and may result into infidelity and divorce. This is exacerbated by technology, social media and work that act as distractions and substitutions.
Silent treatment is not only limited to relationships but also to religious communities and workplaces. In certain religious sects such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Amish, silent treatment is practiced as shunning and excommunication as punishment for people who have abandoned their doctrine. Followers are expected to have little or no contact with shunned individuals. It’s also defended as a form of ‘love’ and that it’s the victims own fault.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, silent treatment is the fourth, most common workplace bullying tactic and is considered a kind of abusive supervision. This manifests itself as withholding feedback, refusal to credit or acknowledge good performance, refusal to answer calls, emails and or return voice mail.
The apostle Paul challenges us to speak the truth in love. Ending the vicious cycle of silent treatment starts with and by speaking. Without verbal communication how can we speak the truth in love? We all have the right to say no. Let’s say no assertively, not passively but with love.
I Corinthians 13, provides the gold standard and means to test and refine our words and intentions to see if they are loving, patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not dishonoring, un self-seeking, not easily angered, not holding a grudge? Is it rejoicing in evil instead of truth? If your response is yes to these, you need to change your message to one that is still true, but also loving. By seeking the Holy Spirit to help and guide us speak the truth in love, it will set everyone free. When we do this, we can watch our relationships, businesses, and workplaces and communities transform.
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