Silence with teeth

shush blue final

We’re in group, and Jesse’s crying.

“It’s more than I can take,” she says.

“What is?” I ask.

She wipes her eyes.  “The silence in my marriage.”

The other four women nod.  No explanation necessary, apparently.

“My husband does it all the time,” one nods.

“Does what?” I ask.

“Stops talking.”

“Mine too,” says another.  “It’s how I know he’s angry about something.”

“Right?” says a third.  “The angrier he is, the quieter he gets?”

Nods all around.

I ask my usual question: “How’s it make you feel?”





“Like divorcing him,” one mutters.

Another turns to me.

“Why is that?  Why does it bother us so much?”

I’m considering my answer when an image flits across my mind.

“There’s a famous psychology experiment,” I say, “in which a mother is placed in front of her infant and told not to respond to the baby in any way.  No talking, no smiling, no facial expression at all.  Just a blank stare.

“So she does that.  At first the kid seems puzzled.  Then uneasy.  Then anxious.  Then it gets desperate and starts to cry.  Then it gets hysterical.  The whole thing takes about a minute.”

“Meaning what?” someone asks.

“It’s about the child’s need for connection and reassurance.  The infant depends on mom for survival, and so he’s exquisitely sensitive to how she feels towards him moment to moment.  When she stops acting like she loves him, he panics.  It’s an emotional earthquake.”

“So,” Jesse frowns, “you’re saying I’m like an infant.”

“No.  You need a sense of connection, like the infant does.”  I look around the circle.  “You all do.  You need to feel connected to your partner.  Why else be married?

“And when your husbands fall silent, the connection feels broken.

“And if they do it regularly, you can’t help but get scared, just like the infant.

“And if it continues over time, well, you know.  It chews away at you.”

“Like you said,” Jesse says, almost to herself.  “Why be married?”

* * * *

The Still Face experiment:


5 responses to “Silence with teeth

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