“This is ok, right?”
It was 2am on a Saturday night (Sunday morning?) when my husband’s words cut through the silence in our home. For the last two hours I’d been fully engrossed in the story of Cecilia and Joan that was unfurling as I flipped page after page of The After Party by Anton DiSclafani. My husband was, well, he was doing something but if I’m being honest I have to confess I hadn’t been paying very much attention. I simply replied, “Yes, of course.” and went back to reading.
Five minutes later he spoke again, “Are you sure?”
Am I sure? I was annoyed. It was 2am, I was growing tired, I was reading, and now my husband was interrupting me because he suddenly wanted to have a conversation about God-knows-what. I put down my book, I looked up with a look that I am sure was one of pure frustration, and hissed, “Am I sure about what?” That is when I saw it, the look of doubt and semi-panic on his face.
“That this is ok? It’s becoming routine.”
It took me a few minutes to process what he meant.
My husband wasn’t asking me if it was normal for me to be reading or for him to be playing a video game or for us to be so wide awake at 2am (which it all is, by the way); he was asking me to reassure him the silence we had been sitting in for the last two hours was not a sign of a collapsing marriage. He wanted to know that I still wanted to speak to him, even though I wasn’t. He wanted to know that I still wanted to go to bed with him, even though we were still awake. He wanted to know that I still enjoyed being with him, even though in those hours I had been fully focused on the lives of fictional characters.
The silence scared him, yet I felt defensive.
I wanted to snap at him and remind him that it is perfectly acceptable for me to want to take time to myself after working all day at the tech company, working on my books at home, working on my blog, cooking dinner, running errands, etc. Yet, if I had done that it would have only opened a snarling match as he reminded me of all of the work he does at his job all day, the things he takes care of at home that I hate doing (like laundry, God that man is a blessing for doing all of our laundry!), all things related to our dogs, etc. That isn’t the conversation I wanted to have, so I held my tongue and tried to figure out what to say.
Instead of answering with a reassuring, “Yes” I decided to ask him a question instead. Instead of saying, “Yes” I asked, “Why wouldn’t it be?” He shrugged in response, so I continued and I told him:
“This happened in my house every night when I was growing up. My mom was a paramedic and she worked 24-hours shifts so I got used to not seeing my parents together every evening. As a result of their work schedules, they spent a lot of time apart and developed their own ways of passing the time. When they were both home on the same evenings, I remember a lot of nights when we would all be sitting quietly reading. My dad would be in his recliner, my mom would be sitting on one side of the sofa, I would be on the other, and we would all be reading. My brother and sister would either be out or off playing.
Hours would pass, in silence, as we all enjoyed our own hobbies or interests. It was never about the words being spoken but rather about simply spending time in such close proximity. It was an easy, comfortable silence. Silence doesn’t scare me, tension scares me. Do you feel tension?”
He said no. There was no tension but he didn’t grow up in a similar environment. He grew up with noise and the moments of silence were usually due to the “silent treatment” where discussion and engagement was being denied as punishment, much in the same way you ignore a dog for bad behavior.
I put my book away because I knew my husband needed me. The silent hours just before bed, which had become so routine and comfortable for me, had become an uncomfortable sign of a possibly collapsing marriage to him. As captivating as the story of Cecilia and Joan’s friendship was in The After Party, the story of our marriage was far more important.
We spent the final moments of that night talking. I told him about the book I was reading, why it was so interesting to me, and what I really thought of Ms. Cecilia. He told me about the game he was playing, new music he had discovered, and a few changes to our schedule and routine that he was considering.
As we drifted off to sleep that night my husband whispered to me, “The silence is ok as long as I know I’m not losing my wife.” I reminded him, “Husband + Wife = Allies for life.”
Silence in our marriage is actually a pretty rare occasion and I reminded him of this the next morning. We are always working on something together, going somewhere together, or discussing books / movies / politics / news / religion. We spend most of our time together so those quiet nights, usually between 11pm and 1am or 2am, are the golden hour of peace to enjoy our own things. It’s not a time of neglecting the other person but rather to stay in touch with yourself.
You need time to focus on you.
Can you relate? Do you ever have periods of silence in your marriage? Are you like me (completely ok with it) or are you more like my husband (who finds silence uncomfortable)?