When it comes to conflict in marriage, a lot of us don’t know when to hush up.

It’s tough to resist throwing in that last comeback, that eye roll, that cruel retort— even though it’s guaranteed to get you both all fired up again.

Sometimes, nothing works. Not even our inner voice asking us if what we’re fighting about is really worth it. For some reason, we can’t or won’t be quiet.

But before you start thinking that marriage means taking a lifelong vow of silence, consider that learning to shut up might simply be a matter of practice. It’s a fine art you can develop once you understand the forces at work that urge us to keep talking when we should just stop.


Your brain is a wondrous thing. But there are a few functions it doesn’t handle all that well. One is being able to keep calm perspective when you’re under pressure.

Our watchful brains can’t always tell the difference between an imagined threat and a real one. So sometimes when we hear a snarky retort or hear a disappointed sigh from our partner, we experience a biochemical response that’s the same as one we’d have if we were under serious attack.

Most of us get pretty worked up in the midst of marital conflict. As pressure mounts, our hearts speed up and our blood oxygen levels decline. Once our heart rates are up above 100 beats per minute blood oxygen level drops even slightly below normal, we are less able to think straight. Leaving the room until we’ve gotten ourselves back together is the best move.


When we’re in the middle of a marital conflict, we could benefit from the principle of saying it once and saying it well.

Instead, we usually say it once and if that doesn’t work, we say it again … and again! If that doesn’t work, we get louder and more forceful, thinking, “This time my partner will FINALLY understand my point.”

Try this instead: Say it once.

If that doesn’t move things forward, your partner is either in disagreement but not admitting it – or she is too caught up in her own thoughts to hear you. A third possibility is that you haven’t been clear. Rather than repeat yourself, you may need to make your point in a new way, possibly at a different time.


Being quiet does not mean you endorse what your partner is saying. This doesn’t mean that you should keep silent about major issues that need to be solved. But when you’re in conflict, not every word or statement needs a response.

Consider that debating whether you took out the trash Tuesday or Wednesday or whether the kids are problematic because they take after your partner’s family might get you nowhere. It could simply be adding fuel to the fire without helping you get to the real issue at hand.

Wherever the habit of piling on comes from, it’s ridiculous to think that the one who has the last word is the victor.


How strong are you when you’re having a passionate argument about the best way to organize the kitchen drawers? Next time you’re fighting about some minor point, ask yourself if you’re really coming from a place of strength.

Diplomats are trained in the art of knowing when to be silent. Quite often, restraint is a form of courage and power.

If you’re left asking the question, “Don’t I have a right to be heard?” rest assured that the answer is yes. But you also have a right to remain silent and sometimes that’s the wise and powerful thing to do.


Janae Munday, a therapist working with married and committed couples in the Phoenix, Arizona area, can help you build the effective communication skills that every relationship needs.

If the silences in your marriage are filled with anger and hurt rather than forbearance and understanding, couples therapy can help you make a fresh start.

Call Janae now for a convenient time to meet.



Speaking of Marriage