Demanding an answer from someone who is quiet usually gets a defensive response. Once the defensive response is triggered, things can easily escalate into a conflict, reinforcing the belief of the quiet person that the more you talk the worse it gets.
If conflict was not handled well in a person’s family background, it may trigger a reaction. The quiet person may have developed a coping strategy of avoiding conflict. If they habitually withdraw in conflict, like a turtle going into its shell, this will tend to erode a relationship over time. The end result is that two people who deep down love each other may feel very distant and alone.
So the million dollar question is how do you break out of this dangerous pattern? The first thing you can do as a couple is to identify when it’s happening. You could give it a name like “whirl pool”. If you can say “We are getting caught in the whirl pool again”, that’s better than pressuring for a response. The other person is not the enemy, it’s the “whirl pool” that is the enemy. At this point you have already taken three steps to correct the problem:
1) You have identified when it’s happening
2) You have given it a name
3) You have gotten on the same side.
Now that you are on the same side how do you get out of the whirl pool?
4) Ask your partner, “Can we can back up and restart this conversation?”
The person who has been asking questions or demanding input, needs to work at being more approachable. So how do they do that?
Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. It might help to smile, to touch, or just say “I don’t want to go down the whirl pool again.” Begin by stating your positive intentions. Avoid using the word “you” and use “I” instead. For example “I feel .........” or “I think ........” or “what I am experiencing is........”. When the word “you” is used , the focus will shift to them and they will likely feel attacked.
What if you have done good “I” messages and the other person is still stonewalling you with silence? This is when you need to be patient. Loving and respecting your partner may mean giving them a little space and time to regroup. My guess at this point is that they feel flooded and need an opportunity to formulate a response by themselves.
If you are the person requesting some quiet time alone, be sure to come back to the conversation as soon as possible. While in your time out try to reflect and get in touch with what’s going on inside of you. Think about where you agree or disagree, what is important to you, and how you feel about it. You may want to write down some notes to help you verbalize it. When you come back with a thoughtful response to you partner, you will be able to connect with them, and guess what, you will have escaped the whirl pool and are on your way to a happier relationship.