First of all, I want to say that I'm talking about when my girlfriend is silent, it's not 'silent treatment'. I don't feel like she has cruel intentions, or is intentionally trying to hurt me in any way when she goes uber quiet. A better explanation is that we are both anxious introverts. When she gets nervous, she gets quiet, but she tends to want to stay in the same room.
I have ADHD, and so find this silence petrifying, and generally get close to or have an anxiety attack when it happens.
Not all silences are uncomfortable. Sometimes they are welcomed. I'm happy to sit around with her in the sun, cuddling, lying in bed and driving together. I can be silent for long periods, by myself, or around friends.
One when it's an ambiguous silence where she stares at me, like she people watches on public transport. It's like she's waiting for me to say something. This can last for up to three days straight, while I walk around on eggshells.
I keep thinking (internally) the entire time: "If you want quiet, why stare at me like you want a conversation?" or "If you want a conversation, why not just start one?"
I do know some of the reasons her silences start:
- When she asks me personal or politically loaded questions. I try to answer honestly. When I ask what she thinks about the topic, it's met with the shortest possible answer. Six words in some cases. When I ask why she wants to know what I think (her motivations), it's met with silence or defensiveness.
- When she perceives that I have a frustrated 'tone', even when I am agreeing with her.
- When she thinks I should be angry about something, yet I'm fine. So, this is the exact opposite to the previous point: a lack of frustration in my tone. Note: I've checked in with her when this happens, and she says there's no negative tone.
- When she perceives me as anxious
- When we disagree about a topic. This is when she doesn't talk to me for three days. I don't always need to be right, I admit my mistakes and apologise sincerely.
We live together, so I have tried the following:
- Asking her a question: she replies with a series of one-word answers, or none at all.
- I've tried assertively mentioning it, in a variety of different ways. This seems to have made things worse.
- Asking her what she needs/wants from me - she never answers that she wants anything.
- Talking through the disagreement - this is a necessary step for her to start talking again. But it takes 2-3 days before she's ready to talk. That duration is the petrifying part.
- Avoiding conflict/criticism - she doesn't have a reason to go silent if there's no disagreement right? Wrong. We haven't disagreed in a month, and she found a reason to bring up an insecurity from 6 months ago. Where she felt guilty for doing something wrong. I listened, reflected, and reassured her. The result? 3 days of petrifying silence.
I understand that sometimes, silence is an answer. It's perfectly acceptable. The problem is when it's coupled with her stare. This makes the silence ambiguous. So I can't tell what the silence means, it could mean one of 1000 things. That's what makes me uncomfortable.
Is there anything else that I can do to improve communication with her when she does this and handle the uncomfortable silence and staring at me?
I'm seeking answers that are pragmatic, actionable, and long-term. Finally, I'd like to keep my actions honest, caring, and trustworthy. I love her deeply and don't want to manipulate her in any way. And I'm hoping to form a plan which includes trust, communication, and kindness.