It will happen inevitably.. the Cold War. Looking back on my history of both dating and extended relationships it is interesting that I’ve had very few of these cold-wars with women I dated briefly while encountering it much more often with those I’ve had deeper, longer relationships. The ‘cold war’, as it is often defined in relationships, is that condition of impasse when both parties are too upset or offended to speak with one another unless absolutely unavoidable. Exchanges of conversation are kept brief and practical on an as needed basis.
But why is it this occurs in deeper relationships and marriages more often than in light-dating situations? I believe part of the reason being that during ‘light-dating’ each encounter is a relatively brief one with little at stake communally. First is the Meeting, then the Time Together and finally the Parting. During dating it is already understood that any encounter with our loved one will end with each returning to their respective ‘spaces’ where things are done in their own manner and time. However in deeper relationships, or marriage, where couples strive to spend absolutely as much time together as possible the availability to retreat into one’s own ‘space’ is not only limited but even mistakenly seen as a threat to the relationship.
During the ‘light dating’ stage, let’s say that John and Karen have a disagreement over where to have her car repaired. John will state his recommendation and reasons for such, but it is still primarily Karen’s decision. But when John and Karen are married and the same disagreement arises the option of ‘do as you please’ must give in to the ‘we are a couple’ condition. This requires that some sort of agreement -must- be worked out in a civil, understanding way because now the auto in question affects both lives equally.
In an ideal situation John and Karen will discuss the finances and convenience of the matter and come to a conclusion without much agravation. But what I have also noticed is that when such matters turn sour it is due to perhaps 10 percent of the original issue and more like 90 percent regarding how each person felt offended during the decision-making process. It is at these times that old offenses are brought up from the past and other seemingly irrelevant issues surface with great intensity. It is when the original topic gets sidetracked that both parties get so confused about what issue they are trying to solve that often each will get up and walk away with the resolve to give each other the silent, cold-war treatment.
So there they are… John and Karen, refusing to speak to one another about anything deeper than, “Pass the salt.” Obviousy someone must ‘give in’ and restore communication or else living together will continue to be a heavy burden rather than a continued joy. This is where some sensitivity about timing must come into play. A woman’s emotions will require some time to cool down before approaching the subject again. A man’s intellect will require time alone to gain a sense of mentally arranging a solution to the problem.
When a man is ready to restore communcation he must first ‘test the waters’ to see if she has had time to regain her composure. The way a man can do this is to offer conversation extending beyond what is necessary. Rather than go all through dinner silently he might say something kind like, “I like the way you look in that dress.”, or “I took your car to be washed today, I hope you like it.” If her response is continued silence or a sharp rebuttal then it is best to give her more time. When a woman wants to approach her man the worst thing she can do is persue him for deep conversation while he is still blatantly withdrawn, mulling over the issues. This does not nececarily mean he is still angry, but he simply needs more time to arrange the facts in his head before he feels safe to discuss it any further. In this case the best approach used would be to kindly say something like, “When you’re ready to talk let me know so we can set aside some time.” So now finally John and Karen have set a time to restore communication. They’ve waited until the kids are in bed and schedules have been freed, even agreed to let phone calls go on the answering machine. There are some distinctive ‘Do’s and ‘Don’t’s when it comes to making the restoration of communication a positive one. Without some sensitivity this brief truce can result in yet another stage of distance.
First a man must understand a woman’s need to express herself verbally, at her own pace and style, without interruption. Though to a man it may seem as if there is no common denominator linking one subject to another it is part of how she shares what is of concern to her in the hopes of being heard and cared for. Men must first be willing to ‘bite their tongue’ and listen as well as express their own desire to be heard without interruption.
Secondly, both parties need to come to the truce table willing to apologize. Much time and energy can be lost proving and defending against instances of supposed neglect or offense. What each person must keep in mind is that whether they had or hadn’t intended to hurt their partner there must be the willingness for sorrow and apology where needed. Don’t make the goal of restoring your communication to hash out the details of a dozen miscellaneous hurts and offenses. This will only make for an arena of defensiveness and renewed hurts.
Third, strive to admit and commit to two very obvious things. One being that things will only get worse to continue relating in cold-war fashion. The other being that you are committed to doing what you can to make things better with different behavior. When the discussion strays way off into some insignificant point always come back to the real reason for talking… to restore and preserve your joyful life together.
It is only after each side has had a chance to feel heard and a resolution made to forgive and make changes that the walls and guards of our emotions can be let down with our mate. A man may need to listen to his wife understanding her need to share her life with him verbally without taking it as a burden or accusation to himself for her issues. Usually she simply needs only that a man take interest in her issues rather than find solutions to all her discomforts. She is not in such cases blaming him for her problems as most men might think. Meanwhile a woman may need to understand that a man’s need to sway from intimacy to privacy and back again is not a reflection of his love for her, but simply a way that he reassures himself of his ability to stand alone. When a man feels confidant to stand as an individual he feels confidant to care for his wife and responsibilities. This habit of pulling back to focus and then drawing near to engage is part of his inward, male maintenance.
In short, any cold war situation requires that eventually one party ‘bridges the gap’. Once that gap has been bridged the common goal of making each other’s lives better, rather than harder, must be brought to the forefront. One simple way of communicating that commitment is to love your mate as you’d desire to be loved. It is unavoidable that conflicts and misunderstandings will come. It is to the degree we abandon selfish pride and excercise gentle compassion that will determine how greatly we enjoy not only our relationships but even our own self esteem.
Henry Velez is a writer, traveler and vlogger currently living in the Philippines. He has written extensively on social issues, relationships and travel.