Turning Old Clichs into New Maxims:
Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid
By Richard Eyre
My grandmother again! And again, she was right in some circumstances and in some relationships. There certainly are times to hold our tongues, to agree to disagree, to avoid criticism and even conflict. Even Thumper knows that (one of grandmother’s favorites) and shared his knowledge with Bambi: “If you can’t say sumthin’ nice, don’t say anythin’ at all.”
So what’s the problem?
The problem is communication. Way too much goes unsaid these days. Way too many feelings get bottled up. Way too many marriages and other important relationships turn stale or ugly or simply end because too much is left unsaid.
Consider, as an extreme example, the story of Alf and Anna from the old county. Anna said, “Alf, we’re married twenty-five years now and you never tell me you love me.” Answers Alf, “Anna, I old you I loved you the day we were married. If anything changes, I’ll let you know!”
It’s not only the positive things that we need to say; it’s also the concerns, the frustrations, the hunts, and the feelings that need to get out, get aired, get communicated, get understood.
My wife, Linda, grew up with two marvelous parents who resembled Alf and Anna. Actually, they both resembled Alf. Her father was a quiet, stoic man who worked hard and had deep loyalties but show showed his affections more though a twinkle in his eye than through anything he ever said. Her mother was a delightful, energetic woman, who, in her eighties still went bowling twice a week and occasionally played volleyball, but still kept most feelings to herself.
Linda remembers from her childhood that when her mother felt a little anger or frustration with her father, she had the habit of going into the kitchen and shamming the knife-and-fork drawer a couple of times. The metallic crashing sound was both therapeutic and slightly symbolic of how her insides felt.
I observed some of these “silent techniques” in Linda’s parents while we were dating, and we committed ourselves to more openness and to the sharing of feelings. We would always say it, good or bad, positive or negative, so long as it was honest. All of this committing makes one certain day about two weeks after our wedding particularly memorable (and illustrative of how hard it is to change things that we’ve grown up with)/.
Sitting in the tiny living room/bedroom of our student housing apartment, I did something that made Linda very angry and upset. Her face turned red and her eyes looked daggers in my direction, but she said nothing. Instead she got up, strode into the kitchen, and slammed the knife-and fork drawer as hard as she could.
Hopefully in each of our marriages and families the goal is unity – even “oneness.” Yet there can’t be true oneness when there are hidden feelings or secrets. The question in this context is not whether we should express our feelings – we should. The question is how and when.
“When” is not always at the moment you feel the most upset, and “how” is not always with the first words that come t o mind, but expressing feelings – getting them out – is a must within a marriage.
There is something remarkable powerful and surprisingly secure about a relationship in which everything is shared and nothing is hidden. Such a relationship requires real commitment and love, and it unfolds and opens with the goal of becoming one, even as you hold on to individuality. When this happens, our lives begin to feel a completion that is impossible in any other way.
The new maxim sounds a little ghoulish – a little like Halloween – but most married couples who think about it know that it is true:
UNEXPRESSED FEELINGS NEVER DIE; THEY JUST GET BURIED AND COME FORTH LATER IN UGLIER FORMS.
I think you will agree that this new maxim is better than the old clich. Next column we will look at a saying that became popular via the movie and book titled Love Story. The clich is “love means you never have to say you’re sorry.”
2006 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.