This is the post in which I am the grumbling Israelites and my husband, Bill, is Moses. Not because I’m especially humble, but it’s just that this phrase in the Old Testament stood out to me recently.
Three or four times in Leviticus and Numbers, during a heated exchange between Moses and the Israelites, Moses up and “walked away.” I wondered about that. “Walk away” is telling, don’t you think? You can walk away without moving a muscle. You can simply refuse to hold up your end of the conversation. Just like an introvert.
As an extrovert, I place a high value on the spoken word. Unspoken words, I abhor them. But sometimes it is much safer to unspeak words, to let the thoughts that will eventually birth marinate. Bill taught me that. At first, it infuriated me when he would meet my onslaught of words with silence. I had no clue what those unspoken words meant. So I spoke them for him in my head. I decoded the silence. And always, and I mean always, I got it wrong.
As an extrovert, I place a high value on the spoken word. Unspoken words, I abhor them.
In a fight, one misunderstanding usually begets another. Before you know it, you have a hundred-year genealogy of misunderstandings. Which leads me to Rule Number One:
Try not to interpret the silence.
This Rule is for the extrovert, and it implies giving your introvert the benefit of the doubt. It means accepting that silence is his or her way of processing what you just said. I know when Bill “walked away” in an argument, it wasn’t always to do what Moses did every time, to fall on his face and ask God what to do about me. And when I assaulted him with words, I wasn’t always complaining like the Israelites. But the third time that little phrase cropped up, it made me look at Bill’s silences with more respect. Sometimes you really do have to walk away.
But all of this would not work, not in marriage, if it weren’t for the second rule—the one that is mostly for the introverts. Rule Number Two:
Give your silence a placeholder.
I have a silver bookmark with a dangly Celtic cross on it. Give your silence one of those, a marker with something shiny that says, “I love you, but I need a minute to think.” Even “I need a few hours to think. But I promise I’ll come right back to this page.” Maybe you can’t say it with shiny words, but say it, even if your words are a little clumsy. Stick your thumb in between the pages. Your extrovert will thank you for it.
Give your silence one of those, a marker with something shiny that says, “I love you, but I need a minute to think.”
Before long, Bill understood that when he walked away, even if he was sitting right next to me, even if he patted my arm, I needed to know he was going to walk back. When he had no words, I needed to know he was simply figuring out what words he wanted to say. Because introverts think before they talk. I’m so jealous of this trait. And sometimes, like Moses, your introvert needs to go to God to know what the heck to do with you.
It always comes down to patient grace. I let Bill walk away, loving who he is enough to know he needs to do it, and I don’t have to follow him to be sure he’ll come back. And he lets me be the insecure chatterbox I am, knowing that while he is busy editing his unspoken words, I will probably edit reams of my spoken ones.
You will also like Showdown at the Sketchy Motel, Nagging Your Husband? Try This Instead! and This Old Couch: How our Sofas Tell our Marriage Story.