(part of the Valentine’s Day series)
If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all (Thumper, from Disney’s Bambi)
Laura and I had a relatively tranquil courtship, and no, it was not so long ago that people still called it ‘courtship.’ Many of our friends’ relationships seemed less like dating and more like binge-watching a season of 24, lurching from crisis to crisis, and always leaving you hanging, wondering if this might finally be the time it all goes up in a massive mushroom cloud. Actually there was a lot of weirdness in general with college dating, due largely to two realities: the age of the parties involved, and the complete lack of higher brain function among the males. I feel deeply fortunate that I chose so well, despite this disability.
‘The silent treatment’ has a long and glorious history as a weapon of relationship combat, as one partner passive-aggressively refuses to respond with anything more than a grunt or a nod, all while pretending nothing is wrong (“What’s wrong?” <grunt>). This technique can be more or less effective, depending on the people in question. Because Laura and I are both un-chatty and at times emotionally oblivious it seems possible that one of us might try this and the other might not notice for a couple of days. Now that I think about it….
Many have played this game, but the huge, shiny trophy cup for the “I DON’T THINK THE WORD ‘MARRIAGE’ MEANS WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS” prize in the category of Silent Treatment goes to husband Okou Katayama of Japan, who responded to his wife with nothing but nods and grunts, despite living with her and raising three children together, for twenty years. His wife’s plight came to light when their 18 year-old son (do the math here) became concerned that his father’s approaching retirement might lead to a divorce, and contacted a skilled marriage counselor for help. Actually he contacted a television show for help, which suggests that the father’s ineffective coping strategies may have been passed on to the son. No, I do not understand the Japanese and their weird fascination with weird television. Actually I don’t understand the American fascination with this either.
In this case the show’s producer made some arrangements, and soon the couple were sitting on a park bench (not talking) with the cameras rolling. The husband spoke first: “Somehow it’s been a while since we talked,” which was a fair start, though with twenty years to plan his opening line, viewers were really hoping for more, maybe along the lines of, “So, how have you been?” or perhaps, “Have you seen my brown sock?” He went on to say how grateful he was for her and to (kinda) apologize. Like many men, he felt a bit neglected after the arrival of their first child; unlike most men (even those with low brain function) he managed to stay upset about it until the kids were almost grown. I suspect those three kids have a warped view of marriage, having grown up without ever hearing their father speak to their mother. No word yet on how things are going in the Katayama house. The wife may conclude she liked him better when he wasn’t saying anything!
On Friday we’ll look at the science behind how ‘micro-interactions’ throughout the day help to steady and strengthen relationships (hint: the Japanese silent treatment is not productive). I can give you a quick preview: silence speaks volumes, and at times this non-verbal aggression can be more damaging than a verbal or physical assault. Stay tuned.
Until then, here’s to the latest of many men who managed to screw up their lives (also their kids’ lives) while ineffectively trying to make a point with their wives. On the plus side he did manage to avoid saying anything wrong to his wife for twenty years, a feat unequaled in the entire history of marriage. Well played, sir. Well played.
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