The Meat and Potatoes of Life: When angry, the silent treatment can have its place

| August 15, 2014 | 0 Comments


Lisa Smith Molinari
Contributing Writer

I talk too much.

I’m the kind of person who has to fill awkward silences, who can’t tell a story without all the excruciating details.

I chat endlessly at base social gatherings and then wake up the next morning, slap my forehead and say, “Me and my big mouth.”

I’m not exactly sure why I’m this way, but considering that every human personality trait from narcissism to Oedipus complex has its roots in childhood, I’m guessing that’s when it all started.

My father, who was shipped off to Fork Union Military School at the tender age of 7, was determined to be a more “hands-on” parent than his own. If my brother or I disobeyed my father, he simply selected from a variety of corporal punishments that were considered perfectly appropriate, if not advisable, in the 1970s.

No one would have batted a powder-blue frosted eyelid back then if a parent gave his kid a whack on the tush for saying that she didn’t walk the dog because she was in the middle of a particularly riveting episode of “Diff’rent Strokes,” or if she called her brother a “ginormous butt-face” while in line at Mister Donut.

Our father also selected from the myriad of non-corporal punishments, such as sitting at the table until you finish every last bite of that succotash, grounding for coming home 20 minutes after Mom rang the bell and knocking on the neighbor’s door to confess that you dug for worms in her front lawn.

But there was one form of punishment that I considered worse than a lashing with my father’s infamous 3-inch white vinyl belt. It was the dreaded “silent treatment.”

When my father would refuse to acknowledge my presence for a period of hours or days, I had time to ponder the offense for which I was being punished, but also, I had plenty of time to feel regret for the 37 other things I’d screwed up in the past. It was sheer agony.

I would have volunteered to walk barefoot over a bed of bumblebees, run through a thicket of thorn bushes or take a carrot peeler to my shins if only my father would just speak to me.

Now, as an adult, I can’t stand silence.

So, when my Navy husband and I stopped speaking to each other right before a 12-hour drive home from vacation last week, I found it particularly difficult. We both had had it. He’d had it with my extended family who we’d been living with in a small North Carolina beach cottage for two weeks, and I’d had it with him for having had it with my family.

We’d gone to bed angry the night before, backs to each other, vowing, “See how s/he likes this. I’m not going to say a word!”

The next morning at 6 am, we hit the road in silence. The kids, oblivious to our temporary marital discourse, slept soundly.

File photo While the author admittedly will “chat endlessly,” she also found that remaining silent after disagreements can occasionally be useful.

File photo
While the author admittedly will “chat endlessly,” she also found that remaining silent after disagreements can occasionally be useful.

Through North Carolina, I sat, arms crossed, staring bitterly out the passenger’s side window. In Virginia, I kept quiet, comforting myself with a small neck pillow. In Maryland, I dozed off. In Delaware, I couldn’t specifically recall why we stopped talking to each other in the first place. In New Jersey, I just wanted us to be normal again.

“Are we going to get something to eat?” I croaked weakly, my vocal cords showing signs of atrophy after six hours of silence.

“Yea, in just a few minutes,” he said, his soft tone indicating that he wanted normalcy, too.

After hoagies off the Garden State Parkway, we climbed back into our luggage-laden minivan for the remainder of our trip home to Naval Station Newport. In New York, we chatted about the news a little bit. In Connecticut, we were quiet again, only because we were tired.

Finally, in Rhode Island, it was clear that our silent treatment had been a blessing rather than a punishment. In the absence of words, we had time to have regrets and to miss each other. And I learned that talking doesn’t always make things better.

Sometimes, silence is golden.
(Military spouse Molinari shares life’s humor in“The Meat and Potatoes of Life,” at

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