Is your partner a silent type?

Some people complain that their partners are quiet, silent, non-responsive, pensive, of few words, aloof, hard to read, unemotional and unaffectionate. If this sounds like a serious problem, it is only because this partial description requires further clarity.

Greater understanding of this type of personality may reveal that this type of a man or woman is also a brilliant thinker, a stable, reliable, kind, accepting, non-intrusive and even funny human being. So what is the core of this seemingly introverted, non-relating mate?

Well, this very intelligent, curious, bookish individual is interested in knowledge and information. He or she may spend a lot of time reading and becoming well informed on many subjects. The yearning for knowledge is about highly intellectual and abstract topics such as: the meaning of life and the secrets of the universe. The “thinker” is often a very bright person, who manages all information logically in his or her mind.

Emotions are also processed through cognitive means. If you ask this thinker what she feels, she will be hard pressed to respond immediately until she had time to think about it. The following day or so, you may receive a logical, well thought out response of her analysis of her previous day’s feelings. The explanation may be followed by the logic in having felt what she felt.

This analyzing, quiet type who is so well informed, delights in enlightening other people. He loves to teach, educate and help others learn. The teaching is done with preciseness, great details and accuracy and is transmitted with great authority.

Partners of this silent type often feel annoyed by the detailed lectures and the low emotional responsiveness. Though the reciting of seemingly endless data is impressive, it seems somewhat dull when it is not accompanied by enthusiasm and affect.

Some partners of these brilliant individuals get so frustrated by the modulated emotions that they resort to ways of provoking a reaction from their silent partners. “Even trying to get him mad would be refreshing – just to get him to react”, said one frustrated wife.

Other spouses feel unseen, abandoned and neglected by the lack of verbal and emotional exchanges. They may misinterpret this behavior as a sign of their own unlovability and may even get depressed. One woman described it as “Living in a sea of calmness, serenity and aloneness”.

One emotion that partners often miss in these bright quiet people is their anxiety. They may not exhibit the classical signs of nervousness, agitation or anger, but can be uncertain and fearful. This is hard to detect because, being as taciturn as they are, they do not speak of their anxiety, and may not even know how to label these reactions. Their anxiety stems from the fear of not knowing something, not being prepared, being demanded to behave in unfamiliar ways, being depleted emotionally by others or being seen as ineffectual or incorrect. When their anxiety mounts, they may become irritable and/or withdraw.

Not all silent people are that unresponsive, some are much more available, friendly and even outwardly affectionate. They are almost always hard to read since they divulge very little about their feelings unless they are asked.

These quiet thinkers need a lot of time for themselves. They like their own company and feel emotionally better able to cope with others after they have spent some time alone. Serenity, peace and quiet afford them the recharging of energy that being with people seems to deplete. In the absence of periods of aloneness they may become irritable and difficult.

Some people perceive these silent thinkers as aloof, shy, or snobbish. They may be shy in social situations since their awareness of social cues is low. They may be awkward in groups and may act in less than socially appropriate ways. Being attentive to social norms and etiquette is not one of their strong suits and thus without sufficient awareness and practice, they keep acting like “outsiders”. Being snobbish is a grave mischaracterization of these humble people.

Silent people are often unaware of how they appear to others and are oblivious to any social disapproval they may get. They tend to be very accepting of other people, are not competitive and thus are not aware that other people may view them with less than approving eyes.

However, partners of these lovable people may have the awareness of their mates’ conduct and are often left with the task of being the social guides and directors. The mates encourage their unaware partners to dress and act in certain ways and are supportive during socializing to help the thinkers cope with the challenge of being social.

There are many endearing traits that silent thinkers possess. They are often very impressive in their field of specialty and command awe for their competence, knowledge, kindness, loyalty, fairness, acceptance and generosity to others.

If your partner is the silent type:

  • Realize that his quiet ways are not a sign of lack of caring for you. It is his innate nature.
  • Silence may be felt to be distressing or peaceful and serene. Pick your attitude.
  • Appreciate her wisdom, knowledge, kindness, loyalty,acceptance, fairness, and quiet demeanor as treasures.
  • Help him understand that you need greater emotional responsiveness and specify the ways he can do so.
  • Rely on her kindness and loyalty and deep love for you as motivators for change. Once she knows exactly what you need and why, she will attempt to please you.
  • See his social weakness as endearing. Viewing him as an “absent minded professor” is more loving than seeing him as socially inept.
  • Listen and appreciate her “teachings” and you will be enriched as she feels worthwhile.
  • Help him with his anxiety by keeping him informed, prepared, admired and reassured, as well as assisted where he may need the help. It is a small price to pay for having such a unique and special partner by your side.

April 17, 2004

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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