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Posted on 09/10/2020

Unhealthy Peace: An Examination of Silence and Serenity

Unhealthy Peace: An Examination of Silence and Serenity

Imagine a couple laboring in the kitchen together:

  • They close out the end of their week divvying up duties for dinner, forgoing the typical joyous affairs of the nightlife. 
  • The excitement of a night out on the town is replaced with hushed music and wine. 
  • For the couple, switching from task to task appears almost telekinetic. Even though they don’t speak, they move gracefully around one another without mishap.
  • There exists an earned quietness between them. A stability that’s only found years —sometimes decades after weathering life’s peaks and valleys. 
  • Through promotions, layoffs, sickness, perhaps the birth of a child or the loss of the loved one, the relationship has held as a steadfast constant that has only been strengthened, not in spite of, but because of these events.

Mainstream media has been great at enculturing the notion that this is a healthy, nourished relationship. And for some, this idyllic cliché is their reality.

But what if there was a more sinister explanation afoot? Not something so blunt force that can be temporarily resolved by rolling down a sleeve or a quick blot of makeup. Nor is this as diabolical as the unseen, emotional abuse (such as gas lighting or more Machiavellian behaviors) that’s been receiving much spotlight the last couple years. The true issue is deceptively benign: Peace

Peace Isn't the End All Be All

We’re often told to opt-out of unhealthy conflict and instead aspire for a healthy one. Taking an approach that emphasizes setting boundaries, focusing on problems, not the individual, and trading aggressive forms of communication for assertive ones. Subscribing to methodologies of healthy conflict has proven to be fruitful for not only romantic relationships but bonds and interactions of all types. If conflict is not inherently negative, then the same applies for peace. 

Unfortunately, peace has been romanticized as a be all end all achievement. A courtship holy grail that’s oversimplified as bouts of nonviolence, free from argumentation. We’ve been conditioned to label any union without physical abuse, overt emotional abuse, and neglect, as healthy. Although there is truth to this, it is not entirely representative. 

Peace stands on a spectrum that is just as destructive and generative as conflict. It can be both deafeningly silent and serene. Unhealthy Peace lives in the former part of that spectrum. It gives the impression of civility, typically because one or more partners, either consciously or subconsciously, are settling for an absence of conflict rather than the resolution of it. 

Taking a second look at the couple from the beginning of the article:

  • Are they truly at peace? 
  • Is their movement graceful or is a partner simply trying to avoid interaction with the other person? 
  • Is a partner content, stonewalling, or too afraid to speak up? 

Now, without much context, the water isn’t as clear as it seems to be. It’s easy to equivocate the quietness as either serene or a destructive silence. Even couples themselves may misperceive the situation they’re in and inadvertently allow problems to fester.

Hallmarks of Unhealthy Peace

1. You’re uncomfortable setting boundaries and expectations.

Setting psychological, emotional, and verbal limits with your partner is foundational to its success. By default, it requires strong communication skills that needs to be regularly exercised and reciprocated between both parties. However, the lack of boundaries and expectations can result in a partner with an overall feeling of oppression. Space and time alone is susceptible to violation. It’s normal for a person to feel guilty asserting their wants or needs. They may worry that it would impede or inconvenience their partner. So rather than expressing these boundaries and expectations in a civil manner, necessities get glossed over or buried, and at a certain point, resentments begin to take root. This can be both of the mundanities of everyday life or more pertinent topics such as one’s personal aspirations. 

On the surface, the relationship could still have the appearance of a perfectly running machine, but underneath, feelings of anger, sadness, or disquieting despair may run rampant within the person.  

2. Stonewalling is an accepted part of the relationship. 

For those of you who are unsure of stonewalling’s meaning, check out a quick definition of it here. For the rest of you, it’s nearly common knowledge that stonewalling is an awful practice. It can leave a person feeling unwelcomed, unheard. At its worst, it can cause a person to question their own sanity. But as much as getting stonewalled hurts, it is still better than the alternative. As many different proverbs and aphorisms go, pain is indicative of life. It is a signal of progress, or in the least, the prospects of it. With enough time, a stonewallee may either look for a way out of the relationship or become accepting of this quality. The unacknowledged feelings wouldn’t have lifted; it would have been internalized. They’ll compartmentalize the pain, and delude themselves with the idea that this is a normal and healthy part of the relationship while also squandering any possibility of progress.  


3. You’re constantly walking on eggshells. 

A relationship is a lighthouse, a signal fire that serves as your place of solace during the happiest and most trying of times. At least that’s what it’s supposed to be. For those living under the persistent fear of unhealthy peace, a relationship is landscaped quite differently. The lighthouse is the focal point of a concentric minefield. And instead of seeking sanctuary, you’re now quietly running in the opposite direction. The way you speak changes. Your body language alters. The way you gesture, or don’t, is now modified for this specific person in this particular moment as to not set them off. Your mind has subconsciously curated a playlist of the polite do’s and don’ts. Better yet, you subconsciously know not to say anything at all. You’ve accepted the idea that it’s better to stand still than to risk escape and blowing everything to kingdom come. To settle for unhealthy peace than conflict. Every moment is plagued with a sort of stumbling, awkward silence because even innocuous conversations can be a trigger. At the very least, the issues of setting boundaries, stonewalling has a higher probability of taking place during moments of conflict. A minefield relationship has potential to occur on a moment to moment basis. It’s a constant oppression that lingers heavy in the atmosphere. 

To Summarize...

Unhealthy Peace does not have a definitive root. It is the symptom of a profound, unaddressed problem within the relationship. Whether that problem stems from the toxicity of one person, the unwillingness of another, or some combination of the individuals in the relationship, will vary from case to case. None of this is meant to be a solution to Unhealthy Peace nor to completely decipher such a complex issue. The only intention was to spotlight an often overlooked toxic union. If you or a loved one are experiencing or suspect you are experiencing unhealthy peace, reach out to your local therapist.

Written by Laxon Sumawiganda - A staff writer for The National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists. Laxon is a father, husband, psychology student, writer, musician and much more. You can read more of Laxon's thoughts by following our social media accounts, there are account links at the bottom of this page. We have experienced mental health professionals available in almost every state to help you address a wide range of issues that are affecting you and your loved ones. Click here to visit our homepage.

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