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In a marriage, silence can indeed be golden

There's a lot of talk advocating communication in marriage among those generations pounding along behind us. When they catch up, they'll look back and realize the secret of a long marriage lies in what has not been said.

It isn't easy to not say something. Early on -- say, 45 of our 53 years -- I communicated everything to Minnie Mae. She, perhaps wiser than I, appeared to listen. Then I realized that she was just quiet. There's a big difference between being quiet and listening.

At times I wanted Minnie Mae to tell me what she was thinking, what she was feeling, what she thought of me, how much she cared for me, how lucky she was to have chosen me. Now I realize that it was better that she kept her own counsel. I did not need to know my rating moment to moment.

I came to this particular wisdom after the times Minnie Mae let me know what she was thinking of me, or of what I was doing or how I was doing it.

I took it as criticism; and it was criticism. And how does an apparently mature male respond to criticism? By defending himself, by explaining why it was her fault that I had done something stupid.

I counterattacked. When I boxed I was a counterpuncher. It worked pretty well in the ring but not in marriage. At least not in my marriage.

I calmly, logically, pointed out where Minnie Mae could improve. She answered with vicious, aggressive, long-lasting silence.

I discovered that there is a language of silence more powerful than speech. In the nine years Minnie Mae's mother lived with us, I was amazed at the extent of her vocabulary of silence.

Before we were married, some friends were having long talks about their marriage before marriage. A few even went to marriage counseling before saying "I do."

Minnie Mae said a good relationship could be destroyed by 20 minutes of honest talk. I don't remember our talking about getting married. We just wandered into Cambridge City Hall, and we were issued a license to do what I had not yet contemplated.

Still no talk, but we had a short listen with a clergyman, a trip to a jeweler for matching wedding rings (Minnie hasn't yet received an engagement ring), a reservation at a New Hampshire inn, and a stop by the church where we were married -- without a single witness. Fifty-three years later we haven't yet had a good, honest marital discussion.

Not one serious talk. No communication. No life plan. No exchange of views on the problems.

That was a good idea. The problems we have had were not the ones we would have thought we would have.

It took me 45 of those 53 years to keep my mouth shut when I know that Minnie Mae needs to be educated by me. It's not easy. Sometimes sounds squeak out of my nose or my ears. Sometimes I cough and cough and cough. I sputter, but I do not say what needs to be said. I do not express my feelings or my thoughts.

The fact is, of course, each of us always knew what the other was thinking. It was always best not to put it into words. What is unsaid does not need discussion. And a marriage without discussion is a long marriage, 53 years and still counting.

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