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Shut Up and Save Your Marriage

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Could a little peace and A LOT of quiet improve a relationship?

Momlogic's Momstrosity: Experts insist that the key to a good marriage is plenty of verbal communication. In fact, they won't stop yammering about it. The truth is, talking isn't the only way to nurture a relationship; there's also much to be said about the benefits of, well, shutting up.

Make no mistake, this form of non-communication is not about giving your partner the proverbial "silent treatment" when they get on your nerves. The idea is based on the age-old principle of Tibetan Dalai Lama: achieving enlightenment in complete silence. And it's not just for monks who've taken a vow of silence. Soon, couples from all over the country will live in complete isolation in an Arizona desert and will be forbidden to speak for exactly three years, three months, and three days.

Stéphane Dreyfus, 32, and Jessica Kung, 27, are one such couple that plans to forgo all modern convenience and seclude themselves in what's called The Great Retreat.

The couple, who met in 2007, are engaged to be married. Both are convinced that their relationship can withstand not speaking for what amounts to almost 1,200 days. Plus, they have an abundance of practice. Both have participated in many silent retreats, locking themselves off from all distractions for as long as a month. Luckily, the retreat hasn't started yet, so both Stéphane, a yoga instructor, and Jessica, a freelance artist, agreed to speak with me by phone.

"You're communicating more than the average couple," says Stéphane of their impending silence. Even mundane tasks, says Jessica, take on a different meaning. "When Stéphane does my laundry in retreat, there is so much love in each fold, you communicate in so many more ways than you would communicate." Both tell me that nixing talking is freeing. "You realize how many unnecessary words you use. You discover how not urgent all your troubles are. You let it pass -- oh that, oh ... -- it wasn't that important," said Stéphane.  

I have to admit it sounded a heck of a lot better than the dirty looks and eye-rolling that  sometimes goes on between me and my husband. I was keen to see if we could benefit from some therapeutic "quiet time." At least for one day.

Stéphane cautioned me on my scheme, warning me that going "cold turkey" on communication could prove to be difficult. Instead, he suggested we go through a sort of "senses detox:" forgo television, Internet, and newspapers before embarking on my micro-retreat. Also, to do the monastic thing justice, my husband and I should be well-versed in the art of meditation -- Jessica assured me zoning out in front of the TV didn't count. 

retreat.jpg

Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to do it right -- I was on deadline. So I decided to jump in with both feet. Now I had to convince my husband. Turns out it was easy. Waaay too easy. "Let me get this straight," said my guy, a little too enthusiastically. "You won't talk? At all? Sounds great! When do we start?"

There was one snag to my plans -- since having children around during what's supposed to be a peaceful retreat doesn't really jibe, the only time we could get in touch with our inner Buddhist was on our date night. We decided we would go out to dinner as planned. That means we had to let our waitress in on our scheme -- without a doubt, the hardest part of the experiment. I didn't want to say I was writing an article, so upon being seated at our favorite eatery, I handed our server a note:

"We are trying to be silent for one night on a bet." My husband then handed her his own note: "P.S. We're idiots."

The truth was, amid giggling and ridiculous attempts to communicate through gestures, we were actually having a good time. At one point, I tried to explain through some truly terrible pantomime about an argument I had with my sister that day. It was NOT working. I realized at one point how incredibly unnecessary it was to tell my husband about the situation. I gave up, and yes, felt at peace for a moment, choosing instead to savor my salad. Since the dinner conversation was nil, we did end up spending a bit of time looking at each other in the eyes -- something I'm embarrassed to say we hadn't done in a long time. It brought us both back to the night when we first met and couldn't take our eyes off of each other. It gave us both chills.

So all in all, we managed to be silent for almost three hours. Would we be willing to tag along on the Great Retreat? Um, no. But I get what Stéphane and Jessica are after, and it feels good. As a mom of a preschooler, my chances of getting some long-term peace and quiet are zero -- that is, unless I can convince my three-year-old to zip it for even five minutes.



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