Those who live harmoniously with a spouse usually have a couple of good tricks up their sleeves. They know how to bring out the best in their partner and they know how to diffuse conflict. They may have learned these skills by watching their parents, reading books, taking courses, studying Torah (the source of all wisdom!) or—perhaps they were gifted with patience and maturity at birth. Whatever the source of their knowledge, they have a knack for applying the right strategy at the right time.

One strategy that is lauded by the Talmud is keeping one's mouth closed when feeling provoked. In fact, the Talmud tells us that one who is able to accomplish this feat merits "a reward that is brighter than the sun"—this from a source that rarely mentions specific rewards for actions that we perform here on earth. Although we don't know exactly what kind of spiritual reward is "brighter than the sun" we know that its radiance is unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetime.

The Test

Of course, we all want to succeed at building and maintaining marital harmony. The question is how to accomplish this. How, for instance, can we maintain silence in the face of provocation. And by the way, this healing silence we are talking about is not the stony silence of withdrawal lasting hours, days or weeks after an argument. Rather, it is the momentary silence of refusing to retort, refusing to hurt in kind. It is a brief silence in which a person muzzles himself in order to prevent damage and it is followed minutes later by regular, loving communication. It is a passing silence whose aim is to restore and/or maintain the peace.

And although it sounds like it should be something that is easy to do – just keep one's lips tightly sealed – it is very hard to do when adrenaline is running. When one feels like one's just been punched in the gut or stabbed with a pointy knife; when one feels threatened, diminished, assaulted or otherwise wounded; it is very hard to keep one's lips sealed for those few minutes. In fact, the hurtful words seem to charge through the mouth as if of their own accord, without permission. They have their own agenda to defend against the "enemy." They are barely under conscious control. Their energy derives from the right brain, the emotional, subconscious center. Later, when the left brain comes back on-line, cool logic re-evaluates the scene with a variety of mature options that could have, should have been applied. However, at the moment of threat, these are largely inaccessible. It's as if we are operating with a "split brain," the right brain being temporarily dominant.

Passing the Test

The problem points to the solution. We need the right brain to have the full picture at the time that it needs it—that is, in the heat of the moment. Here we will discuss two ways to accomplish this.

One is to program the right brain in advance, according to the teaching of the medieval scholar, the Ramban (Nachmanides). The Ramban, in his famous ethical will (the Iggeret HaRamban), tells us to picture ourselves acting the way we want to act when we are provoked. Pictures are the domain of the right brain. By installing the correct picture in that location, there is a much greater likelihood of accessing the program under stress. After all, it is stress that will trigger the right brain into action. The Ramban advises us to generate the repetitive provocations that occur in our relationships and generate the desirable responses (i.e. keeping silent) and practice running these movies in our brain daily so that they will be retrievable at the time of need.

The second strategy to inform our right brain is bi-lateral stimulation. Bi-lateral stimulation of the brain allows left-brain information to flow into the right brain during times of stress. Normally, we go into "split brain" mode when stress hormones circulate. This results in a triggering of primitive, emotionally-based responses originating in the right brain (i.e. screaming, insulting, attacking behaviors). However, by tapping lightly alternately on each side of our body during a perceived attack, we can initiate an exchange of information between the two hemispheres of the brain.

This might be accomplished by keeping one's hands at one's side and tapping the right index finger against one's right hip, followed by tapping the left index finger against one's left hip and continuing this alternating movement in an unobtrusive manner the whole time that one's spouse is saying or doing something provocative. Left-right stimulation can be accomplished in many other ways as well: squeezing one's right toes, then left toes or moving one's tongue in one's closed mouth to touch the right teeth and then the left teeth and so on. The result is that left brain information will affect right brain functioning. The left brain knows, for instance, that maintaining silence is a crucial spiritual imperative with tremendous positive ramifications. It also knows that one's spouse is not one's enemy and that the issue at hand can actually be resolved when things calm down. It knows a variety of information that it can actually send to the right brain immediately, preventing the usual influx of emergency chemistry that causes an overtake of right-brain functioning. The heart will remain calm and it will become easy to maintain a few moments of silence.

The Pause that Refreshes

A few moments of silence accomplishes wonders. It fulfills the mitzvah of actively pursuing peace because it stops us from throwing logs onto the burning fire of anger. In addition to not aggravating a situation, it also deescalates a situation by injecting calm restraint into the communication. It helps us to build and maintain a peaceful home.

And although we think that our personal daily behavior is an affair of no consequence, nothing can be further from the truth. The cameras are rolling all the time, creating our own personal video that will accompany us on the day of judgment in the World of Truth. They are constantly recording each moment of our existence and transmitting the picture to the Heavenly Court for review.

Moreover, our Sages teach that our ability to actively pursue peace through verbal restraint has cosmic effects. When a spouse, in the privacy of a kitchen, manages to keep peace, G‑d alters world events. The Jewish people and the world at large may experience more peace because of the behavior of this one person. Indeed, each one of us should view ourselves as "the tipping point"—the one whose actions in a given moment can tip the scales of Divine mercy. The entire world is judged based on our own personal struggles. Nowhere is our challenge greater than within our own family circle and especially, within our private marital dynamics.

Yes, silence is truly golden.