“Hello, my name is Chuck, and I am a recovering nice guy.” When I was a kid, my mom told me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I didn’t talk for a week! I grew up believing that negative feelings were not to be expressed. If I ignored them, maybe they would just go away. However, when I stuffed my feelings, they seemed to burst out of me at the worst possible time. Then I discovered the trick that would release my pent up negative emotions: Sarcastic humor to the rescue!

If I make a sarcastic comment, and you take offense—apparently you’re just too sensitive! I can express my irritation with my spouse, hide behind the “just kidding” shield, and never have to reveal who I am or what I really want.

When I met my quick-witted wife, Jan, we laughed often and fully. But her humor wasn’t harmful or attacking. This exposed my hurtful, defensive style of humor. I felt vulnerable, not knowing quite what to do with my negative emotions. I returned to “not saying anything at all.”

I decided to be Mr. Nice Guy. I would just go along for the ride, internally pledging to never rock the boat, and say, “yes” to everything. Who wouldn’t love this guy?

I thought “nice” was loving. Instead being silent often communicated negative, unintended messages. “I won’t let you know me.” “I don’t trust you.” “You’re not important enough for me to engage with.”

Communication experts say that people cannot not communicate. Even silence bears a message. If you let silence speak for you it will often say things you don’t intend—and you become accountable for things you never even thought.

If you’re facing a silent partner, you can’t really know what your spouse is thinking. In fact, you have the freedom to interpret the silence however you want. Why not choose to believe something good? “My spouse is stunned by my brilliance.” “My spouse agrees with my decision to buy that new couch.” Your positive approach is more inviting, and will help keep the door of communication open.

Expressing negative thoughts takes courage. I’m still learning how to stumble through my words, and face the outcome—embracing the fact that it’s better to be “real” than to be “nice.” If you’re leaning on being “nice” through silence, take the courageous step of saying something “real” instead, even if it’s, “I don’t know how I feel about that right now.”

Break the silence by revealing who you are and what you really want. It matters to you and your spouse.

You can do this!