What to do when he/she won’t talk to you.

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Assuming you want to chat with them.

© Al Turtle 2005

Yellowstone Park, quiet time. Amazingly this is a very common occurrence, and there is something you can do.  I am particularly familiar with this as I am the kind of guy who can talk with someone about intimate subjects for 60 hours, or more, straight.  I can drive everyone crazy, and they didn't use to want to talk with me much. (Also check out my papers on Reliable Membership and on the Testicle Principle.)

Rule: People won't talk cuz they don't feel safe to.

This is a pretty simple and very reliable rule.  I suggest you learn it.  I have found it helps when I want someone to talk to me and they won't.  What is typical for me is to try to push them to talk.  I had tried thousands of ways, it seemed.  My ways never worked.  So finally I accepted the idea that "pushing doesn't work."   Of course many of my pushing techniques were very tricky and subtle.  Still my partner could instantly see, or feel through me and see my pushing.  It just didn't work.

Thus my first task is to start to help them feel safe.  I have found this is both very difficult and easy.  Making anyone feel anything is pretty near impossible.  They will feel what they chose to feel, darn them.   Still there are lots of things that trigger a sense of safety in a person.  And there are lots of things that tend to make a person feel unsafe.  Find 'em. Remove 'em.

So let's look at the situation you are in.  Someone won't talk to you.  Is it that they won't talk to anyone about anything?  Or is it that they won't talk to you, personally?  These are very different situations, and you have to ask yourself which it is. 

If they won't talk to anyone about anything, it may be quite difficult to get them to talk.  Somehow they have probably learned to be unsafe with everyone.  Could easily be that this comes directly from when they were little.  You have to work to overcome that.  It's still possible, just difficult and may take a  long time with a lot of patience.  (Of course, if this is your partner, you picked them.  And this problem is part of your personal challenge in life.)

If they won't talk with just you, I think the situation is easier.  Here's the thought.  You are doing things or have done things, probably lots of things, that tend to make them feel unsafe.  You probably don't know what these things are, but these are actions you "can change."  What you are doing does not work for you.  

Now, remember, what you do is normal for you. You have to identify what those things are that you do, and learn to replace your behaviors with something better – something that works.  Sure this can be difficult, but it is your behavior and therefore you can change it.  You have this power.  (To understand the issues of Safety, click here for many articles.)

Principle #1: Develop and Demonstrate Patience

Probably the first thing you need is to send the message that "you can wait."  That means you need to learn patience.  Now before you decide that this is hopeless, just remember that patience is a set of skills. Patience is a learned thing.  All children are born "impatient."   That's normal.  It is also normal for us to learn "patience," when we grow up.  It is kind of like learning to tie your shoes laces. But some people have not learned patience — YET.   

Patience is the habit of comfort when things don't happen at the pace you desire. Easiest way to learn patience is to spend a large amount of time in a slow situation with people who are already very patient. You can learn it by example. Ask others how they learned it.  You can also take courses in Meditation, Yoga, and many east Asia disciplines.  Practice it.

I still practice intentionally missing traffic lights.  If the light is green, I may slow a little.  If it turns yellow, I really try to stop.  And then I practice enjoying the "tiny vacation" I get while the light is red. 

Principle #2: Invite, instead of Push

This is pretty straight forward.  Learn to never ask questions.  Invite instead.  It sounds like this.  "I was wondering about something you did the other day.  If you ever figure out what was going on for you when you did that, I'd love to hear about it.  In the meantime, let's have dinner."  Notice how these are all statements with no question mark at the end of them.  Many people feel pushed by questions.  Just being asked a question often feels like an attack.  So, just don't do it. (To understand the issue of Pushing, click here.)

Principle #3: Gently Listen

Wow, is this one valuable!  I suggest you show only moderate eagerness when listening, but invite them to say anything they want.  Never interrupt.  Never add more questions.  Just listen and encourage them to say it all. Accept whatever they say.  Never, never, never argue.  Learn Mirroring so as to help train yourself to relax while listening to anything they say.


What to do when he/she won’t talk to you. — 160 Comments

  1. Hi Al, I know a lot of people get in to situation like mine. My girlfriend of 1 year has left me. We had a really deep connection and were planning to spend our lives together, then suddenly she left citing various reasons that obviously didn’t “make sense to me “. We were slated to talk after a month but k may have pushed her to talk and she stopped talking to me completely and its all over. We were in so much love that it’s all sudden to me. It has been four months and I send her an email once very 10 days or so asking her how she is doing etc and gently asking her to think about opening her self up to me and share what was bothering her.

    I have been reading through your articals and they are great help. I stopped asking her questions and trying to assure that she will be safe with me. It’s been 4 months and I am worried that she hasn’t replied at all. I really lover her and she was in love with me. Does patience help me at all? Is there anything I can do to assure her that it’s safe to talk to me?

    • Hello Sri, These “lessons” sure hurt. I feel for you. I don’t know how old you two are, but I suggest your read my Map of Relationships to get the layout/overview of what you are facing. Those feelings of “deep connection” are wonderful and very powerful, but certainly can’t be relied upon.

      Glad you are focusing on Safety. The trick is to a) have some contact with her and b) do things that suggest you are a source of Safety for now and ever for her whenever you communicate. At least that’s the principle. If you have no contact at all, then tis a problem – that’s why I suggest weekly very short messages. You’re thinking that “she didn’t make sense” is a threat to her if you share it. She just doesn’t make your sense.

      Good luck.

  2. Hi, I met someone at work and was instantly attracted, as were most of my female co-workers. I chalked it up to his being handsome and charming and felt that most women would respond to him that way. Over time I have gotten to know him as a friend and co-worker, and he is much more than his looks and charm. We seem to have a lot of things in common. I kept to the rules of letting the man approach the woman and it worked. He would come over to me and say good morning, inquire as to I was feeling after having been sick, talk about music that we both enjoyed etc. Here’s the thing. I spent one of my days off with a female co-worker that works directly with him and feel that I may have made a faux pas. Naturally, as women do, we got on the subject of relationships and his name came up. Not wanting her to know my true feelings I played it off. Well, I’m certain that she said something as he no longer speaks to me at work. I feel that irreparable harm has been done and there is now way to fix it without coming clean about my feelings. At this point it’s just a friendship that has the potential for something in the near future. My question is, should I let it ride, or simply ask why he no longer speaks to me?

    • Hello Cat, My overall position is to “chat” with him. I would practice bringing up the topic without projecting on him your idea of what he is doing. Something like, “I’ve been thinking that you might have pulled away from me. Is anything going on? Cuz I like you and want to keep and maybe even build a friendship with you.”

      Generally I think “talking” is almost always better than “not talking.”

      Oh and as a general rule, dating people you work with brings lots of risks. On the other hand lots of couples I’ve worked with met at work. So “who knows?”

      Good luck.

      • The co-worker equation had entered my mind, this has been a no-no for me forever. He won’t be with the company much longer as he is starting up his own business. I decided to let it ride rather than say anything, things seemed better at work today. My thought process is that anyone is entitled to have a bad day or two. I felt that saying anything would elude to wanting something more. At this point we have a good work friendship and that may be all it ever is. Thank you for getting back to me.

  3. Thank you for your prompt reply, Al. I’ve looked into co-dependency and it’s something I’m accepting f myself. It’s interesting how we deny certain situations and how long we stay in them. Women tend to have hope that they can change men. That they are the reason they will change. I got into this marriage because he fooled me and pretended to be someone else. He said all of the right things and treated me with the upmost respect-all of which went out the door once married. Somehow, I allowed him to control everything. I have NEVER liked at our tax return. He just gives me the last form for my signature. I don’t know anything and I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to be nosey. I had hoped he would see my importance. Everything is always my fault because he’s perfect and doesn’t make mistakes. He’s a pig that way. I’m not sure where he learned it but he’s mastered the art of acting. His parents both died when he was 17 and left him to patent his siblings. Everyone including friends think the WORLD of him. Mostly b/c he gave up his life to be a parent at an early age. They respect him and go to him. Male family members are like him,….I’ve observed and was told by his uncles’ ex of how they are alike. That same male told him not to let a woman tell him what to do. All but 2 of the male role models he has are divorced and have kids by different women. I feel as if he expects me to do it all b/c he pays the bills. For me, marriage is about love and respect. If you feel that for someone then you nurture and take care of them. You don’t abuse their kindness (or stupidity) and milk it.
    I’m about equality and fairness. It’s frustrating that he isn’t who he pretended to be b/c I certainly wouldn’t have married him. I waited until my 40’s to marry b/c I was waiting for the “right one…” Whatever that is.

    • Hi, Lu. If you read the MAP then you’ll probably get a chance to reflect on wanting to “change him” while “neglecting to change yourself”. It might be worth for a while looking at each sentence out of your mouth and noting how many are about your theories of him and how many are not about sharing yourself. That’s the codependent thingy. Twood have been a problem in your last two relationships and probably will be a problem in the next. Alot of retraining is in order.

      For example: the issue isn’t that he was deceptive, it is that you will tend to pick deceptive people and then allow yourself to be blinded…. and why do you do all that!? and what can you do about your tendencies? I think codependent people, like me, tend to talk about equality and fairness, but apply those concepts for others and not for themselves. Tricky learning.

      Having been at this for a while, I think it is much easier to “fix” the partner of a codependent than to “fix” the codependent.

      Good luck going forward.

  4. Hi. I’ve been married for 6 yrs now to a man that women told me I was “so lucky to be with.” Boy, they couldn’t have been more wrong! We met when we were in our teens then lost touch. He had not been in a relationship and I was in two (3.5 yrs and 14 yrs). He waited for me that entire time! Well, I thought I was LUCKY! Three months into the marriage, he began gawking at EVERY woman that crossed his path. The first time he did it I was pregnant and he laughed it off. I miscarried and he contined his gawking. I got pregnant a second time without any change despite my plea for him to stop. When I was 7 months into my pregnancy, we were walking on the beach with my sister. She was holding me so that I wouldn’t fall and he followed suit (probably to not look like an ass). Well, an attractive woman in a black bikini approached us. He went nuts. He even let go of my arm to turn around and watch her walk away. Talk about hurtful and embarrassing!!! I allowed him to make me feel so degraded and humiliated. His gawking has no boundaries either. His favorite is my baby sister. You know, that’s the most hurtful of all!
    He says that women are here to be looked at. Can you believe it? He says that I’m not who he wants. Then why be with me? Why torture me? What I have found is that he talks to hurt me because he’s caught or upset. Everything has to be his way and he blames me for my not being able to get pregnant again. I’ve been tested and it’s not me, it’s him. But why would I be interested in having sex with a jerk? I married this man because he spoke and did the “right” things. That was it cause he surely doesn’t now. I don’t find him physically attractive either. I truly looked past that because I thought he was who he pretended to be. Ironic thing??? He constantly tells me that looks don’t matter but his actions don’t show that.
    We have 3-4 month periods in which we don’t talk and have sex. When we were dating, he was so attentive and made me feel like I was the only woman alive and could talk for 3 hours at a time. Now, his decisions are made with his sisters or family and I’m just here to cook and clean. I’ve addressed everything but he’s stubborn to a fault. He doesn’t interact with me or my daughter. I have to ask him to play with her. I bribe her to go with him to the park or groceries or anywhere! He hears her say she wants to stay with me. Doesn’t that hurt his feelings? Why doesn’t he react and step up????
    How is this the man I married??? He supposedly wanted kids but when he has one he ignores her. He’s helpful with other kids and when we go to a family/friends’ home, he’s Mr. Helpful. He’s certainly not like that at home. I have to ask him to do things so he says that I’m bossy because I tell him what to do. What? I’ve told him I wish he’d do things without me having to ask; if he would, then I would not seem so bossy. He doesn’t appreciate me or anything that I do. I do the cooking, cleaning, grocery/gift shopping, taking care of my daughter, etc and he goes and says he does it all. If you were to ask him where things are in his house, he wouldn’ know. Yet he does everything. We went to counseling but he didn’t want to return because it didn’t look favorably for him. Two counselors pretty much sided with me. And this man is all about being right and everyone loving him. We went through a 5 week program where we met weekly for 3 hours on marital communication techniques. We never practiced any of what was learned. He just doesn’t want to do anything. It’s frustrating. How do you stay married to someone who literally doesn’t talk to you. His answer is that “he told me”..BS!!! I suggested him writing things down so that it will be in writing if he told me! That didn’t fly.
    I never know what’s going on as he decides with his sister. She’s into our business and in his ear. I’ve told him that I’m not in her marriage and that he shouldn’t invite her into ours. I’ve told her to back off but she’s still in his ear and he lies for her. The fact that he always sides with his family and lies to protect them infuriates me b/c my daughter and I are his family. He doesn’t see it that way. They are always right and I’m the bad guy. I’m just so frustrated and tired!!! I find out what he’s up to throug his conversations with others. He doesn’t share or talk to me about anything. I’m his roommate, no, worse because roommates talk. He sits down and talks to his sister as if they are married. It’s weird.
    I recently emailed him (because that’s how I tell him things). He never responds to emails or texts so we haven’t discussed this. He’s ok with my wanting a divorce. O, here’s the other kicker, the first 2 years he would ask for a divorce at every problem! I left him twice already each for a week. But this man doesn’t know what he has. I’ve asked for things that I want without him doing them ( holding my hand, hugging me, complimenting me). If he waited so long to be with me, why is this the way he treats me???? Please give me some insight.

    • Hello Lu, Welcome to my website. Insight, insight. Have I got a lot! I printed your letter, passed it to my wife, and we chatted. I liked it. I imagine that about 20 million other women could write this same letter just today – let alone next week. What a darn painful situation!

      Made me think of something I heard just yesterday. “Some men can go out and rape women, even kill women, because when they come home at night another woman will cook them dinner!”

      I’m taking your writing very seriously. My first observation is that it sounds as if you are in the end of the Power Struggle with this guy. (Please read and absorb my Map of Relationships to help you see where you are and what are your choices.) My guess is you’ve been here at least 2 times before with other guys. So you are at, what I call, the Choice Point: Doors 1,2,3.

      If you wanna go through Door #3, The Divorce Door, then get away from him as quick and easily as you can. Take care of your self. After you are away, you know, divorced, living alone and all that, then look for a lot of insight before you tangle with another partner. Figure out a lot about why you pick this kind of guy and stay with them so long. Might want to do a bunch of work with good counselor. Study up on Co-dependency, etc.

      If you wanna go through Door #2, then you’ll just have to quit complaining to him, and figure out how to put up with a distant, self-centered, bullying partner. Lots of women do. (I think God weeps when he sees this.) I’m guessing there are people in your family who can, probably won’t, give you advice on how to put up with this. Mind you, all his obnoxious behaviors he has been taught over and over are “good” behaviors – somewhere. He won’t change it unless he has a good reason. That’s my guess.

      If you want to go through Door #1, you got a lot of insight, and skills to learn. This is my favorite choice for you. This is what I figured out and wrote all this stuff for. I sometimes see myself as climbing a mountain with a lot of people and every so often I reach down and give people a hand. I don’t like being alone, so these people, you, I like.

      Good luck. No matter what route you chose it’s either gonna be fun or you’ll learn something – all along the way. Go for it.

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