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. — 80 Comments

  1. Hi Al,

    My gf and I are very serious about each other as we always talk about the future. But when I’m on a 24 hour shift (I’m a fireman), I text her good morning and I either get one back or I don’t as it can be almost all day before I hear anything from her. I understand she has two jobs now and a daughter, I just miss talking to her like it was before. I think of her, her daughter and I as a family; which I have told her and she said that it’s beautiful I think that way. Lately when we talk I can say something and not get an answer at all until maybe later. It’s just confusing why she gets online at 3 am.

    • Hello Ashton, Welcome to the world of deep, reliable and happy relationships. Sounds as if you are starting the Communication part of your learning. Here you are faced with your gf who is doing something you don’t grasp and you are asking an online relative stranger (me) about this rather than asking her. I just wanted to stop and reflect on that. Of course the person you should be asking is her.

      Here are some principles involved. She’s doing some things that all make sense to her (All people always make Sense), and cuz you are outside of her you feel confused. If you knew what was going on inside her, you would not be confused. Being confused is a bit scary, so there is pressure in side of you to get her to share so you’ll be less tense. Over time this principle, followed through on, results in couples easily sharing everything. But you have to start somewhere. That’s the first lesson. (She makes sense, I don’t get it, get her to tell me, I relax.)

      The second is how to get her to share, rather than how to get her to pull away and not share. Remember, if she doesn’t share, that makes sense to her – also. But she’s presenting you with that lesson, so go for it and learn. (OH and by the way, never fear, you are making sense asking these questions online rather than chatting with her.)

      Now, you believe that you are both “very serious” about each other. Congratulations. I’m all for it. Good for you, good for her, good for that daughter. But that just means the learning part of this relationship is upon you. Check out my Map of Relationships and keep a going.

  2. Hi Al, I’ve been married 5 years and been in a long distance relationship for the last 18 months because of my job. On one of my last visits home I noticed that my husband wasn’t as engaging as he usually is and true enough he sprung the “I don’t love you” reason on me. This is the 3rd time this has happened in our 10-year relationship, the first time before we were married and the second shortly after. He’s still an amazing man and does all these little things for me, yet he says that he feels that he doesn’t love me as much as I love him.

    He’s clearly very uncomfortable in our relationship and short of agreeing to a separation (which I am very against), is there anything else I can do? He doesn’t seem to want to talk so it doesn’t really give me an opportunity to see how I can make things better or change. The more space I give him, the more I feel that we’re drifting apart.

    He has been to two counselling sessions and I have been to one, where we’ve both gone solo and we’re due for a joint session in December. However, I doubt this will help me connect. What can I do? I can’t move home for at least the next 12 months.

  3. Good advice here, thanks for taking the time to read everyone’s comments! I am now in relationship limbo with a man I met online almost 8 years ago. Since committing our hearts to each other, I’ve visited him 3 times, the last being 2 years ago. (He is unable to acquire a visiting visa to the States, which is why I’ve done the traveling. And it goes without saying that I’m not a rich woman that can globe trot, haha.)
    The comments on patience is why I’m writing. To date, my belief in our union falters, for obvious reasons. I’m losing patience with him, yet I cannot let go. I’ve tried several times to move on with my life, as my loneliness runs very deep. He contacts me only once a week, whereas we used to chat every day.
    I feel lost.

    • Dear Denise, That sounds so painful. Kind of like getting only one drop a minute from the water faucet after a long dry walk. Aargh.

      Tis my belief that the kind of relationship that starts with “committing your hearts” requires a lot (months and months) of physically close time in order to develop. People can get into such a relationship while the circumstances of their world keep they far apart. Online media, even the phone, can help keep that “starting up relationship” going, but I fear there’s no substitute for lengthy holding each other and chatting together. The project of making Vintage Love takes a lot of work. (See my Map of Relationships).

      I wrote a short article on “When to Fold ‘Em” just to help people with the challenge when “life is telling me to move on” from one “committing our hearts” relationship to another. The idea was “if you only have so many days to your life, and you want Vintage Love, and it takes a long time from whenever you start, how long can you wait to start”. The good news is there are a) thousands of potential “committing our hearts” partners and b) “you only need one.”

      But darn, this choice/decision is hard.

      Good luck.

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