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. — 105 Comments

  1. Dear Al, I found your website when my boyfriend said ‘I wanted to be alone’ and he broke up with me. I have been trying what you have said in your website. It’s been 3 months now and I feel stronger than last few months.

    I met this guy one year ago, he is successful in his industry and we share same passion. After few months exchanging emails and we went for dinner few times and he started to really keen to me. He is very open and he told me and shared me a lot about himself so I felt very close to him.

    He divorced twice and he has total 5 children. It was only 4 months when I was so happy because our feeling was mutual and we connected so well. I respect and admire what he does and he feel same way to me. I never met someone who has energy than me and we had great time together in overseas. After he spent alone himself for 3 weeks early this year I noticed his behaviour has changed.
    I asked and he said his ex wife will remarried and now he can spend with his son every weekend. He wasn’t able to see his son so much last year. He said it’s not fair for you (not able to spend with me on weekend for next 3 years). First he said ‘let me figure out’ when I reacted badly when I got upset and cried in front of him.
    I sent negative text messages to him few times which I’m still regretted. One month after he made a decision to break up with me because he wanted to be alone. I wasn’t able to ask on the spot as I wasn’t able to believe so quickly what has happened. Later I had to asked him via text and he replied ‘want to be alone’ means ‘no commitment and I would like to be free so I prefer to be alone now’. He aplogized few times about his sudden decision.

    After one week later we had to meet because we were in same industry. He sent me few text messages and I could see he still likes me.
    I replied briefly. I understand now the reason he broke up with me is because it’s not he didn’t like me but he thought he can’t make me happy with his current situation. He said I’m confused and afraid and I was battling and I don’t want you to wait (he is often oversea due to his work) for me.

    3 weeks ago I had to meet him again as we are in same industry I said hello to him. I wanted to show him that I’m ok as I’ve been working on myself – finding my goal again and started new things. I smiled to him and I was confident in front of him but he looked uncomfortable.

    Since then I asked to him if we can catch up for a coffee. First he replied my text few hours later then he didn’t reply to me twice after that. I can see clearly now he is avoiding me or maybe he has a girlfriend and don’t want to hurt me anymore. I learnt from your article that he feels not safe to talk to me.
    I still want to say to him in person and apologize about my negative texts I sent to him few times. I regret my action (I reacted and I didn’t respond to him) because I feel that it was the reason he made a decision he broke up with me. He thought he cannot make me happy with his current situation. When he first told me his situation has changed I said to him that I’m fine if I could see him only during the week but it didn’t help.

    Do you recommend write short email to him and apologize about my behaviour (sent strong negative text to him) and let him know that I’m still regrets my action (I want to feel better mentally) or should I leave him alone at the moment as he seems he is not ready to talk to me?

    I appreciate any advice and suggestions what I should do in this situation.
    It was short time but he took time to get to know me and it was deep relationship. We were in good relationship as we were always honest to each other, trust each other and we communicate well in deeper level. I feel it is so disappoint if we go apart. I do want him to get back in my life (I had to go through grieving period but he taught me what I should work on – my ‘responding skills’) because I feel he is important to my life. We share same passion. We laughed a lot and had good time together and I miss it so much.

    I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you Al. . .

    • Dear Claudia, took me a while to respond. Sorry. What your letter got me thinking of is how often a person may repeat the same words but mean different things by them. It’s necessary to hear their words and respect their word choices AND wonder what the heck they are meaning by them this time. Here’s this guy, old enough to have 5 kids and a couple of ended-marriages and thus lots of experiences (good and bad) in relationships. The best he can say is “I want to be alone!” Not much info to go on in that phrase. Seems he wasn’t keeping you up to date.

      So, of course, the (short and long-term) challenge is to move toward getting “more” information from him just at the point where he is choosing to give you “less” or “no” information. Must be very frustrating. Well, this is such a normal situation for us Clingers.

      The short term goal is to stop him from moving further away. What ever you say or send should be aimed at getting him to say more. That’s why almost not contact (no pushing) but not zero (easily leading him to think you don’t care at all).

      Apologies – no. Not so useful. Take a look at my bit on Making Amends. Note that the most important part is the last part where you get the other person to share what their experience was. Sure you want to acknowledge that you think you “screwed up” but it’s much more important to find out what your “screwing up” was like for him and what he needs from you around that issue.

      Still a short note (5 sentences) once a week or less is a good tactic, I believe.

      • Dear Al,

        Thank you so much for your reply.
        I do feel little better when I read your Making Amends ‘Do not think that by Making Amends you will erase your partner’s issues.’
        So as you advised me I won’t apologize from me.

        I sent negative text to him before he made a decision to break up with me. He sent confusing text to me while he was figuring out his mind. I reacted badly and replied to him. ‘You will always prioritize your children if you won’t include me in your life that is not what I want’. So I
        regret this is the reason he made up his mind to break up with me.

        When I was struggling after break up I sent another text to him a month ago. ‘I said I can’t be your friend but I’m struggling. Until I get use to (life with you) I would like to try to become your friend’ and tried to catch up with him. He replied ‘Of course, but I will be overseas (work) for next 3 weeks but meantime I can send a text a lot’. When I receive text from him next morning it was like greeting text and I got upset.
        Because I thought he can become a friend with me so quickly. I know ‘react negatively’ is my not good quality and I need to improve.

        When he made a decision to break up with me 3 months ago, I was able to ask him in person ‘Well your son is teenager and it’s possible to have a coffee or lunch with me for few hours on weekend. He is not like primary children who needs constant care.’ He didn’t say anything. Now I feel maybe he had something he didn’t want to share with me. I got hurt he didn’t choose to keep relationship and didn’t try to discuss more with me about his situation.

        I have been working on ‘accept’ (he doesn’t want to be with me anymore) and trying to focus to improve myself since he broke up with me 3 months ago. But since I saw him 3 weeks ago I’m not able to get rid of him from my head.

        So do you still recommend to contact him even he doesn’t reply to my texts? I do not want to chase him as it is miserable. I feel he is choosing not to see me now.
        Will you suggest that I send text or short email and let him know what I’m doing and not asking to catch up? Do you think this will make an opportunity for me to decide catch up with me and tell me more about himself?

        I feel he is far away from me now because I did see him twice (because we are in same industry) last 3 months but we haven’t had any chat for 3 months. I know I feel better if I could see him and find out where he is at now.

        Thank you for taking time for this and I look forward to hearing more advice from you.
        Your advice really help me.

        • I forgot to mention the second negative text was ‘I do not want to receive friendly text from you.’ I know I text to him opposite thing. He stopped and we didn’t communicate until 3 weeks ago.

        • I suggest you don’t think that your writing caused him to stop communicating. Much more probable that you handed him an excuse (“she told me to not write”) that he took up. My guess is still that you both need lots of work on Boundaries, starting here.

        • Thank you Al I will try not to. But back to my questions – after you read more information do you suggest me to send text or short email to let him know how I am even he didn’t reply my text twice?

        • Dear Claudia, I’m trying to think what would be my best guess about what to focus upon.

          I was thinking about your phrase “react negatively” and seeking to understand you through your examples. I guess that you are talking about the issue of “who’s boss” – will he do what I want or do I do what he wants. Big issue in a relationship that is basically one of democracy. My guess is that when he doesn’t do what you want you then reactive negatively – which can come across as an attempted punishment. Not going to work. So I am referring you to my paper on this to see if you think that fits. He may not be talking to you cause he thinks you are trying to control/dominate him.

          I think it may be useful to get a better picture of what is going on with you two.

          Good luck.

    • Thank you for your reply Al. I’m reading both your essay.
      I guess he was ‘master’ but more like ‘leadership’ and I was comfortable with that. We never argued and we were good for each other. But as he was so busy with his work (go overseas so often) there were little time we could spend together. But I did feel sometimes he think a lot about himself. I ‘react negatively’ when things go wrong and when I get frustrated. I do not like sending texts as emotion build up.
      I was frustrated what he text to me so I replied and sent negative text to him which I still regret as I reacted emotionally and I didn’t really mean.
      I’m too emotional I think.

      I won’t contact him from me as it make me just sad (to keep contacting while I get no response). I will try to move on but it is hard.
      I will keep working try ‘accept’ (= he didn’t choose to stay with me when his situation has changed). I wish he shared more information or
      make arrange time with me and explain more. If you have any comments please let me know. Thank you so much for all your help.

      • Thanks for reading my article on Master/Slave. Remember that the only solution to that problem, I firmly believe, is to get away from the Master/Slave side and to get onto the Friend/Friend side.

        Couple of things you said drew my attention. “You react negatively with things go wrong.” I’m not sure what you mean my “negatively” but I bet this has something to do with getting visibly upset. I think getting visibly upset is always “good” and worth looking at. It is often best seen as a sign that there is something important to someone in this situation. But the other part is the use of the word “wrong.” That sounds like MasterTalk and suggestive to me of bullying. “If you do or say what I don’t like, I tell you you are wrong and get upset at you (push down or push out).”

        The second thing you said that woke me up was the phrase “We never argued.” I remember a joke among Marriage Therapists a long time ago. “They say they never argue and are proud. Now we know they are in serious trouble.” Seems to me that arguing is a normal process of learning to respect each other’s unique difference. If arguing doesn’t happen, that acceptance may not grow. If arguing continues for a long time, usually it is cuz that acceptance has not yet grown.

        My wife and I haven’t argued in 20+ years but we did. Very important.

        My guess is that you two could use some developing of intimacy. Get to know each other. Though with him pulling away, that sounds difficult.

  2. Hi Al,
    Thanks for the great tips. I have a crush on a guy in my office. We used to talk normally and work productively but recently I felt ignored by him. He scarcely replied to chats. I am the impatient type, I complained real bad. I didn’t want to hurt him but I was so stupidly impulsive. I have apologized and told him I wanted to talk. He said every thing is alright (how could it be?) but refused to talk. (He has willingly come to settle a small tiff once before. Maybe I was too harsh, I don’t know). He still maintains eye contact, especially when alone on breaks. Could you please advise me on what I can do now? We haven’t spoken to each other for a few days now. I do miss him but I’m afraid I may repel him saying something impulsively.

    • I have a crush on a guy in my office.

      (That’s nice, but risky. General rule is don’t date anyone from work, but most people ignore that rule.)

      We used to talk normally and work productively but recently I felt ignored by him. He scarcely replied to chats.

      (This sounds like normal Clinger-Avoider stuff. Put two people together and one will want more connection than the other, and the other will start to pull away. Happens all the time.)

      I am the impatient type

      (Just a sign that you haven’t learned the adult trait of patience. Get to work on learning that.)

      I complained real bad. I didn’t want to hurt him but I was so stupidly impulsive.

      (Complaining is the adult form of a baby whining. Suggests things aren’t the way you want them and you think that all you have to do to get your way is complain. Sounds kind-a “Princess like!” Tis all about control. Lots to learn there.)

      I have apologized

      (Maybe you, too, will discover how this doesn’t work worth a damn. Try Making Amends.)

      and told him I wanted to talk. He said every thing is alright (how could it be?)

      (Sounds like horseshit to me, too.)

      but refused to talk. (He has willingly come to settle a small tiff once before. Maybe I was too harsh, I don’t know). He still maintains eye contact, especially when alone on breaks. Could you please advise me on what I can do now? We haven’t spoken to each other for a few days now. I do miss him but I’m afraid I may repel him saying something impulsively.

      (Probably lots of things you can do to repel him. Keep trying. To some extent this got-a-crush stage of life seems to be about “trying out for the team” or “auditioning”. A time of lots of rejections but also learning. Glad you found my site. Best wishes.)

        • I realized that you try to advise based on what I say. He pretends to be interested on and off confusing me a bit. I believe if you are going to label someone ‘clingy’ you are mature enough to handle it. I beg to differ if you think blank silence to whatever one person does is taken by default as a “grown-up” behaviour. This is why your intepretation does not convince me. Since you base your comments on what I say, I thought I had to clarify this. Appreciate your time and effort.

        • I don’t know what you mean by that phrase ‘blank silence to whatever one person does is taken by default as a “grown-up” behaviour’. I don’t think I said that and don’t believe it at all. Generally I believe that “silence is not your friend.”

          Thanks for sharing more, to be more clear. Good luck.

        • I would add that ALL what I said are my reactions, guesses, theories about your situation as you wrote it. I’m offer it to be helpful but I gather it wasn’t. That’s fine by me. I wish you great luck.

  3. 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.

      • Hi Al, I am having a hard time trying to explain to my gf that all of my pictures is me even if they are old ones. She recently told me that she feels like she has been lied to. I just don’t know what to ask her anymore about that. As people have been spreading rumors to her about me.

        • Not quite sure, Ashton, what is the problem. It is quite common for a couple to find that one believes something and the other cannot at this point believe the same thing. If she thinks you’ve lied to her, just invite her to be more clear what and why she believes it. Listen to her. I would suggest not focusing on the idea that you believe something different. We all choose what we believe based on the data we are given.

        • Hi Al, how can I explain or convince my gf that rumors she heard wasn’t true about me. She’s even saying now that I sent her pictures off the internet, when I would do no such thing like that. Is there any way to convince her otherwise?

        • Not a fun situation, but actually fairly common. Perhaps you have noticed, I have, that you can’t persuade anyone of anything. I remind myself this all the time. The phrase I use is, “My beliefs, plus a dollar, get me a cup of coffee.” Meaning that my beliefs are mine, guide me and help me decide what to do, but no one else necessarily values my beliefs. Now, you can share and you can listen. There’s just no way to force you beliefs.

          So in this situation, you can listen to her beliefs, respect her beliefs, understand why she’s chosen her beliefs AND you can share yours – if she want’s to listen. Avoid much thinking about whose beliefs are “RIGHT” or “TRUE” or “CORRECT”. Eventually, the truth will out. Pushing your beliefs onto her seems pretty non-productive to me (a guy who shares his beliefs all the time).

          Tis my belief. Good luck.

        • All she has told me was that she had a valid reason to feel that way. Although she never explained her reason behind it. I’m literally in a bind as I’m unsure what to do. I want to talk to her to be able to clear things but am unsure how.

        • Well, Ashton, sounds as if you could use some more skills at communicating with her. You want to share things. You want her to share things. So, how to go about it.

          My first thought was, of course her reasoning is valid. All people make sense all the time. But what is her sense? You can only guess, until she shares and tells you. And then you have to listen.

          I taught a Class on Mirroring, the skills of getting someone to share easily. And I wrote on the Gentle Art of Pulling, inviting people to talk and “say more.” You might try those. Go 4 it.

        • Thank you Al for the advice all is great and appreciated. This is the first relationship where I haven’t got cheated on or hurt. As this is for her as well. I admit I do get nervous about saying some things to her. However, this whole thing has made her quiet. At times I feel unsure of what to say to her

        • Gosh, Ashton, those first relationships were a trouble. Lots to learn. Speak your truth, is my suggestion. Though there is an old phrase, African, I think, “If you are gonna tell the truth, have a fast horse by the door.” :)

        • It’s like this morning I sent a good morning text to her and wished for her to have a great day quite unsure of why she didn’t reply unless she was busy or is thinking. Tomorrow is hers and mine 13 month anniversary and I even got her a couple of gifts without saying anything to her except that she has something on the way to her. Yet I feel quite bad about her feeling like she was lied to. I want to write to her about how I feel. But am unsure of what’s going through her mind.

  4. 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.

  5. 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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