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. — 149 Comments

    • Yes, Carrie, it may seem like a conundrum, but I don’t think it is. Couple of thoughts.

      If they don’t talk to you now, you probably have a history of “non-gentle listening” with them. I have no idea what part of the communication process they are focusing on, but you’ve probably got some guesses. And if you’ve been practicing non-gentle listening with your partner, you’ve probably practiced it with lots of other people. So friends/family etc. may be a source of information about your soon-to-be-gotten-rid-of skills.

      Once you identify these more-than-useless skills you may want to practice your new replacement gentle listening skills with friends till you get good. AND if you practice them in front of your partner, they’ll get the idea you are learning and maybe join in the process.

      Also you can “listen” to non-verbal actions.

      Two greatest passive listening skills (not requiring them to talk to you) are Mirroring and PreValidation.

      But probably, with this situation, the most valuable skill is “patience”. Learn it and get really good at it.

      Just a suggestion. Good luck.

  1. I was friends with these two girls for a couple years, they were dating and are not engaged.

    However, about eight months ago everything started to fall apart when my friend was beginning to suggest polyamory. This did not fly with the fiance, and she started to accuse me of having hidden motivations, all false.

    I’d always supported their relationship. We thought we’d settled the issue, but then the fiance admitted to being jealous of how easily my friend and I got along, whereas their relationship was strained and difficult.

    I tried to help them and to show I was still friends to the both of them. But then the fiance started to just not want to be around me because I reminded her of an ex, so I decided to give her space and time.

    Then the fiance accused me of not trying to be her friend, so I invited her to do things, all of which she turned me down on.

    Eventually the fiance had a break down and couldn’t stand my existence anymore, and gave my friend an ultimatum to choose between us. Her tune had also become aggressive, and accused me of playing favorites between them and being like every other guy in their lives, of using my friend, burdening her with my personal issues, and other things. I wanted to talk this all out in person, but the fiance would only talk in text because now she didn’t like my “aura.”

    My patience ran dry and I blew up. I apologized to my friend for everything I felt I’d ever done wrong, I told her how important she was to me, how she inspired me to be better, how I only wanted the best for her, that I’d always tell her the truth no matter what, and then said I could no longer support their engagement.

    I made a dozen of observable reasons as to why the fiance was taking advantage of her kindness, being jealous of everything important to her, trying to control her behavior, always guilt-tripping her, and trying to keep her all to herself. My friend admitted to seeing some truth in what I told her, but ultimately decided I’d broken her trust and that it was better we part ways, and I’m not allowed to contact her anymore. I’ve done my best to respect her decision and deleted her number. I’m also blocked on Facebook.

    I can’t stand the idea of my friend marrying such a negative and manipulative woman, I want my best friend back, but the situation feels like it’s out of my hands; and all I can do is hope that my friend will wake up and realize she chose the wrong person, but I also know how dedicated she is, that once she makes up her mind it’s almost impossible to change it, which also makes me feel hopeless.

    I’ve talked this subject dead with family and other friends, but it seems like all I can do is wait. But the waiting is killer, and makes a week feel like a month, and I can’t stand not knowing how my friend feels: does she miss me? does she no longer care about me? And I can’t help but feel that this separation has done a number on me, nearly everything that I’d enjoyed in my life up to this point doesn’t feel so great anymore, which I know is a warning sign of depression, but I’m doing everything I can to keep on going and to keep living and get past this.

    Anyone got any decent advice?

    • I read your piece, created some white-space in it, and chatted with my wife about it. One question I had was did I post your piece or just email response to you? I finally decided to post it cuz it sounds like a painful situation for you (and probably your “friends” as well). Painful, confusing, …… but normal.

      Here’s some of my thoughts. Given the complexity of starting a deep relationship with someone, having more that two people to do it with makes for real real complexity. Shouldn’t even be tried by anyone who hasn’t become expert on communication and boundaries. While I can hear your story, I’m wondering what each of them are/were experiencing and how different their views are. For most people starting out a relationship the discovery that “the other” sees everything differently seems to be a major shock. And going through this shocking learning while watching others do it at the same time, must be very difficult.

      So my suggestion is to learn with one of these friends or find another “one” to learn those lessons with.

      I think it is all about learning lessons and your piece pointed to a lot. So go for it. “We all make mistakes. I have found it useful to say, “I’ll either have a nice time, or learn something.”” That thought that you are heading into depression is a great alerting message. Chances are you’re discovering that a bunch of stuff you’ve been taught in the past is “horseshit.” On the other hand, the best strawberries grow on pile of manure.

      Good luck.

      • Thanks for the response.

        The concept of polyamory wasn’t so much the problem, but the spark of a deeper issue. As you’ve said, such a relationship shouldn’t be tried by anyone who hasn’t mastered communication or boundaries. Obviously neither of them have mastered either of those, otherwise I wouldn’t be in this situation.

        From what I can gather of their perspective, they might say I’ve treated them unequally – I treat my friend better than the fiance. But that would be neglecting my perspective and other contributing factors.

        When I meet people, I like to figure out if they’re a “giver,” a person who rolls with the golden rule like I do, or a “taker” someone who never really gives back and keeps you around for the occasional free meal. From my perspective, that’s how you separate good friends from bad friends. My friend was a giver, and the fiance is a taker.

        But not only did my friend meet me halfway on issues, she also went the extra mile out of her way for me on them. So it only makes sense to me that she would deserve only the best I can give her. The fiance has not acted in the same manner.

        The fiance’s general disposition is abrasive, hard to talk with, she makes it obvious she doesn’t trust people (doubly distrustful towards men), you cannot predict her mood swings, and she doesn’t go out of her way to show appreciation towards people who try to do good things for her. I’d be lucky to get a “thanks” out of her. My friend is very kind, open, easy to talk to, and loving, so it only makes sense she’s more pleasant to be with.

        Quite simply, as I see it, it’s no one but the fiance’s own fault she’s treated differently by everybody, yet she expects to be treated the same on the simple fact that they’re engaged. I don’t see why she should have any special treatment if she hasn’t earned it with action and only assumes she is deserving via title.

        As I mentioned last time, I gave the fiance multiple opportunities for us to talk things over. Hang out. Basic friendship bonding type of stuff. Just something she and I did exclusively the same as my friend and I. She turned down each and every single one, for excuse after excuse or just because. So I concluded if she doesn’t want to be my friend then why should I try any further? I’m not hung up on the fiance, if she is going to treat me like an enemy after the kindness I’ve tried to give her, she’s not worth my time.

        When I mentioned controlling behavior, I meant it. The fiance becomes jealous of pretty much everything. If someone so much as looked at my friend, the fiance was jealous. When my friend was making more money than the fiance, the fiance was jealous. If I made my friend laugh and smile, the fiance was jealous. If she felt like she wasn’t getting enough attention (in public with friends) the fiance would get moody and demand attention. She would even fight my friend about seeing me during our work-out routine. And she should never have given an ultimatum to my friend to choose between her and me, it’s hard to get any further out of line or prove how negative and unhealthy a person can be. Healthy people are happy for all the things in your life that make you smile and laugh and cherish them as much as you do.

        I hope my friend isn’t talking with me only for the simple fact that the fiance and I can’t communicate and not because she hates me. Because it really is out of my hands and none of our other mutual friends are able to do much to help (or are staying out of the drama), I really want the fiance to do something else out of line so that my friend will realize what kind of person her fiance is… but does that make me a bad person?

        I sort of crossed paths with them the other day, and though I’m suffering emotionally, as far as I could tell they’re going about their merry lives with the rest of our circle of friends. I don’t want my friend to be upset, but if I they can forget about me and move on so easily, then what was I really worth? Nothing?

        • Another interesting post, LC. Glad you sent it. Sounds as if you are still in the middle of this lesson in life. Learn all you can. I read and marked up you thoughts. Then I ranked the topics that touched me the most and decided to respond or contribute my thoughts to the top seven.

          1) I think you are worth a lot. No matter how people treat you, I believe you are of value and that value is not measured by others. When you think you are not worth much (“what was I really worth? Nothing?”) then I think you are using the wrong measuring stick.

          2) I gave up thinking of people as good people or bad people. (“does that make me a bad person?”) Seems to me kind of 12-year-old thinking. General rule for me is that “all people are doing their best at all times.” My parents did their best. Their best sometimes was great and sometimes sucked. Ah well. That’s life. My guess is that you’ve done your best with these two gals and sometimes your best has been kinda suckie. Join the world, my friend.

          3) I hear you think these two gals ain’t so good at boundaries and communication. I just imagine you have lots to learn in that area also. Some of the great skills of communication are what to when other’s aren’t doing so well. Same with boundaries. Good learning.

          4) I like this example of poor communication. (“they might say I’ve treated them unequally”) I suggest you don’t get people’s words mixed up with reality.

          5) I think your “giver”/”taker” dichotomy is a fun start. I’d advance it to dealing with two person relationships where if you want to be a “giver” your partner has to move into “taker”. So I think this is more a process than a personality type. Learned it starting when I tried to “give” to my father and he wouldn’t “take.” Very disappointing.

          6) The two gals sound like a normal couple with different traits and responses to you (and each other). Being different certainly doesn’t make ’em bad or even bad for each other. Does seem to be a challenge for you. I suggest you use the tool “all people make sense all the time” to help appreciate both.

          7) Lastly, this sounded kind of engaging for me. (“Healthy people are happy for all the things in your life”) Not how I would define “healthy” and besides I’m used to all of us people struggling. Used the model that “all people are members of the walking wounded. Some know it and some don’t know it yet.” Also I’m used to the idea that the perfect partner for you will at times appear to be your worst nightmare. Seems the way it is.

          We could chat at length about all these and the others, but I’ve got some chores to do, here. Take care, LC.

  2. I thought we was good friends She said I was a genuine and good guy. She helped me when I needed it the most, and I helped her. She always said to hit her up when I needed something. In my mind she was one of my best friends. I did not think much of it asking for help again, since that was how we met. I sent only two sentences, and the amount of time and friendship I had with her just vanished when she responded… I’m crushed even now. She wont speak to me or tell me what I did wrong. It hurts too much this way. How does a ask for help be taken in a negative way?

    • Sorry, Charles, it sounds painful. But you ask how this can happen. Well there is more to the story than you know, I think. If she won’t tell you, you may be in the dark. Don’t push her as that may make her slower to talk. Good luck.

  3. I meet her during a summer camp and would talk for hours about anything. We got back and she would not talk to me.We went a different camp again and since she was a leader she couldn’t ignore me but if I talked to her she gave the shortest answer possible. She just started hating me. Why?

    • Hey man, totally understand how terrible that feels. This up there was actually great advice for me. One thing that helped me a lot was acting and rather than just thinking. Reach out. Get her attention, and follow interpret the advice to work for you. Never give a negative vibe. You’re worth being with.

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