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. — 113 Comments

  1. Hello uncle Al and thanks for you comments. I have a follow up question if you don’t mind.

    Obviously I have a been a “chump” as you put it, and there is no argument there. However as a way to help me figure this out and hopefully get her to talk to me again, can you be so kind as to expand on that comment of yours.

    Do you think my mistake was that we kept discussing proper communication and trying to find agreement instead of just going with the flow and accepting whatever we had or do you think my mistake was to move away from her when things got tough?

    I left because I thought it would give her a greater source of safety when I was no longer around.

    Do you think she will ever check in again if I follow your approach ?

    Thanks for opening my eyes, even if it is too late

    • I really don’t know what’s going on with you and with her, Knuckle_head. But my guess is you want to change yourself enough so that IF she checks in, you will come across differently and in a way that she seeks more contact. The only solid clue you gave me was her line, ‘”it is over. you never listen to me.” That “never listen to me” is a killer. I’m not worried about the word “never”. I just take it that many times you did something other that gave her the impression you were gonna listen to her. If she checks in, I think you want to give her the impression you will be happy to listen to her for as much as she wants.

      After all I believe the two reasons people communicate is to a) feel heard/listened to and b) feel understood. I think you can train yourself to come across as a listener and an understanding person. And you don’t have to “agree with her” to do that.

      If you want more specific advice, you’ll need to give me more information to go on. Or we could chat on the phone.

      • Hello uncle Al,

        Thanks for all your help. Our situation is complicated, and in a forum like this, I did not want to take too much bandwidth from everyone else who are also seeking advice from you. Before things went totally south, I read several relationship books including the “Too good to leave and too bad to stay” trying to seek answers. I think I convinced myself that we had an issue with “off the table-ittis” . Still the relationship was too good to leave in my opinion.

        In any case, I respect her wanting to breakup.

        I also understand the need to go no contact. What puzzles me is the way she has gone about it. I am trying your method of gentle pulling for a few months already with no results. I have also sent her some very short messages like “hi” or “it is sunny, how are you doing” and it has resulted in either her blocking my number or my email. Twice recently after almost 4 months I tried calling her, and the result has been a swift hanging of the phone after “hi, it is me” followed by a click.

        I think most people would at least entertain a short conversation, even if it is to say, “Please give me time to sort things out and later we could have a chat” type of thing. Often I feel she using the no contact as a way to punish me for something. The only problem is I don’t know what that something is, and that has been very difficult for a person like me who likes to talk things over and seek solutions.

        Frankly, I feel like it is time to fold-em as you put it. I feel very sad as I write this…

        Thanks for opening my eyes.

        • I hear your sadness, Knuckle_head. Tis a great emotion, grief. Helps people process “loss” whenever we face it. Certainly you seem to be facing a bunch of loss. I think the decision to “move on” is a tough one. I personally don’t encourage giving up. This situation seemed pretty complicated and you may want to learn about good communication in a simpler relationship.

          Now, I know she makes sense, and her kind of response and lack of response is part of her sense. I wouldn’t waste the opportunity to learn, tho. Perhaps you can ask some friends who knew you both, “What the heck was I doing wrong.” I also bet you know a lot that would usefully direct you into paths of learning.

          Good luck.

  2. Hi Al, I wonder if you can give me advice on a royal mess that I made. To make a long story even longer, I was seeing this woman for more than 7 years. 5 of those were the best of my life, then the problems began. She had no plans to divorce

    I thought we would finally have a chance to be together but she and her husband remained married. We continued to see each other, only now there was an even higher veil of secrecy that prevented any type of open communication.

    Still we sort of limped along as we had built a very strong relationship over the years. But eventually, the situation became so complicated, I moved away but we continued to communicate regularly.

    One day out the blue, she says to me ‘”it is over. you never listen to me.” And since then she has completely cut me off. I have tried following your suggestion to reconnect, but nothing…I mean she has disappeared.

    I went back to read the tea leaves as you put it. I now see that we always had huge disagreements on how to communicate and how often to do it and which was the proper way to communicate and not get caught again. I had my ideas and she had hers. We could not agree on how to reach a level that was comfortable for the two of us. This went on for most of the last two years.

    Obviously there is a lot of fear in her. My question is what to do ? It is time to give up and move on ? I feel very uncomfortable on how things ended. All of the sudden after 7 years, everything stopped.

    • Hello Knuckle_head, Got a nice fine mess. Let’s see, a seven year love relationship with a married woman. That’s cool if awkward. Lots of secrecy and lots of lying. At least three people involved in this and (from my point of view) no one set up to move toward Vintage Love. So the situation will fall apart – someday. In my book, Vintage Love requires the skills of intimacy which include being candid – honest. So to get there people have to eventually give up the masks, and deception, etc. Takes time and practice.

      I think you are using the word “communication” in two ways: a) a chance to be together (without husband knowing) and b) the skill of sharing your unique differences peacefully with each other. Sounds like both were difficult for you two. How not to get caught? – example of (a). And what to do so that she reliably doesn’t say that beautiful line, “It is over. you never listen to me.” Example of (b).

      One thought that comes to mind is that “if a person believes in agreeing and the necessity to agree, they will lose any relationship they are in sooner of later.” Saying “you should agree” sends threat to the listener. Fascinating to watch people who don’t know this yet: Donald Trump, Bill O’Rielly, etc. etc. The Donald seems like an irrigation system spreading threat in all directions. Ah. Well.

      Not sure what you want from me, old Al. If you want a relationship with her, then I’ve written it all out. Become a source of Safety for her, which is a bit tricky since you’ve been such a chump that she’s finally pulled away and probably started looking for some other source of Safety. If you became an expert at safety, how would she know it if she doesn’t check in. But on the other hand, if you become a source of safety, the next gal won’t leave you. If you don’t, the next will leave, and the next…. – eventually.

      I bet that someday you’ll look back of the great gift this gal gave you in pulling away. Most of us guys need to be hit by a two-by-four to even start waking up.

      Good luck on your journey. You sound like a nice guy.

  3. I’d really like to hear your thoughts on my current situation, Al.

    I know that my (former) lack of patience is to blame, but don’t know if damage control is possible.

    I was in love. She was in love. But, she eventually asked for space due to the situation being untenable (I wasn’t divorced yet). I fully understood her position and respected it on an intellectual level, but my insecurities got the best of me. I didn’t give her the space she requested, which led her to pull back even more.

    I morphed from being the extremely self-confident individual who stole her heart into a desperate shell of my former self. I was pathetic. I PUSHED her way too hard. We texted/emailed sporadically over a 2-3 month time span (I was more active than her, obviously), but only met face to face one time because she said it was difficult to see me without “giving in.”

    I was still in the game, but instead of practicing patience I continued to push like an obsessive fool. Eventually, I “got it” and gave her the space she requested while finalizing my divorce. I took the alone time to do extensive soul searching and rediscovered a sense of peace that I forgot existed. I then waited a couple of months before texting her. No reply. I waited two weeks and texted her. No reply. I waited two more weeks and texted her one last time. These were all short texts basically asking to talk. She replied that she wasn’t prepared to talk. I don’t blame her for trying to get over me, but still…

    It has been another month without correspondence (6 months in total since it all went bad). The time to let go has arrived…but it doesn’t feel right. We shared a connection that was stronger than anything either of us thought possible, but maybe the lack of closure is my karmic comeuppance. So there it is. Do I leave her alone once and for all or try to salvage the mess that I made?

    • Hi there, Fool, (good name! I’ve often imagined myself a fool – right before I learn some wisdom.) I don’t think I’d give up on her. Unless you’ve found someone new to fall for. I’d reach out to her on a very slow and methodical way. Don’t let her think you aren’t interested. Remember, she was eager for you to learn stuff, and you certainly have. She may not know that yet. Unless she goes off with someone or you do, then eventually she’ll figure out how much you’ve changed and be interested. Keep a learning.

      One thing to learn is that panicky clingy stuff tends to appear when your partner is available and tends to go away as you are further apart. The goal is to be able to give her all the space she wants at that moment when she’s in your arms.

      Good luck.

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