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. — 172 Comments

  1. Alright so, I’ve been friends with this girl for awhile now, ever since maybe late August of last year. I only really started to notice her as something more than a friend mid-October. Time passed and we got pretty close, hanging out at lunch, and I thought that maybe she felt the same way or at least considered me a good friend (which I am perfectly ok with being).

    A few days ago, she decided she wanted to do a fun question and answer session with me, saying she liked to talk to me. I agreed and we started. It lasted around 5 hours and went smoothly, but somewhere around the end, she asked me if I liked anyone at school, which I answered “yes.” (It totally caught me off guard, because there was no build up, and she kind of just popped it in there) She kinda started to press, asking what grade she was in, and if I was going to do anything about my crush. I tried to answer these without giving away too much details about who it was and redirected the questions to her.

    I mentioned how I didn’t know how good I’d be in a relationship, and she insisted that she thought I would be great in one. She ends up falling asleep, and wakes up at 11 to apologize (I didn’t notice this until the next day), and say sweet dreams, which she had done before.

    I’m almost certain she suspects that I like her, however the problem arises the next day, when I go to school like normal, and she tells me (during/after) her first period, that she is going to leave for the rest of the day. I ask her if she’s ok, and she doesn’t reply. This last incident happened yesterday, and she didn’t show up today, so I asked once more if she was ok, noticing that she noticed my message, but she didn’t respond.

    So did I do something wrong or is it more likely that its about something completely unrelated? I don’t know if I was too obvious in my messages, because I was trying to be subtle, but I feel like she dropped multiple hints throughout the conversation that she liked me. For example, I said I didn’t know if I had the guts to try and do something about my crush, and she said that she also didn’t know if she had the guts for her crush, saying that she had tried to work up the courage before, but something always interfered and she lost it.

    Maybe she’s embarrassed to see me, or somethings actually wrong like medically? (I don’t expect you to answer regarding the medically part, I just want to get another opinion regarding this, because my friends give me varied answers.) I just wish I understood if she’s avoiding me, because she feels awkward. I tried in the conversation to be as ambiguous as possible, and I hope I didn’t offend her one way or another. Thanks.

    • Hi Steven, I don’t think you did anything wrong. At least I can’t see what it would be unless she tells you something. This beginning-of-relationships stuff is not usually my focus. I believe your goal is to spend more and more time in each other’s presence, physically, so that your minds and your sub-
      consciences can get the “feel” of each other. If the relationship will develop, then the length of time to be with each other is probably 4 hours or more without a distraction, like a movie.

      I think you are right on track being curious about her behavior, but you’ll have to learn to a) inquire and then b) be patient if she doesn’t want to share right away. “Not sharing” is often a good signal of something as yet private going on. Eventually you want to be inside her boundaries of privacy, but you have to earn your way in there. No pushing or demanding.

      My first guess from reading your note was that she was flirting with you in the middle of that game of questions -indirectly trying to get to you share how much you like her. My second guess was that the leaving school was about something you currently are not aware about.

      Good luck.

  2. I met this Girl I really liked and I thought their was a spark between us. We made eyes and continually checked each other out. So the day came when I asked her out and she said no…. not yet. Still the looks and small talk continued as if she was interested in me.

    Then I sent her a christmas card where I unknowingly insulted her. It was taken that way anyway. Now she avoids me at all cost and will not even look at me. I have withdrawn from forcing anything.

    I latter found out that she had been really hurt from a breakup where the man she was seeing was married. She told a friend that she felt sorry for the next guy that hit on her. Guess it was me. Any hope for me?

    • When you’re starting out, meeting people, there are lots of things going on. Basically you have to get through this period into a place where both of you are more or less attracted to each other. And everyone you meet will have a history. Humans are not designed to forget, so you have to learn to deal with their history and they with yours. It can be pretty rough.

      Just because she says, “No” doesn’t mean she won’t say “Yes” later. But when she says “No”, back off and act respectfully. I said, back off. I didn’t say leave and give up. If you want to connect, let her know. Just don’t push.
      “Keep plugging along.

  3. Thank you for your blog. Currently my girlfriend is going through something emotional and difficult. She said she just needs space and time and when she’s ready she’ll talk to me about it. She is getting support from her parents and is seeking professional help.

    With that being said, this just happened out of nowhere and it left me reeling for some sort of answer. I poked and prodded with no avail, just a frustrated girlfriend who was starting to get angry. I was hurt and left in the dark. We’ve been through a lot and I thought we were starting to get to the place we were setting our goals for.

    With my anxiety at an all time high and this is affecting every aspect of my life, since we are very close and want to get married at some point, I was afraid of the worst. She says she loves me and wants to be with me. I’m not more at ease and have told her to take her time and I’ll be waiting when she’s ready. She thanked me. Whatever it is, it’s big and it’s put her in a depressive state and it’s killing me inside to watch her suffer.

    This blog made me feel ok. Still trying to focus on her and not my feelings, but it’s hard.

    • Hello Cory, Welcome to the world of relationships. I love that “happened our of nowhere” stuff. (Check my Article on Out of the Blue.) A couple of thoughts:

      I’ve often said that getting along with your intimate partner is maybe 20 times harder and more work than the next closest person to you. That 20x seems to be in both feel goods and in struggles. So you might as well anticipate “hard”. I’m sure you can handle it.

      Learn to handle her need for space forever. Quicker you learn the easier it will be for you. (Read: Reliable Membership) Which also includes don’t ever “poke or prod” her. Invite her to share. Glad to hear she’s seeking professional help.

      Keep a going.

    • To me, Bryan, I think we all have stuff to learn, habits to break and replace. It’s easy to misinterpret “being yourself” as an excuse to keep “bad habits.” I believe Relationships are all about helping people learn healthy ways of behaving and clean out dysfunctional ways of going about being with each other. For instance, for a person who bullies to say, “I’m just being who I am,” seems silly. (I actually heard this one yesterday.)

  4. How do you let him feel safe if you feel unsure and have no chance to engage?

    Became close to coworker, we discussed it and decided to date. Spent a few months together, talked every day during summer break. He was open/sharing. After a date in final week, communication dropped to almost nothing but he text he was busy getting back to work.

    Would see him briefly in work, we’d say hello/smile but it felt distant. Again text he was busy. Later approached me to say sorry was busy, had a family issue (he gave details), he’d be in touch the week after. Heard nothing and he began ignoring me in person. I text to ask was he ok. No answer for a week.

    Now a text to say sorry he’s not ignoring me. But he is. No hello/smile. Never stops to chat but see him talking/joking with others. Doesn’t notice me. I’ve tried being friendly, then tried leaving him alone. He won’t talk or read my text. I’m shut out. I see he’s not interested but still wish we’d communicate.

    • Hi Susan,

      My first thought is that lots of relationships don’t develop in the first several months of being together. To find a proper Imago Match takes some perseverance and trial and error. I wrote some on this subject (clumsily) in an article on Finding Mr./Mrs. Right. For a Clinger that means you have to be ready to date/spend time with a fair number of people. While your unconscious is selecting him, his is selecting you and if only one matches then the relationship won’t blossom. Makes it tough for Clingers particularly.

      On the other hand you sound as if you are learning a lot about Safety. Lots of people don’t start with this knowledge. Good for you. Just cuz he’s pulled/pulling away does not mean something will not develop – particularly if he’s had a history of painful relationships. You want to “be a source of Safety” even if there is almost no contact. So…. “No pushing” is the first rule.

      Oh, yeah, there’s another guideline. Generally not a good idea to date some you see at work. But everyone does it, so I’m ok with it.

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