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. — 166 Comments

    • 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.)

  1. 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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