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. — 123 Comments

  1. Dear Al:

    I’ve been seeing a woman for 7 months. Just some background: She was in an abusive marriage that resulted in a child. Her ex-husband is a sociopath and deliberately behaves in ways to cause her problems. Naturally, she has major trust and intimacy issues. I also have issues with trust and intimacy because I was sexually abused as an adolescent.

    When she’s healthy everything is great. She’s supportive, loving, funny, encouraging, kind, and makes me want to be the best version of myself. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been when we get together that way. However, there will be periods when she becomes withdrawn and will ignore me for days or weeks at a time. This usually occurs when something very stressful happens to her or our relationship is on the verge of becoming more serious. For example, in the most recent instance she brought up the possibility of us having sex. I opened up to her about private feelings that I don’t talk about with anybody. I felt very vulnerable and embarrassed. We talked about possibly going away together. Since then I haven’t heard from her, despite a few efforts on my part to communicate. That was almost two weeks ago. I know she isn’t deliberately hurting me, but it IS hurting me.

    I don’t know how to respond because I don’t know what’s she’s thinking/feeling or even if she’s physically okay. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

    • Well, Dave, Welcome to the great process of relationships. Sounds to me as if all things are going ok, but you have your doubts. And we look at the situation very differently. Here’s my thinking so you can add it to yours.

      Sounds as if you’ve been together long enough to settle the issue that you are a match. One thing I believe about such a match is that they are equally “troubled” people with “equally troubled backgrounds.” The good part of this is that you both, as a team, have to help each other. One of the slips people often make is that they focus on one person’s problems and ignore the other’s. Best to think of taking turns.

      Taking turns often means that you put your issues on hold, while your partner’s issues are active. That in itself is quite a skill but I think we are built to do it. Example: she needs to go into her cocoon, and when she does, you must handle your abandonment issues on your own – for a while.

      Sounds as if her issues are pretty strong, and thus yours will be also. So you both get to look forward to building what I call “Industrial Strength” coping tools and skills.

      Keep-a-going and don’t let her actions, which are the best she can do, hurt you too much.

      Let me know how I can help.

      • Thank you, Al. I’m just not sure what to do. I know she will eventually come back to me (since we’re in a pattern and that’s part of it). However, I don’t know whether to wait until she contacts me or leave a message telling her that I’m here for her when she’s ready. I’m fearing that she is depressed. I’m worried sick about her.

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