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. — 205 Comments

  1. My husband is one of those who never talks to anyone. I used to never talk to anyone either but learned to talk to him and have come to need it. But he still won’t talk to me. When something is bothering me or I need to talk something out, I tell him I need to talk and let me know when he’s ready to listen. When he is ready to listen I pour my heart out to him and he just listens and has nothing to say, which is fine at that moment. Later on, sometimes later that day or even later that week I’ll tell him I’d like to hear his thoughts on the matter, whenever he is ready to talk, I’m ready to listen. He is literally never ready to talk. We can talk about news, weather, movies, etc. But when it comes down to the hard, emotional stuff will he ever learn to open up to me?

    He talks even less since his mother came to live with us about 4 years ago. She is constantly lecturing him, bombarding him with questions, demanding information that is none of her business; and I feel as though she is causing my husband to not talk to me because of the way she is constantly trying to squeeze information out of him. Could I logically hope to regain some semblance of communication when she moves out? (She is about to build a house, so her moving out is in the foreseeable future. ) or am I causing him to be guarded by saying too much whenever I am talking and he is listening?

    If my mother-in-law is the problem, how do I get him to separate what she is doing from what I am doing?

    • Hello Candace, Welcome to my site. I’ve got a couple of things to add, but it does seem to me you are on the right track.

      Your first sentence “My husband is one of those who never talks to anyone.” really struck me. Reminded me that all kids are born to talk and if they don’t talk now they’ve been taught to not talk. In looking at his mom, I think you may be getting an idea of how he was taught to keep his thoughts to himself. In a way you are lucky that his mom hasn’t learned better, cause this way you can see pretty clearly the “abusing experiences” he faced as a little kid, let alone since being a kid.

      And, if you read my Map of Relationship, you’ll maybe get the idea of why he would have picked you as a partner. Sure you may be like his mom in many ways, but you are different. Probably, among other things, you can change, where it seem she hasn’t been able – yet. I think you want to look for additional ways you can change away from her patterns. You may have to learn how to get rid of her from his life. (I wonder about the story of letting her live with you. I wonder about the story of your husband’s dad who didn’t stop his wife. Oh, I wonder so many things.)

      Tis quite a journey you have in front of you. Get on with it, Candace. Let me know how I can help. Good luck.

      • She was on a bad car wreck and had to have surgery on her neck. Which is how she came to live with us.
        My husband hasn’t seen or heard from his father since he was a toddler.
        That may shed some light on your wonderings.

        • Ouch. Sounds like a whammy to your mother in law, and to you, and a double-whammy to your husband. (Having a dad who ran/went away and neglected his responsibilities, is real injury to a kid. I’ve seen a many kids hugely devastated by one or the other parents “leaving”/being killed in war/etc. Well, methinks it will come into your relationship with him to be worked on over time. And having a single-mom can certainly result in the kid growing up struggling with not having options. Lots of stuff.) Well you gotta do what you gotta do. Thanks for adding that bit.

          Of course probably the two of you need to quickly learn Boundary skills in order to establish and maintain safe space (from mom and also between you two) even if mom is there.

  2. My ex husband now boyfriend again, won’t talk to me. I asked him how was work and he yells at me to quit harassing him. Simple innocent questions are harassing? I’m not allowed to talk to him. Not even at home. He doesn’t like me. I’ve asked him why he’s with me and he explodes. I’m pretty much on eggshells afraid to ask him anything or else he humiliated me in front of our kids.

    • Hello Sara, Sounds painful and scary.

      I strongly suggest your first task is to make sure you are safe – physically and emotionally.

      From what you’ve written this does not sound like a simple situation nor just a recent one. I think you should have some experience help by your side. Find someone, a professional who has dealt with anger in relationships, who is near you, to talk with. Today if you can.

      As I said, it sounds very painful and scary. Is there anything you think I can do, or any question you have for me, that I can respond to?

  3. Al this does not work…. I’m sorry. I am Italian and express my feelings and am not afraid to say how I feel. This, in my ex-friends eyes, is being weak and having attachment issues and doesn’t consider my feelings. Uses those attributes as weakness. The church is involve and I don’t suppose my ex-friend will ever talk to me. And the hard part is I work in the same building as him…

    • Hello Aaron, Truth to tell, I’m not clear what is going on here. Sounds sad that someone you work with won’t talk to you. Pretty awkward. I think expressing one’s feelings is wonderful and I sure like that being Italian. All that’s great, to me.

      Someone who uses the phrase “attachment issues” sounds interesting. That they(he) considers something a weakness sounds as if you are getting some feedback of some sort, but I can’t tell what. I sure know people who taught me that crying was a weakness, but I certainly don’t agree with that anymore.

      And “the church” is involved?! Which one and in what way involved?

      If you tell me what isn’t working, specifically, I might be able to help some.

      Good luck.

  4. Alright Al, I’ve had some small progress. I wrote to my non talker (see above post) and stated that I will stop contacting in general, and invited her to contact me if she feels ready to talk. She thanked me and said she appreciates the gesture. In other words, she talked to me! I am stopping all pushing, I am practicing patience, and I am getting on with my life. She also said she feels suffocated. I’ve felt like I was drowning.

    Anyway, i can’t thank you enough for your website, I am beginning to see myself in a new light… wow, long journey ahead. The urge is to always communicate with her every time I have an insight. I have started a journal, this might help me keep my big mouth shut. Any other suggestions, especially what to do if I never hear from her (clinger fear)? Would it be ok to write a letter in a few weeks if this is the case, using invitation rather than any questions?

    • Have you read this? – “Getting an Answer: When He/She Won’t Make a Decision.” And this? – “When to Fold ’Em?”

      I’d suggest thinking about whether the ideas in these articles might be useful for you, and maybe consider adapting them to your situation.

      My path has been to learn everything I can to be a great relationship partner, including that I cannot control what another person chooses to do.

      Good luck!

    • Hi Lisartly, I think you are on the right track. Now about writing to her, just write as much as you want, except if you don’t want to drive her away make sure your writing not very often and not very long. How often is too often, as much as makes her feel suffocated. How long is too long, as much as makes her feel suffocated. Good word that she gave you. Find out all about that word in her mouth. Work to never doing something that makes her feel it. And at the same time take care of you Clinger fears of abandonment. One thought is that an adult cannot be abandoned i.e. separated from their caretaker. Why, cuz they are their own caretaker.

      Good luck. And noting Craig’s suggestions might be useful. He’s a good guy.

  5. Very perceptive my friend,
    I do have a mild obsession with getting to the bottom of people’s emotional and psychological motivations, I tend to over analyse relationships and want to know what makes people tick. I will ask my friends whether they find this overbearing, but I tend to apply it far more to relationships. I suppose I think I do this in a considerate manner, but none the less, it could easily be too invasive and, as you say in your ‘Out of the Blue’ article, could easily be obnoxious or overbearing.

    She has also said I don’t listen, and while I have protested at this, I agree reading the OOTB article has made me see I don’t listen in the right way 🙁

    I am going to have to go back to the start, read the tea leaves and really listen without putting my layer of interpretation on it. I think she does put out very small tea leaves that I have not noticed or read properly.

    I must say we have never argued, and I do listen a lot, as I think we all learn far more by listening than talking. I will practice my patience, and will learn to invite rather than push.

    Thankyou for you wise words Al

    • Hi Lisarty,
      Just a thought from another sojourner. My guess is that if she says “You don’t listen,” what she might mean is that she doesn’t feel heard. I think those are two different things. Theoretically you could be listening, taking in, even understanding much of what she says, but if you don’t transmit something back to her in a way that “gets through” to her, she won’t and can’t feel heard. I’ve found the articles around mirroring, validation, and empathy to be of enormous help in my own relating. Good luck.

      • Thanks Craig, that makes sense, and upon reflecting I think you are right, they are different things. I have listened, tried to be empathetic to what she has said, but feel like I have failed to communicate back to her in a way she feels listened to. I do come from the ‘clinger’ side of life, and I think she feels my need to communicate is a form of neediness, and for her avoiding this has become important. I am giving her space, but how do I do that and show her I am learning?

        • Thanks, Craig, for adding that piece. And Lisarty, I can share a bit that may help.

          All my work with my wife began in 1991 one day when I was “interrogating” her. I, too, come from the Clinger side of life. She put her hand on my mouth and stopped me. Her hand was shaking. (Now I know why.) She said, “Do you know what you look like to me – right now?” I was quiet, listening. “You look like an alien, running straight at me!”

          I had never thought about how I came across up to that point. Now a whole new world opened up to me. Couple of thoughts. In a relationship, “What you intend isn’t very important. How you come across is almost everything.” And… And. That Alien. At some point I am going to lose the love of anyone that sees Alien when I am there.

          Picture of a pushy, many-question-asking, Clinging person.

          Would your hand shake when you put it on that mouth?! Courageous lady!

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