HomeMain PageRelationshipsSkillsCommunicationWhat to do when he/she won’t talk to you.


What to do when he/she won’t talk to you. — 239 Comments

  1. Hi Al,

    I’ve been in the best relationship of my life for the last six months. He divorced two years ago (and I, eight)—he said I’m the first girl he’s introduced to his friends, his parents, his ex-wife, and his entire firm since he split from his wife. I’ve had some health issues over the past few years, and he panicked when I hadn’t responded to his text for a day, called my friends, and came searching for me. He even gave me his key, asked me to leave my belongings over at his house, and requested me to pick out furniture for “our” bedroom (spent thousands of dollars on it). Throughout our time together, he treated me respectfully and lovingly, and it was immediately apparent that he’s been shouting from the rooftops how much he wants to be with me. For what it’s worth, he very much reminds me of my father in some ways, and we shared a deep connection and companionship.

    The week before he left, he admitted he started working for a new boss who tripled his workload to the point where he was putting in 15 hour days and juggling all his responsibilities. His normal coping mechanism is drinking too much to cope with the stress—and he is naturally a very highly strung, anxious person! I tried to be sensitive to his need for space, even as a Clinger. I definitely panic when I feel someone pulling away—though I need a high level of space myself—and he seems to be more avoidant, even though he pursues heavily. I had asked him if he’d marry me someday, and he said yes! He broke up with me fairly abruptly, admitted he still loves me, and generally said he’s not in the place in his career/life where he’s ready to be in a serious relationship. Total lizard reaction!

    We haven’t spoken for the last six weeks and I’ve left him strictly alone. I did reach out after two weeks to ask for clarity on the breakup, and he said he’s open to talking but it wouldn’t change anything. I still have his key, and he still has my belongings in every room of his house. I have found the advice on this site as well as numerous books to be tremendously helpful. I’d like to start a new relationship with him, but I’m a bit lost on how best to do so/initiate contact. I’m also unsure if it’s really over. I feel strongly that he gave me the “quick answer” and not the truth. Any advice would be much appreciated.

    • Hello May, Sounds kind of mysterious and pretty painful. I think six months is just time enough to evoke wonderful dreams of togetherness (Vintage Love) and to provoke the beginnings of deeper learnings that can scare the heck out of each other’s Lizards. By the way, the “mystery” evokes my curiosity. Thanks. Figuring these things out if fascinating.

      So here are some questions. How old are you two? How long were you both married before? How long has he been using alcohol, and who in his family was using addictive behavior. Anyone in your family? Do you have any clarity about Clinger/Avoider in your marriage? in his? And, the biggest question is “what’s up with your (and his) communication system? Remember, that my goal is to help you two be “best buddies” forever.

      At the end of six months, I think it is a good time to start fixing the way you talk with each other, the way you share and the drama of him leaving, with possessions left in each other’s homes, and no talking for six weeks seems a pretty good starting place. At least it’s started you reading and trying to figure things out.

      I’m assuming that while you both have displayed clinger behaviors, you will probably emerge as the more reliably clingy of the two. Sometimes this is hard to tell, particularly in a new (six month) relationship and when there have been strong previous relationships on both sides. But based on that guess, I would suggest you begin reaching out to him, on perhaps a weekly or bi-weekly basis using the principles in the “WHAT TO DO WHEN HE LEAVES” article. That is an “invite to communicate and understand each other”, but “not push each other away” tactic. You probably don’t want to have no contact with him longer as he may begin to think you don’t care.

      This is a start. Be kind to yourself. You two bring lots of puzzles-to-be-solved to the table. Gotta start somewhere.

      Good luck, and let me know what happens, please.

      • Thanks for your reply! I am 33, and he is 31. I was married for four years just after I finished my doctorate (spent a lot of time in school fairly young) and honestly, I think I’m a Clinger with a powerful Avoider lurking within—in fact, I was about to ask HIM for space to do my thing before everything blew up in my face. I work about 60-65 hrs per week so I don’t have a lot of spare time. I came to the realization after the breakup that I’ve never been in anything but a long-distance relationship before this, even in my marriage—due to time constraints and also, probably because I identify VERY strongly as an INTJ. Therefore my need to overanalyze and research constantly. This is also the primary reason behind the dissolution of my marriage, as my ex-husband resented my independence and strong personality—I’ve since learned to be gentler, and ten years in management has taught me to ask LOTS of questions instead of telling people what to do. “Speak less, listen more.” My ex and I have hardly spoken in the last eight years though we are civil when we do.

        He is 31, and got married about the same age that I did to a woman who seems to be a very strong Clinger from what I can tell. He’s secure with his family, but she changed rapidly and abruptly, upending his life and is now in a committed relationship across the country with another woman. They’re still close but he does not see her as a reliable person—in my opinion, his insecurity and his trauma from the divorce likely play a large part in his avoidant behavior. The alcohol use started as a teenager/college kid, compounded with his career expectations (attorney), and everyone including his parents, friends, and ex-wife enabled him. He admitted early on that he has dependency issues and explicitly asked me to help him. So, to me, the Lizard is fleeing because he’s overloaded by work and feels like I’m discouraging his drinking/taking his coping mechanism away from him.

        I feel that he is used to having a woman lean back more in a relationship and I’ve relied solely upon myself my whole life, so it’s difficult for me to do so. I’m fortunate that I have a strong group of friends for over a decade who have stuck by me through thick and thin. His group of friends are all work-related and in direct or indirect competition, so I think it’s harder for him to open up than it is for me. I do feel that I’ll need to be the pursuer as he’ll avoid talking about his feelings at all cost! I had to go confront him after our only major fight, and he admitted sheepishly that he went on a major bender afterward. He has shown he’s willing to change and work on himself—I think his anxiety level lends itself to complete inaction as he simply freezes up.

        He responds to texting, though that communication method (and email) are inherently prone to miscommunication and reading too much into things. He’s not comfortable with gifts or the telephone. Not sure the best way to proceed.

        • Very cool, May. Thanks for all the info. I printed out your posting and underline each phrase that struck me. Lots of good stuff. I think you are positioned to make progress by starting with more than enough space for him and then solving the reasons he needs space from you. That means reaching out to him in a structured way repeatedly until he becomes able to trust you above all other people. (Hmm. I don’t think I’ve used that phrase before but it sounds really good. I’m a pretty wild clinger and I had to work on all my tendencies that would drive my wife away, until she trusted me to be more a source of safety (space) than anywhere or anyone else. It was a project!)

          But back to you. I suggest you absorb my understandings of how relationships work (Map of Relationships) and particularly the bit on “Degrees of Difficulty.” I found that really bright people with a lot of college degrees have much more difficulty with achieving a solid relationship. I haven’t written much about this particular twist, but I sure have seen it. I can share that with you if you want. Tis all about “Right” and “Wrong” and “Facts” and Arguments (civil or uncivil).

          In the meantime I send you encouragement. I suggest you follow the advice in the article on “What to do when he leaves.” I think there are lots of answers to your questions at my website.

          Specific questions?

        • I’d love to hear more about the degrees of difficulty and the trouble those with higher education have building solid relationships. That may strike at the heart of the problems I’ve had over the years. I’ve dived thoroughly into the Map of Relationships, Pulling, and Validation—all very useful.

        • Hi May, Quite a topic. Degrees of Difficulty
          “And there seems to be another factor in why couples spend more time in the University of Life. I call it Degrees of Difficulty as it seem to have something to do with having college degrees. OH, also Police and Firemen show the same problem and the most difficult are military Drill Sergeants.” But “why?”

          My guess: Attaining Vintage Love includes a solid and practical working knowledge of Diversity and Autonomy. But some trainings make this more difficult. If you check out my “freshman” paper on Autonomy (MASTER/SLAVE, Two World Problem), you may see that the primary expression are skills to respect each other’s view of the world, of Right or Wrong, of Correct or Incorrect. In a Vintage Love relationship there are, at any moment, two unique and evolving versions of what’s Right, but no single correct version. Yet most educational systems and certainly Military-like, hierarchical groups spend a lot of time establishing a single version as correct. What’s right? The unique, evolving version of the senior person. But a love relationship will eventually not tolerate this.

          The same seems true with the principle of Diversity (see my freshman paper on this: Diversity and PreValidation). The longer one is in college or school or military-like training, I believe the more you are oriented toward the “fiction” that one point of view is the correct one. (See Emotional Symbiosis).

          The symptoms of these problems are fighting, arguing, either actively or passive-aggressively, and dishonest agreement/secrets kept from each other.
          Makes for an unstable relationship.

          Learning “All people make sense all the time” and “If two people are agreeing, at least one is lying” takes quite a while – longer for drill sergeants. If my wife is agreeing with me, I am probably in trouble. If she is freely and happily disagreeing, I’m safer. A great many of papers on my website refer to this and were written as I learned it and taught others.

        • Thanks for your response! He is definitely a tough nut to crack, and lawyers can be difficult to start with.

          We met tonight and the conversation flowed well as we caught up. He wore the Hermès pocket square I gave him on our first trip together. At the very end, as he gave me back most of my things, I thanked him for the time we spent together and for breaking up with me as it’s been the catalyst I needed to work harder on myself. I said that I want to be very clear that I don’t want to go back into the same relationship ship we had, because it wasn’t working for him and to be honest, it wasn’t working for me either. I told him that I’m working on being a better listener (not just because of him but that I really needed to do a better job of it) and realizing that “all people make sense all the time,” and it made sense to him to not continue in the same relationship. I told him that I’m afraid and sometimes when I’m afraid, I start encroaching on his space, and I don’t want to ever make him uncomfortable. I also told him that what we had was special, and I think the world of him and would like to try to discover a new relationship that works for both of us, together.

          There’s an old Japanese art, kintsugi, that when a treasured piece of pottery breaks, they glue it back together with gold enamel and consider the new piece more beautiful than the old. That’s what I told him I wanted to build, but that I didn’t want to put pressure on him and I didn’t want an answer immediately. He thanked me and told me that he thinks I’m a pretty special person myself but that I’m being too hard on myself.

          So I’m curious now, what are your thoughts?

        • Hi May, this sounds pretty good. And I look for anything I can say that will help.

          Firstly, the prime job is to stop and hopefully reverse his movement away. The stuff you still share is a good sign, as is his judgement that you are being harsh to yourself. Still connection is there.

          Next I am looking for more information about what you’ve been part of that leads him to get away. Sounds as if you suspect your listening skills, since you are promising to improve them. That’s a good clue. Learning to easily do listening things, until he feels always listened to enough, is critical. I spend a lot of time on this.

          Next thought is that I hear you talking to him, making promise-to-do-better types of statements, which he probably won’t believe. Probably sounds a) to good to believe, b) to easy to do. You might want to just repeatedly promise to “work on it, until you are good at it.” I think you want to draw his attention to acts and deeds rather than words. About building trust.

          Lastly I didn’t hear much from you about what he said or how he reacted. As a dramatic Clinger myself, that sounds suspiciously as if you might be talking too much and not listening.

          Good luck. Keep working to make these changes into long-term changes.

        • Well, I’ve been on the low contact plan for three weeks now, since the conversation we had. I gave the tidbit of info, dangled the opportunity to hear more, and dropped in the topic I’m tackling on self-improvement (but not details.). He replied and declined meeting up that week because he was slammed and wouldn’t get out of work at a reasonable time.

          Rinse and repeat x 2 weeks with no response to my communication.

          I guess, Al, I do want to build a healthy relationship with him, but in your experience, when should I accept defeat? I don’t want to come off as not accepting his decision to leave, and I don’t want to cross the line into unwanted communication. As many say, no response *is* a response.

          He still has the remainder of my belongings and we still have keys. Complete mixed messages, and I can’t imagine he hasn’t noticed boxes with my name on them, or the heels in his closet, or forgotten about the keys. I fear I’m getting too old for what comes across as game-playing, but in reality probably means he’s terrified and running but unwilling to completely let go. And—I want to come across as high-value even though as the Clinger, I know I’ll still have to gently pursue and do the work. Just don’t want to further drive him away by prodding that sore spot where he wants to be left alone.

          For what it’s worth, I hit three of your categories in Degrees of Difficulty (doctorate in medical field, undergrad psychology, and administration) where he has the one plus retreating into substance abuse. I did read your recommendation of I Don’t Want to Talk About It, and highlighted multiple pertinent parts of the book that fit exactly. I held back on communicating my stress sometimes because I read his stress levels. Yet here I am, learning and trying to improve myself. I don’t know that he is open yet to doing the same.

          In any event, thank you for imparting your wisdom. I have learned much about myself from reading your work and your recommendations. It’s proving helpful in my medical administration job.

        • Hello May, so it sounds like you have it covered for now. After you start giving him space, and nurturing yourself so you don’t panic (hard for a person with degrees to admit their Lizard hasn’t grown out of early childhood), then your next milestone is to get him to believe you are really changing in specific areas where he thinks you are stuck, and will never learn. General learning helps, but focus on his areas of interest has the biggest bang for the bucks.

          I’d plan on giving him 3-4 months of non response if you think he’s worth it.

          Yep, don’t prod the sore spot but rather work to protect that sore spot(s) of his from everyone.

          I have a friend who was head of Psychiatry at a big hospital back east. He printed out my essay on Empathy and had all staff read it. Fun. Nice to be helpful.

          Good luck, May.

      • Thanks for your reply.

        The conversation was about two hours in length, mostly him talking about what he’s been up to and the stressors he’s faced (taxes, caseload, friends moving away). I just let him talk and validated his feelings of anxiety when he articulated them. He was courteous enough to buy me a round of drinks and was on time for our meeting. I think he was expecting me to interrogate and castigate him for leaving me, so I tried to make it as low pressure as possible.

        Interestingly, I had mentioned how busy I’ve been myself and how I’ve been training with an old colleague for a 10k and generally getting back into shape. His first question took me off guard as he immediately asked if I am involved with this man—and kept asking several times that night.

        Toward the end of the night as we were leaving, he said he had brought my possessions with him. I had about five minutes at the end to talk to him about the relationship as outlined above. I mentioned I had gone to see Michelle Obama’s talk shortly after the breakup, and his reaction was to say, “So you’re going to rip me Obama style, up one side and down the other.” I told him I had never been angry with him. When I said I was working on being a better listener but that it’s a work in progress, his reaction was “It takes a while for all of us to change.” He complimented my car, mentioned another car we had test driven together, and said he’d bought the expensive attaché case we’d seen together on a shopping trip. As I left, he hugged me and told me not to be a stranger.

        I didn’t get the chance to get much of his feedback since the part of the conversation I led was so short. So a few things struck me as odd:

        1. The continued emphasis on whether I am involved with another man (side note: most of my close friends are male, and those friendships go back decades. He has met many of them.)
        2. Some of the possessions he returned were in the same place as others he did not return. Why the discrepancy?
        3. Half the possessions he returned smelled quite strongly of a cologne I bought him—distinctive, and the rest of the items in his drawers do not smell the same way.
        4. Not exchanging keys.
        5. He did give me a thorough rundown of exactly what was going on in his life, including his ex-wife and her girlfriend coming into town and meeting up with his parents. They have an interesting family dynamic.
        6. During the conversation, I expressed surprise that he hadn’t heard of a certain band that was in town—he’s generally far more knowledgeable about music as I am. “Don’t look at me like I’m an idiot!” I apologized and said i hadn’t meant to do so.
        So I suppose, the real question is, do I continue to reach out to him gently and without pressure, according to the five-month plan you laid out on the site?” I hope this sheds more light on the situation.

        • Hey May, Much better. Lots of information. I also like the idea the you are shifting from just finding out how to stop him from going away and moving on to understanding the “whys” about him. Why is he moving away? Why did he return some of your stuff? Why did he say, “Don’t look at me like I’m an idiot!” Why the keys? To this end, understanding the “whys”, remember that everything everything he does is congruent with those factors in him at the time.

          He always makes sense within his world. If you think something he does is “odd”, that’s only cus you don’t know some of the factors that make up his sense. When you get to that place (he seems odd) I think you can go one two ways: a) Seek to find out about the factor(s) you were unaware of, or b) seek to find out more about why you don’t already know that factor.

          I suggest you start with awareness that he always makes sense and you you’ve just got to learn better how to get him too share. That’s all about techniques of asking questions. I suggest you start with PreValidating him and learn to extend the tone of Prevalidation.

          Lastly to your final question. My response is to ask you what you want. If you want a long term intimate relationship with him, then work for it. Plan on keeping at it for months. I think the keys and the held stuff and the amount of contact so far is all a good sign.

  2. Well first of all thanks for posting this. I wish I had learned my lesson, 15 years ago when I was trying the “push” method to get some young woman to talk to me again, via email. Boy was that DUMB. It almost cost me my job and ruined my life, as she got an attorney and Human Resources involved, as she was not responding to any of my communications in an attempt to get her to communicate with me.

    I’m wiser and would advise that nobody ever try to communicate again with someone of the opposite sex, especially man to woman, after she’s ignored him, or communicated “do not talk to me”. Any communication after that first attempt can be used in COURT against you as Harassment and you can be charged with STALKING (sorry just have to empasize this) – a permanent misdemenor filed on your record – not a good career move! Its embarrassing and shameful to have courts involved, and all your communications aired out in the open for other eyes to see (jury, lawyers, judges, CNN, police, CNN). is it worth it? Most likely NOT! It will cost you not only a black mark on your record, but attorney fees, 5 years of probation and imprisonment, fines, court costs, and shame amongst your family and friends.

    I hope this helps someone else going through this and they realize the ramifications, before going any further. In my case, it was a woman whom I was friends with who also worked at an organization my company was also affiliated with. We had sent each other dozens of emails, had many lunches together, I was in attendance with some of her other friends at some gatherings she organized, and once an evening at her place when she was going thru a tough time with her boyfriend at the time. I think she was fond of me as a friend, like many other guys, but I did some things to burn the bridge and then tried to aplogize, and she didn’t want any further contact, and that was THAT! And I should have left things alone, but I persisted and soon HR got involved and they warned me that she was getting legal counsel and they would have to terminate me if anything went further or she took legal action, which was well within her right, from the evidence that was presented to them.

    Going forward 15 years, I’m married, I have a wonderful wife and son, a nice job and home, and am very happy , but if legal action had taken place, my life would be very different today. I haven’t given much though to her lately, and figured I’d never see her again, but last month, I was in confession line at a chapel, with my son, and this woman obviously didn’t recognize me (I’m put on 100 lbs in the last 15 years!) and at first I didn’t recognize her either – and she asked, “Is there a priest hearing confessions in there?” And I went into “yes there is, there’s a guy who’s been in there awhile and he would be done any minute now”, but I was just shocked to even see her – she was supposed to have moved away thousands of miles with her husband to the other side of the country and of all places she was talking to me? I was in total shock thinking, “Holy cow she looks like this person…” and I thought my eyes were playing tricks and I moved my head closer to her to see better … It was weird for me and I’m sure weird for her, as she probably realized it was me, this person she had issues with 15 years ago, after a few seconds..

    Anyway, don’t worry, I will NOT be talking to this person again for ANY REASON. Let that can of worms stay in the ground. I found out from a friend that she has indeed moved back to the area with her family.. I just have to say that I’m eternally grateful that she didn’t pursue legal action against me for all the attempts I made to contact her after she was flat out ignoring me.

    Here is the law, that I wish I had known more about and wish I hadn’t had to learn the hard way!!!! Boy was I Dumb… and I think anyone who goes against this legislation is acting dumb, also. Be careful and don’t do it! Nobody is worth that kind of trouble. Find other friends, get a hobby, get shock therapy, get therapy in general if that’s what it takes, but whatever you do, leave that person the heck alone, or you may very well suffer the consequences of court action, and be sued – and if you’re lucky you’ll have money in the bank and she’ll accept a settlement of a million dollars or more and it doesn’t go to court. But in most cases, people aren’t rich, and it goes to court and guy is SOL.

  3. Hello,
    I have this friend that I have been friends with for a long time. We are both in relationships with other people but there may be feelings there on both sides. Recently I reached out to him after not talking for 4 years. He would talk to me on the phone on my drive home from work. He has always told me to come and see him and has told me he loves me but I never did anything about it. My fiancée found out that I was talking to him because in an argument I told him which was dumb on my part. My friend told me he does not want to talk to me right now and told me to figure out what I am doing with my fiancée and let him figure out his stuff. I have been trying to talk to him because I miss him so much and actually realized im in love with him but he will not answer. Do i just need to give him his space and wait? He is deploying in January for 6 months and I would like us to be speaking again before he leaves. He is also not happy in his relationship and has not been for a long time and she knows he is not happy.

    • For me, KM, I was pretty confused by your posting. I’m imagining you and the others in you story are confused. I learned a long time ago if I want clarity, temporarily stop focusing on others and ask myself what I want. I think your friend has a good idea. Get clarity about your fiancée. The quickest and least expensive way to Vintage Love is through working with the one you got, not the one in the bushes Seems to me. This love thing seems magical but is really a matter of work. Move toward fixing the stuff going wrong with your fiancé Just my guess.

    • When is your wedding? Sounds like a real mess. You should delay the wedding until you figure things out or break it off – just a suggestion. Get some counseling from someone you trust IRL – another woman. If you’re missing this other dude that much, then its not fair to the guy you’re getting married to. You may never end up with this guy being deployed, but either way, ask yourself, if you broke up with your fiancee, would you miss him too or as much? Why are you getting married?

  4. Hi Al.
    My problem is more trivial than most, but I was hoping you could give me some advice. I was friends with a girl at work, we got on well but then after a disagreement she began to distance herself from me. Me being me I wanted to patch up any problems but only seemed to make matters worse. I see her at work probably four or five times a day and she will usually avoid me now. If we pass each other I will say hello and she will say hello back but I don’t push her for a conversation (she normally gives me short one word answers if I try for a conversation with her). After six months of this I have accepted that the friendship was never meant to be but I will always try to be civil. My problem comes from the fact that occasionally she will approach me and talk as if we never had a problem and I feel that things are improving only for her to go back to avoiding and silent treatment again. Do you have any idea why she does this? If she doesn’t want to talk to me that’s fine I will accept it but it is so confusing when she blows hot then cold.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Steve, I’m off for two weeks of vacation in Mexico. Since she switches clearly I bet this is something about her. Probably 30 years from now in your marriage she’ll still switch. But then you’ll understand why and be used to it. Remember all people make sense all the time. Good luck.

  5. Hello,

    Even though we are not together, we talk every day through phone and text, see each other at work and even go to church together. All of a sudden without anything she stopped talking, it’s going on 3 days, should I still wait on her to say something?

    • My guess is she’s trying to get your attention. It’s worth a lot to find out why someone you chat with each day, tries to get your attention. So my thought, based on my experiences only, is to shift from chatting at her to listening to her. So don’t push. I’d wait for a week before I’d reach out to her and even then go slowly. Here’s piece I wrote on this. Out of the Blue My only clue was your phrase “without anything”. So this is a “without anything you were aware of” situation.

      Of course I may be off, on this. Good luck.

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