Communication Skills: What To Do When He/She Won’t Talk To You

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“My husband won’t talk to me.”

“My wife is giving me the cold shoulder.”

“When I ask what’s wrong, my partner says, ‘Nothing,’ but I can tell something is wrong.”

Do these sound familiar? Do you have trouble getting your spouse/partner to talk?

Improving Communication Skills

Amazingly, this is a very common occurrance and there is something you can do: improve your Communication Skills. 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 drive everyone crazy, and they didn’t want to talk with me…until I improved my Communication Skills.

(Also check out my related papers on Reliable Membership and on the Testicle Principle.)

Rule: People won’t talk because 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 s/he won’t. I would typically try to push them to talk. It seemed that I had tried thousands of ways…none of which ever worked. So, I finally 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 others feel anything is pretty near impossible. They will feel what they choose to feel, darn them. Still, a lot of things trigger a sense of safety in a person. And there are lots of things that tend to make a person feel unsafe.

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? These are very different situations, and you have to ask yourself which it is.

If they won’t talk to anyone about anything, getting them to talk may be quite difficult. Somehow, they have probably learned to be unsafe with everyone. You have to work to overcome that. It’s still possible, just difficult and may take significant time and patience.

If they won’t talk to 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 they are actions you “could 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 issues of Safety, click here for many related articles.)

Principle #1: Develop and Demonstrate Patience

Probably the first thing you need to do is 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 skill. Patience is learned. All childlren 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 shoe 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. The easiest way to learn patience is to spend a large amount of time in a slow situation with people who are very patient. You can learn it by example. Ask others how they learned it. You can also study Yoga as well as many other Eastern disciplines.

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.

Taken from What to do when he/she won’t talk to you.  © Al Turtle 2005.

This entry was posted in Communication Skills, Featured Articles, Listening, Relationship Safety & Security, Validation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Communication Skills: What To Do When He/She Won’t Talk To You

  1. Ashton says:

    My gf and I are very serious about each other as we always talk about the future. But when I’m on a 24 hour shift (I’m a fireman), I text her good morning and I either get one back or I don’t as it can be almost all day before I hear anything from her. I understand she has two jobs now and a daughter, I just miss talking to her like it was before. I think of her, her daughter and I as a family; which I have told her and she said that it’s beautiful I think that way. Lately when we talk I can say something and not get an answer at all until maybe later. It’s just confusing why she gets online at 3 am.

    • Ashton, I notice that you have exactly the same complaint today that you had three and a half months ago. Have you not had the talk with her about this? If so, what was her response? If you’ve not raised the subject with her, why not?

      Due to limited staffing here it takes longer to get a response than on our community forums. Suggest you go to marriageadvocates.com and sign up. Plenty of helpful folks there all the time!

  2. Ashton says:

    Hello, whenever I talk to my girlfriend she replies but when I say something again it can be hours until she says something or nothing. I understand she has work during the day, emt classes two nights a week and has a daughter. I am very supportive of her, I just want her to talk to me like it was when we first started out. I even noticed on her profile it went from interested in guys to both what does that even mean. Please her and her daughter our my family.

  3. Skittles says:

    My bf of 6 years and father of my two children refuses to ask me whats wrong when I am clearly bothered. About 50% of the time I will go to him and try and talk about whats bothering me. All I get is one word answers and I’m lucky if he even turns away from the computer to look at me. Its driving me crazy! The other half of the time I wait to see if he will ever ask me whats wrong, he wont, and we could go days without talking until he just starts talking to me again, like nothing happened. The longer we go without talking, the angrier I get, and the more pessimistic I become of us lasting. I want to be with him and keep my family together but I cant help that I cant see a successful future between us. HELP!! Everytime I talk to him about it he says he will work on it but nothing EVER changes.

    • Al Turtle says:

      Yes, Skittles. A tough situation. I was reminded of the idea that couples wait about 5 years after the first sign of trouble before they seek help. Also it is my belief that you might as well call this bf your husband. The issues of relationship/marriage seem to start working fully after about 6 months of being together. So you might think of this situation as fairly normal for a 6 year marriage. “Normal” means there are a lot of other people who have faced and are facing the same situation. The good news in that is that many discover the solutions. The bad news is that most don’t. Checkout my Map of Relationships for a general understanding of where you are and how you’ve gotten there.

      My guess is that somehow or other you’ve gotten him really scared of you. Could partially be your temper that is a challenge for you. But then, he would have also picked you for your temper. Hmm.

      Bottom line is in my opinion this relationship should, for your sakes and the sakes of your kids, be really reworked. I was also reminded of my essay on how to get someone to do what you want.

      You have to start somewhere, so here is a good place. Good luck.

  4. Elise says:

    You have it right sorry about the slang I was livid typing. I have asked him time and time again to just talk about things with me to see if we really have a real problem. The argument could have been avoided if he just talked to me like an adult. He thought something that was said on tv was something I said to him and he got angry then in the middle of talking about it I told him I feel uncomfortable talking to him now about things because he only hears bits and pieces not the whole conversation. We barely spoke to one another today and this could go on for days. I don’t want to love like this.

    • Al Turtle says:

      Good for you. This ain’t how people love each other, but does seem to me how people often begin to love each other – very very clumsy. While you may want to spend a little time (5%) thinking of how he could/should change, spend (95%) most of your time figuring out and practicing the wise way to respond when he slips into being a dork. Wanting him to change and even telling him what to do, generally doesn’t work. I’ve tried it. Just an idea.

  5. Al Turtle says:

    Hello Elise, Sounds pretty rough. Let’s see if I got it. I’m not too clear. Sounds as if you told him a “page long story”. He only heard a little phrase, and got mad about that phrase. The way he gets mad is to pull away and not talk for several days at a time. So you are fearful of sharing at all, cuz of your fear of him going away. Did I get that? I’d hate to generate advice before I’m clear what’s up.

    One basic thing I can comment on is the old “get mad cuz you do something.” I think we all have to deal with this either on the receiving end (they get mad at us cuz…) or the sending end (“it makes me mad when you…”) or both. Get rid of the “Mad”. If your partner gets mad, use a TimeOut. If you get Mad, encourage your partner to use a Timeout or call one yourself. If you both get Mad, definitely take a TimeOut. Quick. Encourage sharing when the “Mad” is over. The Skill of TimeOuts. I suggest you set your goal that you allow neither of you to use “Mad” as a tool in your relationship. Consider “Mad” to be a slip, a mistake.

  6. Elise says:

    What so u do when you are the one that is scared to talk because your husband takes two words from a page long story and decides to be mad and not communicate for days at a time? I told him I’m numb to him being mad at me for things he thought I said and in reality it was the tv all he heard was I’m numb.

  7. We have a couple of threads about that on our discussion forum, if you’d like to join. What you have is an avoider, and possibly a stonewaller. You might want to google Stonewalling.

  8. Shan says:

    What’s the suggestion when your partner of 12 years basically refuses to have any conversations related to the relationship or even discussing anything about much simpler things like working on or improving certain situations such as setting up new systems with keeping the kids & house more organized?!

    • Al Turtle says:

      I think the Rule I put into this article stands pretty well. I think your situation is a bit more specific or deeper than what the article was aimed at. In this case you may want to ponder what you’ve done or participated in over those 12 years that makes your partner feel unsafe (threatened) about chatting or sharing on topics related to “relationship” or on those other thingies (organization of the house, etc.). To go further I’d need to hear more.

      I can only guess a bit. But my guess is that after 12 years (or more) you two have re-entered the Power Struggle. (Check our “Al Turtle Map of Relationship” or “Al Turtle power struggle”) Thus issues between you that have “never been resolved,” but that have been “swept under the rug,” are now surfacing. Solve ‘em. My further guess is that it has to do with “who is boss” or what I call the Master/Slave issue. (Google “Al Turtle Master/Slave”) Good luck.

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