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.

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

  1. Cathie says:

    Thank you all for your good ideas
    Does anyone have suggestions for me regarding me having no proof of
    infidelity? Some of the things that concerns me are his new life style including on-going inconsistencies with his work schedules and days off that require his presence, out of character self grooming habits including teeth whitening treatments and new clothes shopping when he’s not cared about before and plus he hates to shop.

    By no coincidence, within a year after we married he began acting controlling toward me including using verbal intimidation threats to our marriage in response to my voicing a different opinion on any topic to raising a concern about inviting people over without notifying mr first.

    All these behaviors were disclosed to us by his mother before we were married but atbtgevtime I saw no potential of my husband following in his fathers footsteps and it was not until after we were married that his controlling issues surfaced.

    I’ve invited him to pick a time and day to talk about my concerns but when that arrives he often deflects off the subject I asked him to discuss when turns to his own complaints about me instead shortly after we begin talking. This happens the same way every time I’ve tried to sit down with him and I’ve even asked him ahead of time to not turn the table again on me so we could both have opportunity to voice our concerns equally. Marriage counseling we’ve tried but it turns out bad when he discovers he can’t control the sessions. I suppose I’ve kinda answered my own question here about suggestions since I think I’ve tried everything I can

    But I’m still open for any wisdom

    Thank you
    Cathie

  2. Renee says:

    my husband asked me for a divorce about two weeks ago, a family friend talk to him and found out what he was upset about with our relationship, he told them he will talk to me when he gets back home from off the road, I have reached out to him several times and on a few of the times he did talk to me, but there are days when I cant get him to answer his phone he sometimes text me and say oh I’m okay and that’s it. So I tried to contact him the other day about our bills that were coming due to see what he wants me to do about them and he wouldn’t even call me back. What am I to think about this issue he hasn’t moved any of his things out its just he has stop talking to me. I going out my mind trying to figure this out. I talk to friends all I get is pray about it, give it to God. I haven’t loss faith in God and his work but I still need answers. I even asked him if he was coming home this weekend no answer. I don’t know what to do or tell our son.

    • Hi Renee!

      Your situation is very difficult and painful. The behavior you describe can be indicative of a few problems, and none of them are easy to solve. The most common is infidelity.

      I recommend that you read some of the articles in the Coping With Infidelity Series:
      http://www.marriageadvocates.com/category/guides/infidelity-affair-recovery/coping-with-infidelity/

      These outline steps to develop a plan and take care of YOU…regardless of the cause of his behavior.

      I also suggest you join our marriage discussion forum, where you can interact with our members who have been in very similar circumstances and hear about their insights and lessons learned.

      Sincerely,
      MA Admin

  3. Paul says:

    Hi there,

    I have read this article with interest but unfortunately my issue is the former more difficult one in that i have started dating a women that i went to school with many years ago and we are completely crazy for one another. But, i have discovered that she has developed a particularly unhealthy communication style in that she simply won’t talk to anyone about her thoughts and feelings as she is scared of saying the wrong thing. This i understand stems to childhood and was reinforced in er previous marriage. Having a psychology background i am usually extremely good at getting people to talk…in fact, it often happens without me needing to try…in this case i am lost beyond description and it is now becoming detrimental to our relationship as the only way i know something is up is through interpretation of behavioural change. This i cant continue.

    Any advice would be hugely helpful….Please!

    Regards

    Paul

    • Hi Paul,

      Sounds like your girlfriend is very afraid to open up. If you are sure that you are creating a safe environment for her to speak up to you, then I think it’s time to talk to her about seeing a professional therapist to address her communication fears. Is she willing to do that?

      Regards,
      MA Admin

  4. Ras Malai says:

    I just have a new relationship with my boyfriend for about month but the big different is I’m deaf and he’s hearing. He is my first official boyfriend. He accept me for who am I and my hearing problem and it made me so felt comfortable around him. I’m a very calm person and never fight before. I had a bad luck for find love and end up by hurts and used. Right now, he felt like he’s not important to me unless other people are important in my life. He felt like I don’t give a s**t about him which is not true. He felt like he should stop talking to me. At this point, I do love him a lot and thought that he is the one for me. I don’t want to lose him ever in my life. What should I do?

  5. Vix says:

    I have been with my boyfriend for 8 months and it’s definitely been a slippery slope in terms of communication and needs not met. When we met I just got out of a 2 year long distance relationship and he was about a year out of a 5 year long term relationship. But it seems like we are two ships passing in the night regarding each situation.

    My 2 year long distance relationship was too straining in terms of distance and I did not want to move to Canada and my SO at the time could not see himself moving to me so the relationship ended there.

    My boyfriend’s past relationship, 5 years, I know very little about other than it appears after so he felt he needed a lot of space. The only other things I really know is that when they broke apart he did try to get back with her but things did not work out. I try to ask him about it because I feel like he isn’t completely over whatever damage that has been done during that relationship and one time he simply put “I will never talk about it.” Least to say this doesn’t really help much…

    I also found out that he’s depressed about his current job and that he self medicates himself with alcohol every night to “forget everything.” He basically shuts himself off from everyone and I have to barter for time with him. It wasn’t quite like this in the first couple of months dating but gradually it became more apparent that this relationship was unlike any other I’ve been with.

    I understand he needs the space during the week to cope with his job situation which is why I try to spend as much time with him during the weekend but even then I feel he’s getting tired of this. Sometimes this can lead to arguments and then he shuts me off completely and ignores me. I try to reason, to talk things through and he always says “This isn’t a good time” and even asks me to leave.

    He says that I am clingy, that I need to live my own life but what about trying to live our lives together? Ultimately that is something that I want. I want him to be honest about what he wants from this relationship. I tell him I will be here for him even through all the things he’s going through and he just seems annoyed and I really just don’t understand any of this….please, someone help!

  6. Rachael says:

    My husband and I have poor conflict resolution in our marriage. It usually goes something like this, I get offended by something and tell him I’m offended at which point he usually gets defensive which offends me more, we start to argue and then he’ll leave saying he doesn’t want to talk anymore. He will then ignore me for sometimes several hours which is so frustrating since I’m feeling like he was the offensive one in the first place. Also if I attempt to bring it up later it just seems like the same scenario repeats and so nothing ever gets resolved. For a while I tried to just deal with it silently so we wouldn’t argue but I found myself just being really resentful and found it hard to really love him. I’ve suggested counseling but he won’t go. I’m not sure at all what do do. How do we fix this so we can have healthy conflict resolution and learn how to resolve our issues without him getting defensive. Please help. Any advice would be appreciated.

  7. Christina says:

    My boyfriend recently discovered that I revealed to a coworker that he and I were going to therapy. This coworker is his employee and several of his work peers now know our business. He is furious at me. We haven’t really communicated in five days. I recently saw the therapist alone because he won’t go with me. She told me to be patient and not contact him til he contacts me. I’ve been doing so but I feel like I’m going crazy with anxiety. Help me please.

    • Al Turtle says:

      Wow, Christina, I didn’t see your note till just now (3/4). I am sure things have moved along for you and so any comment I make will seem out of date.

      Seem like a whole lot is thrown on you about “Trust” and maybe “privacy” and even maybe “shame.” Tis part of learning about “him” as well as yourself. Your counselor’s advice sounded right on. But then what do I know.

      Remember, it is your job to take charge and not let anything make you go “crazy” – not matter what “they” do. Breathe.

      I wish you well.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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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