The Communication Dead Zone: What to Do When Your Partner Refuses to Talk
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Few sentences conjure up as much feeling for the listener as hearing this refusal to talk. Such a commitment to silence often dooms a relationship, whether between a husband and wife, or child and parent. The listener feels so very frustrated in not knowing what to do next.
4 Tips to Break a Communication Deadlock
The following are several suggestions to change this communication deadlock.
1. The listener needs to drop the desire to pursue the refused topic.
No jackhammer or psychological technique will open up someone committed to silence on a particular area. If the listener realizes the topic itself is far less important than the reasons for not talking, it is easier to move away from a concentration on whatever the “it” is.
2. It is logical and important to focus on the reasons for not wanting to talk.
The listener is advised not to badger the other, but rather to offer several possibilities as a way of learning what is stiffing communication. It is worth exploring whether there is a conviction on the silent one’s part that talking about it just won’t do any good. There are many people who really believe that talk is unnecessary because actions speak louder than words. This confusing logic suggests talking is not a behavior. More importantly, though, how has the conviction that conversation is futile been reached? Usually there are some specific experiences that have driven this point home and talking about those experiences may help resolve and offer a different perspective to the present decision to remain silent. Others believe that silence is golden if the alternative is to hurt someone’s feelings. It is up to the listener to determine if he or she would rather be ignorant and blissful or learn some painful bad news. Ordinarily knowing what is wrong is easier to deal with than being left in the dark. Another possibility is that the refusal to talk is in reality a statement of anger. If this is the case, then asking the speaker to elaborate on his resentment becomes the pertinent topic. A final possibility is that the speaker is unclear and unsure of what exactly his or her reasons are to avoid discussions. The listener can reassure the other that he or she is willing to be tolerant of the fuzziness or the lack of eloquence in the spoken word because the message itself is worth working on no matter how plainly and/or foggily put.
3. The listener can promote communication, even with this deadlock, by talking about his/her reaction to this impasse.
It is natural that the first response to being closed out is an angry one, but it becomes important to go beyond that to elaborate on the sense of hurt that this isolation brings. There is nothing as persuasive to opening up as the experience of seeing another person sincerely reveal himself or herself.
4. The listener concluding this interaction with a willingness to listen at another time, at least puts in the other's mind the chance that a time for talking is possible in the future.
Sometimes fatigue or stress can make it difficult to open up.
In summary, gentle focus on “I don’t want to talk about it,” remains important.