If your partner is avoidant, they may find it difficult to discuss issues with you, and end up shutting down. Here are some tips to make it easier to discuss conflict with your partner when they won’t talk to you.
Recognize the reasons your partner may be withdrawing from the conversation and honor their space.
Write your thoughts and feelings down so you can recall them easier when you and your partner are in a safe space to communicate again.
Know how to self-soothe and have a list of coping skills you can employ.
Most people tend to get louder when they feel unheard but yelling isn’t healthy and can be triggering.
When it’s time to talk, use active listening and allow your partner to express themselves fully without getting defensive.
Use “I” statements and take accountability for your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Focus on the solution and set goals for difficult conversations.
All relationships have conflict. Resolving it peacefully and healthily can create safety in a relationship. To cultivate a sense of safety, communication needs to be healthy.
If you’ve been in a relationship for a while, you and your partner have likely fallen into repetitive roles in the relationship. Each partner has their go-to tools that they resort to in times of need. For some, especially those with avoidant personalities, that may look like shutting down. This usually leads to the other partner pursuing communication without reciprocation.
The pursuant party may find that the harder they try to communicate, the more the other partner withdraws. This cycle can be persistent and is often frustrating to all – especially when the pursuant partner cranks up the volume as they feel unheard. This can turn into a disastrous cycle and eventually partners may stop trying to connect, which can lead to other serious relationship issues. If your partner clams up during conflict, here are seven tips to navigate what to do when they won’t talk to you.
No communication IS communication
Recognize that your partner’s choice not to communicate with you at the moment is a form of communication. Think about why they may have withdrawn – is it possible they’re overwhelmed? Are you being overbearing or worse, are you becoming aggressive with your attempts to communicate? Regardless of what’s happening on your end, they are telling you that they need some space.
It’s fine to back off and let cooler heads prevail. Honor their need for space and time. Don’t punish them for their silence; everyone has different coping skills. Not everyone handles big feelings in the same way and that’s totally fine.
Write your feelings and thoughts down
One reason people may be tempted to push communication is because they feel the need to be heard, and they have thoughts and feelings they need to get off their chest. If your partner is unwilling to hear you out right now, that’s fine. Write down your urgent thoughts and feelings so you can revisit them later when your partner is ready to engage.
Do some self-soothing activities
It’s natural to want to seek comfort from your partner, even in times of conflict. That’s another reason why one partner may continue to pursue communication even when the other partner isn’t ready – they want to resolve the conflict and move past it and are eager to be on good terms with their partner again. Some people may fixate on their partner’s silence and become further distressed.
At times like this, it’s important to have coping skills you can employ to self-soothe. Pick some coping skills to engage in, such as taking a bath, listening to soothing music, journaling, or going for a walk.
The louder you are, the less you’ll be heard
Most people tend to speak louder when they feel they aren’t being heard. Unfortunately, that can escalate into yelling. Yelling at your partner is not healthy, and it will likely either provoke them to yell back to defend themselves or cause them to further shut down.
Being yelled at doesn’t feel good, and for some, it can be triggering and even scary. When you yell, no one is listening to what you’re saying; they’re listening to the fact that you’re yelling. The louder you are, the less you’ll be heard. Speak calmly and conversationally – and if you can’t do that because you need to calm down, disengage until you can discuss the situation at hand calmly.
Use active listening
Another human tendency is to listen to someone in order to respond. We’ve all been guilty of listening to someone and planning our response while they’re talking instead of being present in the conversation and actively listening. This is especially true during a conflict, when we may feel attacked and compelled to defend ourselves.
If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone who was extremely defensive and focused only on rebuttals, you know how frustrating it can be; it may even be frustrating enough that someone stops engaging. So, get out your listening ears and get ready to hear your partner out – even if you don’t like what they’re saying.
Use “I” statements
Communicating with “I” statements is one way to facilitate safe communication in a relationship. Using “I” statements allows you to take ownership of your feelings without attacking the other party or placing blame – things that can immediately put someone on the defense and make them avoidant or shut down. “I really like spending time with you when we can just relax and have downtime…if I had help with dinner tonight, we could have more time together” sounds much more appealing than “You never help me with dinner! You don’t do enough around the house!”
Focus on the solution
Solution-focused communication avoids pulling you and your partner into an endless cycle of complaints without change. Set goals for the meeting and get clear about what you want to happen before you start the conversation. This will stop the convo from veering off into a tangent or the unnecessary rehashing of old wounds. When your partner knows what it is you want or expect, they’re much more likely to give it to you.
Get support from a qualified, caring therapist in the South Florida area
If improving communication with your partner is a priority for you, therapy can help a lot. Having the support from the right professionals can create a huge shift. Both couples therapy and individual therapy can help improve your communication skills.