4 Things to Remember When Someone Shuts Down, Shuts Up, or Shuts You Out.

Twice recently I have been asked: “What do you do when your spouse won’t talk?” Good question. No doubt most all of us have faced that at some time or another. We want connection with others. Two-way connection. But what about when your child or teenager isn’t talking? Or a friend suddenly stops talking? What do you do?

Those are all important questions – at least if relationships matter to you. And honestly – I know that is all of us. Sometimes we tell ourselves, I don’t need her or him, but the truth is relationships DO matter to all of us. There is something in our design as humans, that we need relationships.

So what do we do when someone that matters to us, shuts down, shuts up, or shuts us out?

First, be aware of your own frustration when it happens.

Giving way to your own frustrations will only exacerbate the situation. Resist the temptation. Temporarily walk away if necessary, rather than giving in to the urge to express your anger to feel better. You will both be happier you did.

Second, keep in mind there is always a reason why a husband, a child, or a friend isn’t talking.

Be intrigued. Wonder to yourself, why aren’t they talking? Consider ideas like the following:

  • Did something negative happen between you and them recently?
  • Could you have said or done something that caused hurt or shame, resulting in them shutting down?
  • If this is a person you used to get along with fine, when did things change? Wonder why.
  • Perhaps something difficult happened that day and they have pulled inside their shell. What happened?
  • What have the important relationships been like in their life? Angry? Shaming? Hurtful? Maybe they are hesitant to open up with others as a result.
  • Do they not see or understand the importance of talking? Do they feel like they have anything valuable to say?
  • Do they talk much with anyone? If so, who and what about?

Reflecting on questions like these can yield valuable insights.

As a science teacher for nearly 300 children, my wife sees children with a wide array of behaviors. Often she wonders what is happening with little Johnnie or Suzie when they act the way they do. Regularly, when she takes time to focus on the child, she learns of a difficulty in their home or how they were hurt by another child. Valuable data.

We all get quiet at times. Just remember: there is a reason why. As a teacher or parent, spouse or friend, we must patiently seek to discover the why, rather than impatiently telling them to shape up or shrugging it off with a whatever attitude.

Third, note out loud what you see happening.

Say for example, “I realized just now that you shut down – you stopped talking.” Then ask if they are willing to talk about why. If not, let them know you will be willing to listen and talk about it whenever they are ready. Then get up and get back with your day so they don’t feel pressured right there and then to start talking. A word of caution: if they do come back to talk, take great care to listen well. If you are defensive, they may never come back to talk again.

Fourth, be ok with silence.

Sometimes a person simply will not speak, no matter what you say or do. You need to be ok with that. While you might wish they would open up and talk to you, you must love them as they are. Think about it: none of us have it all together in life. If we are honest we know areas in our lives that we would like to change but don’t know how or seem to have the courage or motivation to do so. Whereas we need encouragement from others to spur us on, we also appreciate their patience. We want to know we are still ok in their book right now, and all throughout the process of change.

I remember a time when my son was having a huge meltdown as an 8 year old. I wasn’t sure at all how to help him. I prayed and sensed God reminding me of what He does with me when I am a mess. He remains present and loves me. With that, I was prodded to do the same with my son. I went into his room and sat at the foot of his bed, quietly waiting, reaching out with a touch on occasion, until he finally calmed down and laid quietly on his bed.

Sometimes our quiet, assuring presence is the best part of us we can give to another. (Tweet this)

One final point–to the non-talker: your voice matters!

It took me years to figure this out, and to be honest, I am still learning. You see, my nature is to be much more of a listener than a talker. Growing up I often felt that what I had to say wasn’t good enough. I remember times of great shame when I did speak up. As a result, I kept much of what I thought inside.

I didn’t understand that each of our voices, including mine, is important. But they are. What you and I have to say in conversations matter. It may appear that others don’t think so, but it does. Take courage and speak. You will have to learn how to do so without demanding that others listen, and without cowering like a mouse. That will come in time as you work at it. But you must begin to speak.

In summary, to the one who wishes others would talk:

  • Don’t let your frustration make things worse.
  • Keep in mind, there is always a reason why they are not talking.
  • Note out loud what you see happening.
  • Be ok with silence.

Your assignment this week: take time to wonder about those around you who may rarely share what they think.

To the one who is quiet:

  • Your voice matters.
  • Take courage; you will learn as you go.
  • Begin to speak.

Your assignment this week: dare to speak what is on your mind and make a difference.

Then leave a comment below about your experience!


The One Thing To Say When You Hear “You ALWAYS..!”

You’ve done it, I’ve done it, and you’ve had someone do it to you. They used ALWAYS or NEVER. It’s never a good experience when someone uses those words as they point their finger at you in anger. It always feels unfair and wrong when they do. We think, they should never use those words like that! It always causes us to react.

I remember being on a walk with my wife one day and she did it. And I reacted. And while telling her how wrong she was for using the ALWAYS word, without realizing it, I used the NEVER word! We are all guilty!

So what do you do? What do you say when someone is angry, points their finger and says “You NEVER _________ !” (Fill in the blank.)

After hundreds of hours of helping couples through these very emotional moments, and examining this over and over in my own relationships, I can tell you there is only one thing to say:

Nothing! Say absolutely nothing – at least at first.

And you know why.

Everything inside of you – just like everything inside of me is already experiencing a nuclear reaction and it’s about to explode.

“That’s not true!!!”

And that is not going to help matters.

Instead try this.

Keep your mouth shut and think:

He or she is obviously feeling quite strongly about what they just said. They may or may not have really meant always or never. But that is beside the point, really. I have to let that word fly by as I focus instead on what they are trying to communicate – even if I think they are doing a poor job at it.

Why are they so mad or hurt?

Why are they using such strong language?

There has to be a reason, and I must make it my goal to find out. I have to get to the root of what they are saying so I can understand them.

THEN say something like:

“When you use the word ALWAYS or NEVER I find myself reacting inside, but I don’t want to do that. I want to understand instead why you said what you did. Help me understand why you sound so angry or hurt?”

Let’s think that through.

By saying the first part–about them using ALWAYS or NEVER–you are acknowledging that you heard what they said. That’s important. We all want to be heard.

You are also revealing something about yourself: you are reacting to their words internally but trying not to externally. That shows you are thinking and actually working at the conversation–and that’s a good thing. Furthermore, by saying you really want to understand them, you indicate that this person matters.

Having mutual regard for each other and what they have to say is critical to resolving the conflict.

I know some of you might say: “I already know they are mad. Why would I ask them to tell me more?”

It has to do with story.

The person is upset about something. Love dares to go where it is risky–even when it might get hurt. (Tweet this) If there is every any hope to resolve the conflict, you have to listen to each other’s stories without defensively reacting.

You must listen to understand.

Only then will you learn about each other as well as yourself. Only then will you gain the vantage point necessary to appreciate each other’s perspective leading to a resolve in your differences.

So the next time someone accuses you of an ALWAYS or NEVER, don’t say a word – at least at first. When you have your emotions under control, tell them you want to understand why they said that – you want to hear their story. Then remind yourself that your goal is to hear and appreciate their perspective.

So what advice would you give the rest of us when someone shouts at you:

“You ALWAYS…” ??

, ,

A Simple Way To Increase Respect In Your Relationships:

You and I both learned an important life lesson at a very early age: take turns.

If you have children you teach it all the time. One is playing with a toy, when another child comes along and grabs it because he wants to play with it. The first child cries or reacts in anger as she grabs the toy back, and a fight quickly ensues. As fast as we can, we jump in between the children and say: “you two need to take turns!”

How does this relate to better communication at work and at home?

At Work With Your Team:

Think back on your last team meeting. What went well? What didn’t?

Two way communication is critical for a team to succeed – where everyone understands the importance of each one sharing AND listening. All too often before one person has the chance to finish what they are saying, another jumps in on top of them with a different thought. Soon another does the same and another. Ideas, even good ones, are missed because people aren’t taking turns really listening to each other. Even when someone is able to share their entire thought without being interrupted, a very similar experience occurs as soon as there is silence – someone quickly jumps in to share their idea and then another follows suit and another.

What if there was a different norm? A question or idea is brought to the group’s attention, for the purpose of discussion and gaining further insight. The first person speaks up and has everyone else’s full attention. When finished speaking, it is obvious others are reflecting on what has been said. Questions are asked of the speaker to clarify or draw out additional ideas. Important takeaways are duly noted before someone else takes their turn to share an idea.

For communication to take place at its best, a team leader must foster a culture where each person is invited to speak and experience the respect of everyone else through intentional listening. Only then will mutual respect be experienced by all, and the optimal environment be in place to gain the most from the time together.

In team meetings or small groups, we must take turns – both speaking AND listening.

Today With Your spouse:

Tonight when you greet each other, take turns sharing about the day. Don’t be so eager to tell about your day that you cut the other person off in the middle of them telling about theirs. Listen intently instead. By doing so you are showing respect to your spouse.

Tonight With Your Kids:

Practice with your children as well. Give your full attention to them when you see them after school. Then ask them for a few moments of their time and attention as you share with them some about your day too. Being deliberate to do this will teach your children how taking turns when communicating is a way of showing respect to others. It will help them with friends and go along way in preparing them one day with a future mate and family.

Whenever In Conflict:

Perhaps nowhere is the need to take turns more apparent than when in conflict. It is a must. Each person is angry or hurt for some reason. Critical to solving that conflict is the act of giving each other an opportunity to share their side, while we listen to truly understand and appreciate their perspective.

Today and this weekend – practice and model taking turns when in dialogue with your team, your spouse, and your children.


But powerful.

It will deepen mutual respect!

Now do this with me quickly – leave a short phrase or sentence below telling me one place today where you are going to put this into practice. Let’s encourage each other right now by writing it down in the comment section below:


3 Important Musts When You are Angry

I have been doing a lot of thinking about anger lately. Maybe it’s because of how often I wrestle with the emotion myself. I also see it frequently in the couples I counsel, as well as in people’s lives in general. And finally, I am sure it is because of hearing our son say on our recent visit with him, that he feels like we weren’t very honest with each other about anger in our family. That gave me pause to think!

I have to be honest–it also made me angry. At least a little. I was thinking to myself: What? This is what I do for a living – help people work through the anger in their relationships! But I think what he said was true. Alas, I keep learning!!

Anger is a primary emotion we all experience to one degree or another at various times.

If you think you never get mad or angry you are only fooling yourself. I mean that quite literally. We may call it by different terms like frustration or irritation. We might say someone has gotten under our skin or ruffled our feathers. We say such things to minimize our experience of anger, even as we are already trying to control it. These are all however, a form of anger.

Is anger good or bad? It is neither. It simply is. It can lead to good or it can lead to bad. That’s the more important matter.

Anger can lead to good when a person is mad over an injustice being committed and the anger motivates him or her to do something that benefits others. Anger can lead to good when a person has it under control and engages in necessary conversation to bring about health in a relationship. Anger in control can further the good of society or relationships.

Anger can lead to bad when it is expressed by a person who is out of control and self-focused. Wounded feelings, broken relationships, abuse, violence, war, and even death are the result.

Anger out of control brings destruction by serving one’s own purposes.

Let’s review: I get angry; you get angry. Our anger can lead to good, or bad. Which it is depends upon whether or not we are in control or out of control, and if we are using it to benefit others or ourselves.

Decide NOW before the next time you are angry: Do you want to be known as someone with self-control or out of control? Someone who benefits others or wounds them?

I assume your answer would be the same as mine: we want to be people with self-control and people who benefit others rather than wound them. Still, it is important that we think hard on this. Agreeing to this is easy; living it out takes a great deal of effort.

There are three musts: be strong, be courageous, and remember the golden rule.

First, be strong and walk away if you are about to hurt someone. It takes only seconds to wound someone with your words, but it can take a lifetime to heal that wound! (tweet this!)

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Proverbs 18:21 KJV

Second, when ready, be courageous enough to be honest with others about what you are feeling and why–in the hope of bettering those relationships. Before you do, I would strongly recommend you read or re-read my last blog, What Do You Do With the Mad?

“…speak the truth, in love…” Ephesians 4:15 NLT

And third, remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you plan to speak to someone about your anger, think of how you would hope that same someone would speak to you if the roles were reversed. Would you hope they would give some thought to what they would say ahead of time? That they would deliver their message with some degree of self-restraint? Then do the same for them.

“…be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry…” James 1:19 NIV

What would you add as a MUST to keep in mind when angry? Leave a comment below!

It’s Not Natural!

“It’s not natural…it doesn’t feel authentic.”

That’s the kind of remark I hear people say about PLEDGEtalk every once in awhile. And I agree…but only sort of. Here’s what I mean:

Most conversations whether they are superficial in nature, serious in content, or conflict driven, could be described as nothing more than volleying. In lighter talk, people people toss out an idea or describe an event, and someone else comes back with another idea or event in their life. Another thought is quickly thrown into the mix and then another. The game is on! Very similar dialogue takes place when in conflict, only much more intense and damaging.

In this sense, the principles of PLEDGEtalk are not “natural.” In conversations such as above, people rarely pause to think about what they are saying, much less listen to what someone else is saying. And if you are familiar with PLEDGEtalk at all, you know how important it is that we Pause and we Listen.

So I agree. It is not natural – on the one hand.

But on the other hand…I completely disagree.

PLEDGEtalk is very natural – to the appetite of our soul! Deep inside we know it satisfies.

Why do I say that?

Because PLEDGEtalk is the way we want others to communicate with us.

Stop and think a moment: would you rather someone just spew out of their mouth whatever they are thinking however they want regardless of the effect it might have? Or would you appreciate them giving some thought to what and how they communicate when it really matters? If you say the latter, then you know how good and right it is for us to Pause before we speak – even if it is but for a moment.

Think about your friends and family members. Are any of them good listeners? What’s it like for you when you have the opportunity to speak to them? If you are like me, you think: “This is so nice. And so rare.” When you speak, you want someone to listen – really listen – or you would never speak in the first place. You appreciate their time and focus. It feels wonderful. You know that Listening well is also good and right.

I could talk through each of the other steps of PLEDGEtalk in the same manner. It is helpful – at least at times – when someone echoes back to clarify what you say. It is satisfying when they validate your ideas before dishing out theirs. And conversations are much more rich when we give each other a turn to speak rather than interrupt and steal the conversation.

Yes – PLEDGEtalk principles are natural – to the appetite of the soul.

In the words of my son who wrote the Foreward to my book:

The PLEDGEtalk principles “…can be considered both menu and guide to a dinner table of conflict… Over time we manage to stop rushing through arguments and choking down confrontations. We remember that the PLEDGEtalk process itself occurs in courses (as some may want to read this book). And powered by healthy communication practices, we begin to once again find the joy in dining. We recognize that the hot dish provides nourishment to our souls. Here we become stronger versions of ourselves and are graced with the companionship of those we hold most dear.”

Well said Micah!

Take one more moment and remind yourself of what you would wish from others:

  • That they would Pause and think before they speak
  • That they would Listen to really understand you
  • That they would Echo back – at least at times, to be sure they heard you correctly
  • That they would Disarm conflict by validating what you said
  • That both would Give each other a turn to speak rather than interrupting
  • That both would Engage in these principles all the time – even when not in conflict.

The PLEDGEtalk principles are what you and I long for most when others communicate with us.

Here is your challenge: Now do unto others what you would have them do unto you!!

  • Get the book here.
  • Like our new PLEDGEtalk Facebook page.
  • If you have not yet watched the Online Mini Video Course on PLEDGEtalk Register NOW while it’s still FREE!

Here’s What Happens When You Name The Important

A couple weeks back Zerrin and I were in Oshkosh, Wisconsin teaching PLEDGEtalk at Lifest. As I began, I told everyone that what they were about to hear wouldn’t be new. In fact once they heard the PLEDGEtalk principles for healthy communication, they would immediately recognize that what I was saying was true.

Truths we all know:

  • It is good to take a moment to consider what we are about to say before we say it. We hope others would do the same for us! (PAUSE)
  • When we talk about anything important, we want others to really listen. (LISTEN)
  • We also want others to really consider what it is we are saying – perhaps even reflect back what they hear us saying so we know for sure they heard us. (ECHO)
  • It helps a lot when someone validates what we say–to let us know they at least understand and don’t think we are crazy for feeling the way we do! (DISARM/VALIDATE)
  • Because of common sense, we also know the importance of giving each other a turn in the conversation. Interrupting each other isn’t helpful. We both can’t talk at the same time! (GIVE)
  • Finally, we know that it would be good to practice using each of the above principles all the time, not just whenever we feel like it–because we may never feel like it! (ENGAGE)

But there’s a problem with this.

Even though we know the principles to be true we rarely use them.


Some days we just don’t care or we think we are too busy to take the time. Other times our emotions are so high that the thinking part of our brain doesn’t work. We don’t even recall or think about why should do.

But there’s another reason – it has to do with naming.

When you name something it brings clarity, direction, and empowers you to use it.

Think of an area of life in which you received some coaching. When I was in college I took a golf class.

I can’t remember for sure, but before I took the class, I don’t think I had ever been on a golf course, so I had very little knowledge about the sport. It wasn’t too long however, before I was out on the green enjoying the game.

Each time I stepped up to the ball, I went through a list of specific tips I had learned from class on how to stand, swing, and follow through.

Because I had been trained in specifics, they were in the forefront of my mind every time I swung!

Our teacher had named each step we would need to become a good golfer. I had clarity and direction on what I needed to do. I was empowered to hit the ball straight and far.

When it comes to communication and conflict resolving, we know in the back of our heads at least some of what works. BUT–because so very few of us have ever had any formal training or modeling in what makes for good communication, the principles remain in the back of our heads where they lie dormant.

We must NAME the principles of healthy communication and NAME the process we can use to work through conflict.

When we do, it will provide clarity and direction, and empower people to use the principles to better their relationships in marriage and family, in friendships, and in the workplace.

That is why we share with everyone the simple power of PLEDGEtalk.

When we learn the principles well, they will move from the back of our heads to the front, enabling us to use them each day so that we might improve each of our relationships.

My challenge for you:

If you haven’t seen the video series we recently released on the PLEDGEtalk principles, go HERE. In these videos I name what needs to happen to make good conversation and to work through conflict. We are offering the videos for FREE, for a limited time.

And don’t forget to stay in touch with us by liking our new PLEDGEtalk Facebook page HERE. I will be posting helpful tips and videos on PLEDGEtalk as well as sharing real life experiences with Zerrin and I. Hope to see you there!

Like our PLEDGEtalk Facebook page HERE!

, ,

Big Announcement!

Today we are launching PLEDGEtalk, a how-to for when communication really matters!

For the past 6 years, Zerrin and I have been teaching the Madly In Love Marriage Conference. Through learning PLEDGE, couples have learned how to communicate well and process conflict in a way that brings them back to love.

During our conferences we have been asked many times: can we use this with our kids? Can I use PLEDGE in my work place? Will this work between my friend and I?

With great excitement, we declared YES! It will in fact work in all relationships!

Beyond the questions, we began hearing stories of people who were using PLEDGE as a family, or teaching children in their classroom, or using it with their team at work. A mom shared how her kids are learning to talk through their conflict at the early age of 8 and 6! A politician spoke of how he is using it with his constituents. Teen-agers replied to their parents, saying: “does this mean we don’t have to yell and fight anymore as a family?” A man told us how it had made a significant difference in conference meetings at work.

With great anticipation, we began to see a larger impact to be had in teaching the concepts of PLEDGE.

After much discussion, reflection, and prayer, PLEDGEtalk was birthed!

It is our mission to teach people in all walks of life how to communicate well when it really matters.

Whether in normal conversation or tense situations, there is a way–a right way–to communicate. It deepens and heals relationships. That’s PLEDGEtalk.

We will continue to teach this to couples and seek to be a blessing to marriages.

But now we can share PLEDGEtalk with marriages AND families.

In a church, we can speak to entire congregations! We can also go into the workplace where we will teach and train teams how to better their relationships with PLEDGEtalk and be more productive.

Thank you for your interest in learning how to love well in the way you communicate and resolve conflicts!

Mark Oelze

Author:  The PLEDGE Of A Lifetime

Creator of PLEDGEtalk