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!

6 replies
  1. YourFriend
    YourFriend says:

    Mark, another great blog.

    I don’t expect an answer… just thought I would encourage you to ponder and then writing about, at what point do we need to reach out to others to help us in our efforts to connect with someone that has gone silent, retreated, pulled back, and won’t talk?

    While we all can have a wounded spirit and may need some time to process our thoughts and emotions, I have noticed that it doesn’t take long after being married a few years, if not even just months, to see that one person generally chooses more of a flight and the other more a fight response.

    I like the idea in Eph 4:29 of learning how to breath life and use encouraging words to build others up instead of tearing them down.

    I wonder if silence and withdrawing is sometimes used as a form of punishment?

    Is it possible that people who typically withdraw, go silent, and won’t share need to ask God to help them to mature and overcome sinful self protective behaviors that destroy relationships?

    On the other hand, is there a place in the Body of Christ where we are called to avoid relationship with certain people?
    Is there a place for shunning?

    • Mark
      Mark says:

      All great thoughts and good questions my friend! No doubt that at times, silence and withdrawing can be self-protective and even used to get even or punish others. When and if that is the case, it would be good to talk about – how it impacts others and damages relationships further. And I agree that it doesn’t take long for each person in a marriage to settle into a fight or flight style of handling conflict. The question in my mind is why? What is taking place between both parties that causes one to migrate to one style or another? And rather than accusing or confronting one or the other, my hope is that the couple sit down and talk together about the why, about the dynamics between them, and about things they can both do to move in a better direction together with their communication. That is where PLEDGEtalk comes in. It provides a guide for them to have discussions like this that might otherwise be rather difficult. Thanks again for your thoughts my friend!

  2. Marcia Downing
    Marcia Downing says:

    I appreciate your sharing these four important guidelines for improving our communication with all the people in our lives. You are providing us a primer in the ways of living and loving well. So many times I have allowed my own frustration to make a situation worse. What a delight that I can repent and do differently! Thanking God for Mark Oelze.

  3. Linda Willis
    Linda Willis says:

    Mark, your words give so much insight and food for thought, at any stage of life.
    We can learn from these, both in retrospect, and going forward.
    Thank you for sharing the wisdom that the Lord has given you.
    Still learning……

    • Mark
      Mark says:

      You are welcome Linda! Thanks for your encouraging words. And you bless me when you speak of how you are still learning – indeed every day is another opportunity to learn, until the day we die! Then, the doors open to a whole lot more learning!!!


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