Rita Watson MPH

With Love and Gratitude

How to Deal With "Stop, I Don’t Want to Talk About It"

The elephant in the room can be a hidden agenda or an unspoken problem.

Posted Jul 20, 2015

The elephant in the room.
Source: wikimedia

We all recognize the family member, spouse, lover, or friend whose behavior falls into what we perceive as the passive-aggressive category. When a situation arises that begs for a discussion or resolution—whether simple or complicated—they will ignore you, walk away, or storm out saying, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Usually, this leaves you with pent-up anger because the situation remains unresolved and you feel insulted. 

Very often, passive-aggressive people have a hidden agenda problem but even they might not recognize this. For example, they might want something from you, but do not express it or they are unsure about how to express it. So when a problem arises, he or she may adopt this “I don’t want to talk about it" stance.

It's always about you!

Or as can be the case with younger couples, she may say, "I feel this relationship is becoming one-sided. It's always about your needs." And he gets into his car and drives off. The problem here is that neither one knows how to approach the elephant in the room.  

An interesting example of how damaging this can be to a relationship came to me by chance one evening at a social gathering. A young man said to me, "You write about relationships, right?” Then without taking a breath he blurted out: "She wants me to be a mind reader. I don't want to read her mind. When something is wrong I want her to tell me. If I ask her what the problem is, she storms out saying, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ Or she’ll say, ‘You just don’t get it.’”

Your decision and what to do about it

Words play a key role in the way men and women move in and out of a relationship. While men see sniping and biting words as masking hidden agendas, and oftentimes they do, women often say to me that their biting remarks are a reaction to their man’s passive-aggressive behavior.

Here is how the young man who asked me for help solved his own problem in a rather ingenious way —with his new car manual:

“I said to her one day, 'Take a look at this. It's a car manual. See these symbols? Each one points to a problem. Pretend I'm a car. Show me what's wrong. Make a list of what you want. I'll try to fix it. But don't keep telling me that 'I don't get it,' because I don't."

Then, rather sadly, he added, "What she doesn't get is that we are both losing this battle."

Five thoughts that might help:

  • Create a safety zone within your home—call it the serenity spot. When the two of you seem to be in conflict, wait until emotions settle and suggest a three-minute talk in the safe place.
  • Explain that you are confused by the reaction to a situation and what could you have said to have created a better atmosphere for a dialogue—without saying, “You do this to me all the time.”
  • Wait for the heat of an argument to pass and use the car manual example or something that will resonate from the world of business or sports.
  • Refuse to be bullied into believing that the problem is your fault. Calmly explain the facts without drama or accusations. Perhaps even say, “There’s this elephant in the room. We both know it's there. But we don't want to talk about. We're on other sides of the elephant and I can’t seem to reach you.”
  • Write a note or leave a card that says, “When you storm out, it is hurtful. Can we discuss what I said that triggered your anger and how we might resolve this in the future?”

Both men and women with hidden agendas may be harboring contradictory wishes that they are afraid to share—which is where "I don't want to talk about it" comes in. So instead they sulk. For example, in questions about their relationship: She wants to be married. He wants companionship with no commitments. She wants security. He just wants a sexual partner. She wants to retire and garden. He wants to travel. Both say nothing and they play the game or when one of them brings up the subject, the other says, "I don't want to talk about it."

If a person in our lives disappoints us once or twice, it might be understandable. But what happens if it becomes a pattern? It can only become a pattern if you allow it to happen. To protect yourself and maintain self-respect, say something, in a kind but firm way. Seek marital counseling as a way to save your relationship. 

And if this behavior occurs with a friend, and you lose that friend because he or she is insulted that you spoke up, let the person go. Have a good cry. Then move on. Express gratitude that you have been freed to find a relationship in which the two of you bring out the best in each other.  

(You may wish to read the downside of texting love and revisit the movie, "Sideways," in When Love is Rejected: 8 Ways to Cope in a Texting World.) 

Copyright 2015 Rita Watson.


NB: An interesting discussion of passive-aggressiveness can be found in Psychiatry. 2009 Fall; 72(3): 256–267,  doi:  10.1521/psyc.2009.72.3.256 ,  “The Construct Validity of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder” by Christopher J. Hopwood, PhD, et al.