Relationships

What To Say To Someone Who’s Leaving You On Read

“Do you want to share what you’re thinking?”

A woman lies on her couch texting a friend who's ignoring her.
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You’ve checked your phone multiple times in the past day, but it’s dead, silent, a big ole zero. Your friend is ignoring you, and you have no idea why.

“Many conflicting emotions might arise if a friend gives you the silent treatment,” Rachel Hoffman, PhD, LCSW, head of therapy at Real, tells Bustle. “You might feel angry, sad, confused and betrayed.” And while you might want to pour all these emotions out to them — or call them until they pick up — thoughtfully texting someone who’s ignoring you may help the situation.

The silent treatment can come out of nowhere, or it can be triggered by a specific incident. “It is important to understand what caused your friend to start withdrawing from the relationship,” psychologist Charmaine Jackman, PhD, tells Bustle. “For example, was there a conflict (perceived or real) or did they simply stop responding to you for an unexplained reason? Is this a pattern that they have engaged in before or is it connected to a mental health condition?” Depression can often make people withdraw or neglect relationships. These factors will color how you respond to the sudden wave of silence coming out of your phone.

Of course, if your friend is leaving you on read, you won’t have any idea why they’re ignoring you, and it could have nothing to do with you at all. Maybe they’re busy with a work project, or their new apartment has shoddy service. If you need them to see your text ASAP, you might try asking if they can respond by a certain time, or a friendly nudge like “Are you busy?” If that doesn’t work, you’ll want to try getting to the bottom of the silent treatment. When you’re staring at your WhatsApp wondering what to say to the blank screen, here are some tips.

“Are You OK?”

If the reasoning behind their silence is unclear, it’s valid to ask if they’re all right. “You can reach out to them in any capacity, be it email, text, or phone call with the understanding that they might not respond,” Hoffman says. “Remember to have empathy and share your concern that you have not heard from them.”

“I’m Here For You”

If there was a conflict, your friend’s silent treatment may be their way of processing, and taking space to figure out how to respond,” Jackman says. Some people struggle with healthy communication and need time to deal with fights or disagreements. If that’s the case, she says, give them space, but be willing to listen to their concerns when they resurface, and to communicate how you feel in a thoughtful way.

“I’m Sad That We Feel Distant Right Now”

Feeling down that they’ve disappeared and not sure why? “Express sadness in the newfound distance of the friendship,” Hoffman says. This isn’t meant to sound manipulative; it’s to tell them you value the relationship and their disappearance has impacted you.

“Do You Want To Share What You’re Thinking?”

“No matter how close you are to someone, you will never know their every thought, every fear, every experience,” Hoffman says. Something may be going on, related to you or not, and you have no idea about it. If you choose this path, prepare to listen to their response, even if it might be confrontational or upsetting (or have nothing to do with you at all).

“Sometimes the answer might not be what we want to hear,” Jackman says. They might be angry, or need space without wanting to give you an explanation, and that can feel really hurtful. At that point, she says, process your emotions in your own space, without taking them out on your friend.

“This Funny Thing Happened”

“Sometimes when people withdraw in relationships, they are dealing with their guilt or sense of inadequacy,” Jackman says. “Sending a text letting them know that you care for them and are available to talk when they are ready can be a source of comfort.” This tactic can be reassuring, she says, but try not to send too many messages or force a conversation before they want to talk to you.

“I’m Sorry”

Silence post-fight is pretty common, and even if you’re sure you’re right, take the cooling-off time to look at how the issue played out. “Acknowledging your role in the situation can reassure them that you can communicate honestly,” Jackman says. “For example, you can apologize and ask when they might be ready to talk.” If you’ve hurt them and they don’t want to talk to you, honor the space and time they need.

“I’ll Respect Your Space”

Intentional silence, Jackman says, is a boundary designed to help your friend process their feelings. It may be difficult to swallow, but it might be helping them. And it can be helpful for them to know you’ll let them have space. “Expressing any sort of anger or disappointment might only hurt the relationship further,” Hoffman says. Don’t engage in an arms race of silence or aggression if you can help it; just keep things civil.

Once you and your friend move through the silent treatment, you can talk about how to communicate better in future. But being left on read all the time might speak to bigger issues. “If your friend engages in a pattern of withdrawing when there is a conflict and is not able to work through the situation together, then you may need to evaluate whether you can tolerate this communication style over the long-term,” Jackman says.

Experts:

Rachel Hoffman, PhD, LCSW

Charmain Jackman, PhD