In order to capture refugees' experiences and narratives it is necessary to create space within research to be able to notice the untold within the interviews. This article focuses on the ways that Iranian women refugees (in the Netherlands and the United States) narrate their experiences of the past and the present or stay silent when the experiences are too difficult to talk about. Including the moments of silence within the process of analysing the stories has helped the researcher to discover different layers within the interviews. The main argument of this article is that the combination of the life stories method and the comparative nature of the research have especially helped to find out about the different ways in which the past is positioned within the present narratives. The life stories in particular have created the necessary space to listen to the often untold stories of refugees. This has enabled the researcher to go beyond the expressed words in order to understand different layers of expression within the narratives. © The Author . Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.