Get Someone to Open Up Emotionally
Edited by Kathy McGraw, VC
Everyone knows that effective communication is essential to having a healthy relationship, and yet it remains one of the most difficult aspects for many people. In a recent survey of its readership, Village found that as many as 42 percent said that they had trouble getting their partners to talk to them about their troubles.There are many reasons why it's so hard, some of them gender-based, while others come down to a fear of rejection and judgment at the hands of the other partner. Here, we examine why so many people struggle with opening up to each other and how you can get your partner to open up to you.
Gender Differences in Communication
The following observations are generalizations about the communication styles of men and women and are not meant to apply to specific men and women. However, they are useful for examining how men and women relate to each other in a broad sense.
- 1Women like to vent. When women talk about their day or about bothersome people or aspects of their lives, they're not looking for solutions to these issues; they just want to get it off their chests. They just want their partner to listen to them and to acknowledge and support them.Advertisement
- If you're a guy, just let her talk without offering a solution. If you try to help, she will assume that you are trying to "fix" her, and that's not what she is looking for from you.
- Acknowledge her. Let her know that you are listening to her and support her.
- 2Women are in tune with their emotions and the emotions of those around them. Since women have been socialized to be comfortable with expressing emotions, and since their brains are wired for nurturing young, they tend to be better at picking up on the emotions of others and empathizing with them.Advertisement
- 3Men like to find solutions. If a man has a problem for which he can't find a solution, he will keep it to himself until an answer presents itself, or until he thinks that talking about it will result in a solution.
- 4Men prefer to share while doing other activities. When men talk to each other, it's usually in conjunction with something they are doing, such as working on a project or doing a chore. At the very least, they are more comfortable sharing while seated side by side rather than face to face.
- Ladies, if you want your guy to share, try doing an activity with him where you need to work together. For instance, you could try doing a puzzle together.
- Make sure that you are seated side by side, shoulder to shoulder rather than face to face.
- 5Men are uncomfortable talking about their emotions. Men have been socialized to hide their emotions, that showing their feelings isn't manly. Accordingly, they tend to get uncomfortable about sharing how they are feeling with others.
Reasons Why Someone Might Be Reluctant To Share
Fears of rejection, judgment, and of the resulting aftermath are among the top reasons why almost everyone finds it hard to talk to their partner about difficult situations. The stronger their fears, the more trouble they will have opening up, and if their fears are validated, even in the smallest way, they will become even more reluctant to share in the future.
- 1They are afraid you will reject them. The fear of rejection can be incredibly strong. Your partner may fear that you will no longer love them or want them in your life if you know their secret, or about the situation.Advertisement
- 2They are afraid of being judged. No one likes to feel like they're under a microscope, having every flaw judged and possibly held against them. The more someone feels at risk of being judged and found wanting, the more difficult it will be for them to open up.
- 3They fear the consequences. If your partner believes that you will get upset or angry with them, which will result in an unpleasant encounter, they will be very reluctant to share with you. If they believe it will result in some sort of punishment, such as you withholding comfort and affection from them, it will be especially difficult for them to open up to you.
- 4They fear losing face. Everyone has their pride, and if what they have to say will make them look bad, they aren't likely to be forthcoming.
Examine Your Reactions to Your Partner's Sharing
Knowing the fears that lie at the base of your partner's reluctance to open up to you, you can now examine how your reactions to their communication attempts in the past may have discouraged them from doing so in the future. Once you realize your mistakes, you can work on correcting them and making your relationship healthier in the process. Specifically, be aware of how you have reacted to their sharing bad news in the past. If you have reacted with anger or out-of-control emotions, you have shown them that you are not a safe person upon whom they can rely to listen to their concerns. You will need to counter this perception, which will take time and a lot of work on your part.
How to Encourage Someone to Open Up
In order to get your partner to talk to you honestly and openly, you need to reassure them that their fears about doing so are unfounded, or at the very least, aren't as dire as they assume they are. In other words, they have to feel safe with you.
- 1Try to act reassuringly. Tell them that no matter what, that you will always love and care for them, and then act accordingly. Whenever they confess or tell you something that you don't want to hear, be sure to hug them and reiterate your continued love and acceptance of them.
- 2Don't judge. As hard as it may be, try not to judge your partner when they tell you something that they have done or about their past which may not paint them in the best light. Remember that nobody is perfect and that you have made your share of mistakes in life.
- 3Try to remain calm. Be strong for your partner and listen to what they have to say quietly and without flying off the handle. They need to know that you can handle their news. If you are the last to know about things that happen in your family, it may be because you tend to react badly when presented with unpleasant facts.
- 4Share stories about yourself. There is a rule in sociology known as the Principle of Reciprocation which states that people will respond with like for like. In this case, if you share facts about yourself or talk about your day, your partner is more likely to share the same with you
- 5Be honest. You can't expect your partner to be honest with you if you aren't honest with them.
- 6Agree to discuss the issue. If there something specific that you want to talk about with your partner, set aside some time for the discussion and come to an understanding with them about the parameters ahead of time.
- 7Lay out your wished outcome. Tell your partner what you would like to get out of the discussion, but don't close off the opportunity for different results or for compromise.
- 8Listen to your partner. Use active listening to ensure that you are focusing on your partner's words.
- Repeat your partner's words back to them and ask them if your interpretation is accurate.
- Ask questions and for clarification where needed.
- 9Offer them validation. For example, you can say something like "I understand where you're coming from" or "thank you for telling me."
- 10Acknowledge and label the emotions they are expressing. For instance, if they appear sad, you can tell them "I can see how sad you feel about this..." etc.
- 11Share your insights into the situation. Sharing insights is not the same as offering solutions. Rather than telling them what they should do to solve the issue, offer them examples of similar situations from your own life and then ask them if they are accurate
- 12Be open to criticism. While no one enjoys it, listening to the criticisms of others is an important way that we grow as people. Try not to dismiss what your partner has to say out of hand; think about its merits and don't assume that it's coming from a bad place.
- 13Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. In other words, don't assume the worst of your partner. Instead, assume they have good intentions until facts prove otherwise.
- 14Don't blame your partner. The blame game gets you nowhere fast. Set aside blame and work on solutions instead.
- 15Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions require elaboration beyond yes and no and encourage discussion.
Categories : Relationships
Recent edits by: Kathy McGraw