A major part of relationships is intimacy, but some people take much longer becoming comfortable sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings. This can be frustrating if you're someone who is very open, but there are a number of ways you can get your partner to open up that are both natural and respectful. You never want to force someone to unveil their true feelings, but you also want to feel like you're in a relationship where you have candid conversations with your partner.
"If a partner is not opening up their feelings, then one of two things are going on," says clinical therapist Lynn R. Zakeri, LCSW over email. "One possibility is that they do not have the vocabulary to do so, and they have never articulated these feelings before. The other possibility is the vulnerability part. Being vulnerable is a huge risk. If I tell you how I actually feel about you, then you have the power to hurt me. Although this is true even if they do not say it out loud, it feels like there is more at stake, and it feels more risky to hand over that intimacy."
If you want to know your partner's true feelings without pressuring them into it, consider one of these 11 ways to get your partner to open up.
1Ask An Honest, Direction Question
Sure, it seems obvious to just ask, but so many people instead choose to be passive aggressive or skirt around the issue, which isn't an effective way of communicating. "Ask a direction question like 'What are we and where are we going? Not future-tripping, but right now, how do you see us?'" says Zakeri. It might be scary, but it's the best way to get an honest answer about something specific.
2Share Your Own Vulnerabilities
Let your partner know some of your own feelings and struggles. "When you share and expose your vulnerability, the other person feels safe to do the same with you," says psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish over email. This can help get your partner to trust you.
3Create A Specific Time To Talk
Instead of catching your partner off-guard with a serious conversation, find a specific time to have a discussion where both people feel comfortable and relaxed. "By creating some specific time to talk in a gentle, relaxed way and instead of answering them or commenting, you can reflect back what they have said and empathize," says couples therapist Evie Shafner, LMFT over email. "In other words, create more space for them to speak."
4Do Another Bonding Activity
People are more likely to open up when they have a strong bond with others, and that bond can be created by doing something fun together. "Sometimes doing an activity together that isn't just focused on talking creates an opportunity for more sharing," says Shafner.
5Be A Good Listener
"Too often we are waiting for our turn to speak and get our point across," says therapist Lindsey Huttner, LCSW over email. "Be curious about how the other person feels, not about getting your voice heard. Make sure you allow time for silence and the person to thoughtfully share when they are ready. Stay in the present moment during the discussion without straying into the past."
6Pay Attention To Your Body Language
Pay attention to your body language and what this conveys to the other person. "Do you appear calm, confident, and open to listening?" says Huttner. "Make sure your tone of voice is soft and relaxed, while not being timid and nervous. You need to show your partner you are available and ready to listen to them while also letting them know you are not going to shy away from anything they may choose to share with you."
7Validate Their Feelings
"It sounds simple but most of us do not know how to properly validate another person," says Huttner. One way to validate someone how someone else feels is by repeating back what they are explaining to you using your own words and emotion — without judgement. "You can fully convey you understand someone’s feelings and point of view even if you do not fully agree, so this is a great one to use," she says.
8Practice Caring Behaviors
"If you want your partner to engage, it's important they feel connected to you," says counselor Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin over email. "Show them you care through doing what makes them feel cared for. Find out their love language. It may be quality time, physical touch, acts of service, words of affirmation, or gifts. Whatever it is, perform these behaviors so they feel connected."
9Acknowledge What You Notice
Pay attention to specific reactions of your partner and how they feel in certain situations. Bring it up to them in an empathetic way. "When we are seen, we feel safer to open up," says Zakeri. "Say something like, 'When you were talking about work, you seemed aggravated. Is everything okay?'"
10Try Something New
"Doing the same thing gets us the same results," says Huttner. "Try the opposite approach of what you have done in the past, and see if it makes a difference. Perhaps your partner feels cornered when you bring up difficult topics and put on the spot. Try a softer tactic to begin the discussion."
11Go To Therapy
People often think of therapy as a dirty word, but the point of therapy is to help people learn that vocabulary to identify your emotions. "That is what we do as therapists," says Zakeri. If you yourself are in therapy, you can invite your partner to a session, or they can seek out therapy of their own. "Getting to know yourself makes it a lot safer for someone you trust to get to know about you because it is territory you yourself are familiar with," she says.