In order to have a deep connection with your partner, it's important to allow yourself to open up and be vulnerable. But if you feel like there's an emotional blockage in your relationship, pay close attention to your behavior. Because even if you're not completely aware that you're doing it, experts say that some seemingly innocent habits you have can build emotional barriers in your relationship.
"In a relationship, you create emotional barriers to protect yourself from what you've experienced in the past (heartbreak, abuse, abandonment)," Yue Xu, host and creator of the Dateable Podcast, tells Bustle. "As you put up more and more barriers after each adversity, you will become disconnected from yourself."
In turn, your partner may sense that you're not fully present in the relationship, making it much harder for them to connect with you on a much deeper level. According to relationship coach, Vikki Louise, a relationship with emotional barriers is one without trust. When you're building these walls up, whether you realize it or not, it can lead to things like miscommunication, dishonesty and judgement. "This will continue to spiral, ultimately separating you from your partner, emotionally," she says.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to break down those emotional walls. The first thing is recognize the habits that can cause them in the first place. So here are some seemingly innocent habits that can build emotional barriers in your relationship, according to experts.
1. Withholding Information In Order To Protect Your Partner
You may think you're doing a good thing by keeping your stress, anxieties, and worries from your partner, but that's not necessarily the case. While "protecting" your partner can seem innocent enough, Louise says you may be finding a reason to justify not sharing parts of yourself, "especially the parts you feel anxious, worried, ashamed or fearful of." Hiding your vulnerabilities is one surefire way to block the emotional connection from forming in your relationship.
2. Waiting For The "Right Time" To Have An Important Conversation
"Couples create barriers by failing to connect with themselves with what is really going on and then failing to communicate it," Louise says. This can start as easily as deciding to put off an important conversation for another time. Days, weeks, or even months later, you may realize you've been holding off on having this important discussion until you decide to not have it at all. Keeping your true feelings from your partner will only serve as another blockage to your connection. As Louise says, "If you are not sharing your thoughts and feelings, you are not having an honest relationship."
3. Working Extra Hard So You And Your Partner Can Be Financially Secure
Emotional barriers are behaviors that keep your partner from getting too close. Sometimes, it's the little things that you need to pay attention to. For instance, working really hard to secure a good future for you and your partner is good. But if all your focus is on work at the present moment, your relationship might suffer. "Having emotional barriers means that you are probably not as emotionally connected as you or your partner would like to be," licensed and marriage family therapist, Heidi McBain, MA, tells Bustle. When you aren't emotionally connected, it will be hard to have a truly satisfying relationship. According to her, giving your partner your full attention after work or after spending the day apart can be helpful in building an emotional connection.
4. Staying Busy To Keep Your Sense Of Independence In The Relationship
It's important to have a life outside of your relationship. In fact, it's healthy. But if you're "filling up your calendar" in an attempt to avoid codependency, Xu says it can leave you with very little time to just sit and reflect with your partner about your lives and the relationship. Being independent in your relationship is great, but being interdependent is even better. "Having regular check-ins will help uncover some of these barriers and also create a safe space for vulnerability," she says.
5. Spending A Lot Of Time With Your Partner
"Emotional barriers typically result from past unresolved emotional pain or trauma," licensed psychotherapist, Justyna Wawrzonek, LCSW, tells Bustle. "When certain unresolved emotions are triggered in a relationship that is carried over from the past, problems can arise within the relationship." For example, if you have abandonment issues that are unresolved, you will do your best to make sure you and your partner do everything together even if you're unaware you're going it. "You may become very upset [...] when your other partner wants time alone," she says. This can be frustrating for both you and your partner and might create distance between the two of you. If this seems to be the case, talk to your partner about the fears you are having, and they may be able to offer some assurance.
6. Downplaying Compliments
Downplaying compliments may seem innocent enough. But according to Wawrzonek, this behavior may have deeper ties to childhood. For instance, if you have a history of being put down or made to feel like you're not enough, you may have a hard time accepting that your partner truly thinks only positive things of you. "This can play out as a deflection of compliments, or a constant need for reassurance," she says. "Over time, this can be a difficult dynamic to navigate for the partner who is open and honest about their positive feelings for their partner." It can make them feel like they're never getting through to you.
7. Attempting To Make Tense Situations Lighter By Making A Joke
Infusing humor into a tense situation can seem like a good idea. But according to Wawrzonek, this can create emotional barriers in your relationship because it might seem like you never take things seriously. "Some may use excessive humor or joking around as a way to deflect attention from their mistakes or shortcomings [and as] a way to avoid feeling that unresolved emotional wound of feeling wrong or bad for making a mistake," she says. While humor can help you connect in the right moment, it can also build up walls if used to avoid a serious talk.
Breaking down the emotional barriers in your relationship doesn't have to be too difficult. As psychologist and relationship counselor Dr. Paulette Sherman tells Bustle, "The first step is to acknowledge the block and then to identify strategies to notice it and choose differently." For instance, if you know that you have a habit of saving important conversations for later, ask yourself what's stopping you from doing it now, and then find the courage to bring it up.
If you can be honest with yourself about the emotional barriers you have in your relationship and why, it will be much easier for you to be honest with your partner so you can break down those walls together.