How To Help Your Partner Open Up To You, According To Experts
One of the many perks of being in a relationship is having someone who you can always go to if you're having an especially bad day or if you just received some amazing news. But if your partner doesn't share their feelings, you might be frustrated with them, especially if you're someone who's pretty forthcoming. Luckily, there are a number of small things you can do to help them feel safe when it comes to opening up to you, according to experts.
First of all, trust your intuition about the situation, because you're probably closer to your partner than anyone else is, so you have a good read on the situation. "If you suspect your partner is not sharing their feelings with you, then you likely have picked up on cues to what your partner is feeling," Dr. Annie Hsueh, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in couples therapy, tells Bustle. Maybe this is a recent change for them, and they're going through something that's making it hard for them to share. Or maybe they've struggled with opening up for as long as they can remember. No matter what the reason is, being patient and empathetic can go a long way.
Here are some tips for helping your partner share their feelings, according to experts.
1. Tell Them What You See
Sometimes, other people are much more efficient at understanding you than you even are yourself. While you might assume that your partner realizes that they aren't being emotionally vulnerable with you, it could simply be that they feel like this is a perfectly healthy way to act. Start a conversation about their inability to open up by bringing up what you see them doing (or not doing) in a non-judgemental and non-blaming way, Hsueh says. Point out past situations when you would have really like to hear them express their feelings, so that they can get a good idea of what you actually want from them.
2. Try To Understand Their History
If you and your partner have had in-depth conversations about your childhoods, you might have a good idea whether their family was good at sharing their feelings or if it was an environment where everyone tended to keep things bottled up. Knowing this about your partner can help you recognize why they might find expressing themselves difficult. "Some people may be socialized to not express feelings, particularly more difficult emotions such as sadness or anger," Hsueh says. "You can think about your partner’s upbringing and whether your partner is generally open towards sharing their feelings with important people in their lives."
3. Tell Them About Your Feelings
If your partner hasn't been in many environments in which emotional expression was encouraged, they might not totally realize what that could look like. That's why if you open up to them about your feelings, you could help show them what it's like to share in this way. "Be open and invite your partner to talk to you about how they are feeling, both in general about potential stressors in life, and in your relationship," Hsueh says. If your partner hears you speak openly and honestly when you're feeling discouraged or upset with them about something they said to you, they could realize that your relationship is a safe and encouraging space in which to do so.
4. Connect Regularly
No matter how long you and your partner have been together, you probably spend quality time with each other regularly. Maybe you have a weekly movie date or you never miss a chance to explore your local park. In addition to doing fun activities together, make sure that you set aside time to allow for an emotional connection. "Connect with your partner regularly so that there is space for each of you to initiate these types of conversations," Hsueh says. It might seem overly clinical at first, but try planning weekly times to have "relationship meetings," during which you can chat about what's happening in your relationship and how you're feeling in general.
5. Give Them Space
While you might be the kind of person who has no qualms about telling anyone and everyone when you're having a bad day, it's important to recognize that everyone is built a little differently. Your partner could just need to internalize their emotions before expressing them to others. "Some people may need more time to process their own feelings before they share them," Hsueh says. "For example, those with a more introverted style may process feelings this way," she says. "You can observe whether your partner may be someone who prefers to have some time to process their feelings on their own first before discussing them with another person."
6. Discuss How Each Of You Deals With Emotions
Although you can certainly observe your partner's sharing style and make assumptions about why they aren't quite as forthcoming as you think they should be, it might be best to actually give them the chance to express this in their own words. Instead of trying to subtly convince your partner to tell you how they feel, try speaking with them directly about how each of you process your feelings and the best way to support each other, Hsueh says. They might explain that they need some space to figure out their own emotions before coming to you with them, for example.
7. Give Them "Permission" To Be Angry
Your partner is their own person with freedom and agency, so it might initially sound strange to try giving them "permission" to be angry. But this can actually be helpful for them, family and relationship psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish, tells Bustle. Depending on the dynamics of their childhood environment, they might be afraid to express traditionally "negative" emotions like anger. So explaining that they should feel free to tell you when they're mad in a respectful way can be very freeing for them. "Pent-up anger accumulated only festers and grows and emerges in unexpected, unwanted ways down the road," Walfish says.
While having a partner who has trouble expressing themselves can be frustrating, do your best to be patient and understanding with them. They could just need some extra encouragement to share their feelings.