How To Make Opening Up In Relationships Less Scary When You’re The Emotionally Unavailable One
Being able to connect with another person on a deeper level is one of the most rewarding things about being in a relationship. But having an emotional connection with someone requires you to be vulnerable. For some, that's really risky, especially if you've been burned before. So what can you do to make opening up to your partner less scary when you're the emotionally unavailable one in your relationship?
If you're looking for a healthy relationship, it's typically recommended to stay away from people who are "emotionally unavailable." But as couples coaches Roman and Rochelle Urias of Harmonized Tribe, tell Bustle, "Being emotionally unavailable isn’t uncommon. It’s usually found in every relationship to some degree." There's likely going to be one person that's a little more emotionally invested in the relationship than the other, they say. It doesn't necessarily mean that they don't want to be in the relationship, but may use it as a form of protection.
It's easy to write off someone who's emotionally unavailable as one who doesn't have feelings or want closeness. But this is usually the farthest thing from the truth. "They just have never had success in knowing or sharing their feelings," Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Lucy Bichsel, Ph.D., tells Bustle. For some, past trauma from childhood can also play a role in this. Regardless of why this happens, being all-in emotionally is too risky. But it doesn't mean you shouldn't take that risk.
So if you're the emotionally unavailable one in the relationship, here's how you can make opening up seem a lot less scary, according to experts.
1. Give Yourself Permission To Do It
When you've been hurt in the past, it's easy to tell yourself that you're never going to be vulnerable around someone again. But as the Uriases say, resisting is only going to make things worse. It's hard to form a deep bond with someone when you have a bunch of walls up. So if you can give yourself permission to share even the smallest bits and pieces of yourself with your partner, you're off to a good start.
2. Check In With Yourself And Make Sure You Feel Completely Safe With Your Partner
"Don't do it in a relationship where you feel you'll be attacked or invalidated for sharing," Bichsel says. "Do it when and where you feel trust." No one can force you to open up when you're not ready. If someone does, they're not the right person for you. A partner who's kind and caring, will be patient and understanding. They'll do their best to make you feel comfortable because they know how hard difficult it is for you. "If you're afraid you'll be shamed or invalidated, don't do it," she says.
3. Repeat Positive Affirmations To Yourself
When you've decided to make a major change in your life like opening up to someone for the first time, it's easy to let doubts and negative thoughts overwhelm you. To prevent that, repeat positive affirmations to yourself. "Remind yourself that this is a huge step and be compassionate," Bichsel says. "It might feel incredibly awkward, but with great risk you get the reward of closeness."
4. Prime Yourself For Acceptance
"Imagine sharing this piece of yourself to someone who really loves you," Bichsel says. "Imagine how they would receive it, what they would say, and how they would listen or treat you." Because this person loves you, they're going to respond in positive ways. So take those good feelings of being accepted and let it help you open up to your partner. If you can image yourself having a favorable outcome, it will make you that much more excited to actually do it.
5. Be Upfront About The Fact That Being Vulnerable Is New For You
One of the best ways to start the conversation is to be honest about how opening up is scary for you. "If the other person knows you're taking a risk and they care, they will be more receptive to what you have to say," Bichsel says. If you start with this, you've just taken a huge step. So that's definitely something to be proud of.
6. Set Boundaries
You don't have to share everything all at once. "If you feel flooded or overwhelmed, you can always temporarily put your wall back up," Bichsel says. Be OK with saying "I don't know" or "I haven't fully processed it yet" if your partner wants you to share more. Set boundaries for yourself. If your partner is understanding, they'll wait until you're ready to share more. "Practice makes it better," Bichsel says. "Keep peeking out from behind the wall. Do it again and notice what it feels like each time." If sharing little bits and pieces at a time gets easier and makes you feel closer to your partner, you're on the right track. But if it's starting to bring up "intense fear, insecurity, or bad memories," Bichsel says you may want to consider discussing this with a professional.
7. Start Small And Positive
"Think in advance about something you wish your partner knew about you that would make you feel good if they knew," Bichsel says. "If that goes well, you can move on to the 'darker' stuff." It's all about taking baby steps.
Opening up to your partner when you're emotionally unavailable can be challenging. It can feel really risky to put yourself out there emotionally, but try your best. You may happily find that the rewards greatly outweigh the risks.