If you've ever been in a relationship where your partner won’t talk about their feelings, then you already know how difficult and frustrating it can be. It feels like one minute everything is fine between you, then the next, without warning, an impenetrable wall comes down and you end up feeling totally shut out. While it's probably not intentional or malicious on your partner's part, this kind of block can prevent your relationship from growing, warns Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples' therapist in Los Angeles. "For a healthy, open, authentic, and truly fulfilling, loving relationship to stand the test of time, both partners really need to see the wisdom of embracing open and honest communications," he tells Elite Daily. The question is, how do you develop that level of emotional intimacy and communication if your partner isn't opening up? Here's how the experts say to approach this all-too-common relationship issue.
Why Some People Just Won’t Open Up.
It’s not uncommon to your partner's distance personally when they refuse to open up and talk about their feelings. However, Christie Tcharkhoutian, a licensed marriage and family therapist and professional matchmaker at Three Day Rule, says it's important to not to take their resistance to opening up as a slight against you, because it's usually more complicated than that. “It's important to explore with your partner the reasons they won't open up, and about the topics they won't open up to you regarding. It's important not to personalize their defensiveness as having to do with you,” Tcharkhoutian tells Elite Daily.
There can be several reasons why your partner isn’t comfortable talking about their feelings, according to Dr. Brown. "[It could be that] they don't feel safe, in general, opening up. They have been hurt, betrayed, or shamed when they have opened up in the past. Perhaps they feel that you’re more demanding that they open up, and are resisting you because they don't want to be controlled. Quite often, the core issue for people who have difficulty opening up is that they generally don't trust that the world is a safe place for them emotionally,” he explains.
Lead By Example.
Understanding the potential root cause of your partner's feelings is helpful, but it's just the first step in changing the dynamic. The next, says Dr. Brown, is to lead by example and create the model of behavior you want to see in your relationship. “In order to help someone who is ordinarily shy or reticent to initially open up, try taking the lead by self-disclosing some of your more intimate and private thoughts. This sends a message that you value emotional expression and can help open a door for them as well,” he suggests. “Perhaps talk about some of your own difficulties and challenges opening up. This takes the pressure off of them and they, in turn, get a better idea of what you’re asking of them.”
Putting yourself out there this way may feel challenging at first, but Dr. Brown assures it’s worth the effort. “The primary way that we establish, maintain, and grow our relationships is by being truly open with our partners. This requires vulnerability and courage in order to build much-needed trust so that we know we’re safe when we open ourselves up," he says.
Be Patient With Your Partner.
Once you've set the precedent for the kind of openness you’d like to foster in your relationship, then comes the hard part. “I recommend patience,” says Dr. Brown. “The way you get there over time is to build trust, courage, vulnerability, kindness, persistence, patience, and assumption of goodwill. In the very best of relationships, you’re going to be tested. That's OK. You just need to build openness as a cornerstone of your love.”
Establishing the kind of trust your partner needs to feel safe sharing their feelings may take time, says Tcharkhoutian, who also agrees that patience is key. “The process of opening up to your partner begins with creating a relationship built on unconditional love and trust. This process must happen organically throughout your initial dating period, combining experiences of deeper conversations mixed with experiences of enjoying each other's company in a light-hearted way,” she suggests. “As the saying goes, ‘the best way to have a friend is to be a friend,’ and in the same way, the best way to have a partner open up is to open up to them. The more you’re vulnerable, the more you create the space for your partner to be vulnerable in return,” she concludes.
The takeaway here is that while communication and emotional openness very important parts of any relationship, they’re something that may take a little longer to achieve. But by approaching the problem with patience and empathy, it is possible to break down the barriers over time. So hang in there, you’ve got this.
Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples' therapist in Los Angeles
Christie Tcharkhoutian, licensed marriage and family therapist and professional matchmaker at Three Day Rule