It’s difficult to connect, or solve an issue, when there’s pieces of information missing.
Many couples feel issues are unresolved after making up, and the reason could be because someone’s or both person’s needs weren’t the focus—or even mentioned.
There are many reasons why someone doesn’t share their vulnerabilities. Here are examples of what might be going through their mind:
—There’s no point. No one’s listening.
—I’ll be judged or later it will be used against me.
—It’s going to start another argument.
—I don’t want to be seen as weak or insecure.
—I’ll just hear I’m overreacting.
—They won’t understand.
—As soon as I open my mouth, I’ll be hearing how I should feel instead.
—What if they tell their friends all my business?!?
Even us “sharers” can relate to some witholding for these reasons.
Before we jump in on how to get your partner to open up, let’s clarify what feelings are. Feelings, like concernces and fears and needs, are all valid. Your partner’s perspective makes it so. Their perspective is their truth and your perspective is your truth. Neither are wrong, bad, or misguided.
Also, consider that feelings flow and change. And they never travel alone. Usually they are accompanied by another feeling. Sad and mad. Afraid and nervous. Happy and excited. Upset and jealous. Angry and offended.
The reason we want our partner to share and open up to us is so we become their confidant.
We want our partner to share with us what they don’t share with anyone else.
We want them to feel comfortable with us. And we want to feel comfortable with them. Imagine the consequences when they share their vulnerabilities with someeone else and not us. It opens the door to an ugly situation. This may lead us to block off more feelings, causing more distance. Or reconcile prematurely out of desperation. Let’s not go down that rabbit hole. Join me down the pleasant road to growth, where all marvelousness blooms (excuse the Alice in Wonderland decriptions, as we write this in the English country in the middle of spring). I know what you’re thinking. Pleasant? Growth? This sounds like any oxymoron. Well, this path is much more pleasant, filled with rewards and connection and intimacy, as compared to keeping the doors shut.
If we want to get some information, our first priority is to accept the other person’s experience. If you get the hunch they are upset but not sharing—and it’s starting to leak through passive-aggressiveness—be ready to accept their feelings. Even if you don’t agree (because accepting and agreeing are not the same thing).
No one wants to share to a critic. (Tweet it!)
To encourage all future sharing, we need to feel validated. We know we aren’t feeling the same thing in the same situation. We are different people—last time I checked.
It’s healthy to be different, not discounted.
The difference isn’t a sign of which is the most valuable. This isn’t a competition. It’s 2-halves coming together. It’s a simple puzzle and figuring out where the pieces fit.
So it’s important to be open to what our partner will share, because it takes a lot of courage to show our fragile side.
A 2010 study in the UK found that couples who were empathic with each other were happier and less prone to depression. The magic is in empathy to get your partner to open up.
I’m sure you have things to share that are important to you, and would like your partner to validate and listen to your feelings. Not just passively listen, but be attentive.
We all struggle with this. We get distracted or overwhelmed.
Empathy has 3 ingredients (I’m always up for a recipe with a few ingredients) by Dr. Shari Young Kuchenbecker’s model:
- Discrimination & Labeling
- Assuming Perspective
- Emotional Capacity
All it means is to identify what your partner’s feelings (Discrimination & Labeling), imagine yourself as them and in their shoes (Assuming Perspective), and respond in your own words validating their emotions and experiences (Emotional Capacity).
Start the dialogue by saying:
—I want to hear what’s on your mind. I don’t want you to go through, whatever you’re going through, alone.
—I don’t want you to be afraid. I care about how you feel and even though we don’t see eye-to-eye, I don’t want to disregard your feelings.
—I may have said or done things that seem I don’t care or make you feel unsure if you should share. I’m learning and growing and I want you to feel comfortable sharing with me.
You may get turned down. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Something deeply vulnerable isn’t easy to share and they may need consistent actions. Start small. When they share frustrations about work or relatives, be empathic. When you end up watching a disapointing film, be empathic. When you have a delicious dessert, be empathic. When they have a success, celebrate!
All to validate their experiences. The downers and the uplifters.
We have a challenge for you. This Saturday marks National Honesty Day and we want you to share with your partner why you care for them to open up. Why do you care to hear their feelings and experiences?
To inspire us all, let us know in the comments why you care—and to help you put into words what you’ll tell your partner.
We’ll be tweeting ours on Saturday.
It doesn’t matter when you tell your partner, but don’t let it pass this weekend.
If you’re up for taking your communication to the next level, we have a FREE 11-Day Communication Challenge you can join now.
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