Telling your partner the truth about how you’re feeling is hard, and it’s definitely harder for some than others. I should know — my partner struggles to get me to open up every day. Communication is imperative in relationships, and if your significant other doesn’t talk about their feelings often, you can run into some real trouble. Perhaps your partner is afraid of starting conflict. Perhaps they’re afraid of potentially facing rejection or pain. Rather than stubbornness, a hesitance to open up is often the result of fear, so if you have a partner who’s unwilling to get down to the nitty-gritty of why they’re unhappy, don’t take it personally.
I spoke to intimacy expert Allana Pratt, who dove deep into this topic for her book 7 Steps to Manifest Your Beloved While Staying True To Yourself. "Craving a deeper connection and wanting your significant other to open up and talk more about their feelings can be a lonely and scary place," Pratt says. "We can go down some pretty dark tunnels when we face our fears around intimacy." Having a closed-off partner is isolating, but luckily, there are some ways you can convince your partner to open up (because chances are that they’re feeling pretty isolated, too).
Create A Zero-Judgment Zone
Because an unwillingness to talk about feeling often stems from fear, the first step for getting your partner to open up is to make them feel safe. In her book, Pratt discusses a method of doing this, which she calls the Dyad. In sociology, a dyad is a group of two people, the smallest social group possible.
"Basically, it’s a two-way conversation, yet all you’re allowed to say in response to the others sharing is, ‘Thank you,’" Pratt explains. "And thank you doesn’t mean you agree — it just means that you heard." According to Pratt, saying, ‘Thank you,’ in response to your partner’s statement creates a "psychologically safe container" where your partner can be heard without being judged. "It allows you to open your heart and be seen and understood," she adds.
Share What You Like About Each Other
A successful Dyad starts by asking your partner to share what they like about you, which you should then respond to by saying what you like about them in return. For five minutes, you and your partner should switch back and forth, sharing your favorite qualities about each other and responding each time with, "Thank you."
Perhaps you love their sense of humor. Maybe it’s their ambition that you really love. Allowing them to hear those things (and giving them a chance to remind themselves what they love about you) will establish the warmth and familiarity that’s needed for your partner to feel comfortable. As Pratt explains, "This creates affinity and opens the heart."
Discuss Your Shared Ideas And Values
Once it is established what you and your partner enjoy about each other, the next step is to ask your partner what they think you align on, and then you can answer the same question for them. Just as before, take turns discussing the ways in which you two see eye-to-eye, saying, "Thank you," with each idea that your partner shares.
For example, you and your partner may both agree that eating dinner together is a priority. You may also both believe that honesty is more important than anything. "This creates the experience that you’re both on the same team," Pratt says.
Discuss The Ideas And Values That You Feel You Don’t Share
The final step in the Dyad is the most important one: Addressing the matters on which you and your partner don’t align. For this final part, you and your partner should spend 20 minutes sharing things you want the other person to understand that you think they may not already understand. Voice those previously unspoken ideas, and as always, respond to each other with gratitude.
Maybe you never realized how much more housework your partner takes on than you. Or maybe this a good time to share that you wished they prioritized date nights more. But try to avoid making accusations, instead saying, "I would appreciate it if household chores because more of a shared effort," (not, "You never do the dishes,") or, "I would love to be able to go on more movie and dinner dates with you," rather than, "Why don’t you ever take me out on dates?"
"This is where you get to share what’s real and true for you in a self responsible way, without blaming or using the word ‘you’," explains Pratt. "It allows you to express the deep emotions and just be understood."
Avoid Using What Your Partner Shares For Retribution Later
Anything that you and your partner share with each other during a Dyad should never be brought up to get back at each other in a future conflict. Doing so will just suggest to your partner that making themselves vulnerable weakens your relationship rather than strengthens it.
"Don’t destroy the sanctuary of safety that was created," Pratt stresses. "Use this to build intimacy connection and vulnerability over time." Make sure that your partner knows that telling you things in confidence should make them feel as though a burden is lifted, not like they’ve just given you material to use against them later on.
Even if your partner isn’t upset about something in particular, it’s never a bad time to open a dialogue (though you two probably shouldn’t be tired, stressed, or irritated when you begin this exercise). The more often you do this, the easier it will be for your partner to share with you — even when they really do have something difficult to discuss.
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