5 Ways to Encourage Your Partner to Open Up
Everyone communicates differently, whether that’s because of cultural, societal or educational factors, or maybe just the wiring of our brains.
Here are five tactics that will help you take a step in the right direction to improve communication with your partner.
1. Stop asking them to open up.
You want your partner to open up, and asking them directly is good, but try to refrain from repeating yourself. Pestering someone makes them want to respond less. (Anyone who has kids understands this!)
You also don’t want to use dramatic words like, “We need to talk,” which can feel intimidating. The best strategy might be to talk about your own feelings when it feels natural, or try one of these approaches:
- Relate any questions you have to the media you’re using (TV shows, podcasts and so on) at the moment—not in an obvious, press-pause way, but just to get their take.
- Write down your questions in a journal. This may help you put yourself in their shoes and answer the question for yourself.
- Ask your partner if they would feel more comfortable writing thoughts down, in which case, you can share your journal. Think of it like you’re sharing a story and each one of you gets to write the next paragraph.
If your partner is simply not a big talker, be patient and give them freedom. They could be struggling with anxiety or embarrassment that will take some time to get past. Think of them like a cat who never comes to you when called. However, when they feel the freedom to come and go as they choose, they’re suddenly sitting in your lap.
2. Don’t belittle your partner.
When your partner shares feelings or intimate details with you, be sure to respond positively and avoid any disparaging comments or expressions that might be misinterpreted as impatience. Making the situation awkward for your partner could just make them clam up again.
Reinforce their efforts with statements such as, “Thank you for sharing that with me; I really appreciate that explanation.” Encouragement brings about more sharing.
It won’t happen overnight, but your partner will eventually feel like they can share safely without feeling like a failure for any admissions.
3. Try to understand why they don't open up more.
Your partner’s reluctance to share feelings could be for any reason—maybe even one you would never have guessed.
You may want to consider your partner’s family history. Perhaps there might be similar patterns of behavior and communication between your partner and their immediate family. If you can get some clear understanding of events from their past, you might gain insight and patience to overcome deep-set obstacles.
Not everyone may be as open as you are. Your partner might be getting bad advice from their boss, who makes statements like, “The last time I had a ‘talk’ with my partner, it turned into a screaming match.” You’ll never know, but it’s OK to anticipate that this might be the case and to wait for your partner to realize you’re nothing like their boss’ partner, and perhaps it’s OK to open up to you.
If you do uncover painful stories from your partner’s childhood or beyond, you might also want to consider couples counseling, or even individual therapy sessions for your partner to work through painful issues in a private setting without fear of judgment.
The important part of this process is that you’re there for your partner.
4. Listen between the lines.
Most people have behavioral patterns and hot-button issues, and you can tell when something is going to upset them. You may want to just listen and note it mentally for the future, or you may feel comfortable asking if their feelings relate to a past event.
For example, if your partner is not very good at coming up with great gift ideas, consider whether they came from a family that didn’t celebrate birthdays or holidays, or wasn’t good at expressing gratitude. Maybe it’s just a confidence issue when choosing gifts.
Maneuver the conversations so when they say something like, “You know, I always get nervous giving gifts because I had this girlfriend who always criticized my gifts,” you can reply, “That makes sense, and I can make a list for you so you can choose something without worrying.”
It’s about listening first, and then translating what you heard to what’s really being said.
5. Invest in your relationship.
Sharing intimate parts of your life can be terrifying, especially if your partner has anxiety or a history of trauma. Take everything one step at a time and invest in your long-term relationship, instead of expecting all the answers you need immediately.
Working through issues with a partner takes patience and time, and a healthy dollop of love can help the process along. Take baby steps. Listen hard. And take it nice and slow.
One behavior you should not tolerate is your partner verbally or physically abusing you. You are helping no one by ignoring this situation. You should seek help and call a social services agency or an organization such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Call the hotline at 800-799-SAFE or chat live on its website at thehotline.org.
Your partner’s abuse is a call for help, and your response should be immediate.