Does Trouble Sharing Thoughts and Feelings Create Problems in Your Relationship?

When one or both partners find it difficult to share feelings, it can rob the relationship of emotional closeness and eventually undermine trust in one another.

Do you and your partner have difficulties because one or both of you finds it hard to express emotions or be open with feelings? Do you have different expectations for how often someone in a relationship should share his/her feelings? Does this lead to you not being as close as a couple or at least one of you feeling as if emotional intimacy is lacking in the relationship? If so, read below to learn more about these cycles and how you can lessen the impact they have on your relationship.

Cycle 1: HELLO – ARE YOU THERE? I’VE GOT FEELINGS. WHERE ARE YOURS?

When partners differ in expectations regarding the appropriate frequency, quantity, and depth of emotions that should be shared in a romantic relationship, it can create a lot of hurt and frustration.  The expressive partner may feel hurt or angry when his/her partner does not open up. The less expressive partner may feel frustrated when the expressive partner pushes for him/her to express more feelings.

Cycle 2: VULNERABLE EMOTIONS? SHARING? NOT FOR US!

In some relationships, both partners find it hard to be open and share vulnerable feelings.

As a result, both partners withdraw from each other and don’t share life’s events, whether positive or negative. When this happens, neither person gives their partner a chance to support him/her, robbing the relationship of opportunities to create emotionally-intimate moments.  As a result, partners describe feeling like “roommates” and that they really only talk when plans need to be made such as childcare, paying the bills, schedules, etc.

 

Cycle 1: HELLO – ARE YOU THERE? I’VE GOT FEELINGS. WHERE ARE YOURS?

Tips for the Expressive Partner

“I ask my partner to be more open, but that just starts a fight. Why won’t my partner be open with me like? Doesn’t my partner love me?”

You may feel vulnerable that you always share how you feel while your partner does not. This can create feelings of loneliness or hurt that he/she doesn’t trust in you enough to be vulnerable. You may also get frustrated because, to you, emotions are an important part of relationships. When your partner is not expressive, you may pull away from your partner or repeatedly ask your partner to open up – and that may lead to your partner withdrawing from you even more.

  1. Acknowledge Your Differences. Consider how differences in emotional expressiveness) could be contributing to what you and your partner are feeling. If your partner is low in emotional expressiveness, he/she isn’t going to think to do this naturally. So, you may need to decide on situations where this is okay (i.e., that you can accept) and situations where you want to insist your partner be more expressive. Come up with some ground rules you can both follow.
  2. Different Kinds of Love. Look for other ways your partner shows he/she cares. Does he/she hold your hand? Is he/she cuddly? Does he/she take care of things at home? Remember, he/she has feelings too. He/she may just show care in different ways. The trick is to give your partner the space to show affection in his/her own way and to determine the meaning behind their actions. If you try to force him/her to show you love in the exact way you want it, then your partner is going to feel overwhelmed and likely pull away.
  3. Other Kinds of Intimacy. One way to increase emotional intimacy is to increase intimacy in other domains. Your partner may not be emotionally expressive, but there are other ways to connect with your partner that may pull for both of your strengths. If you both are comfortable with touch, consider cuddling, hugs, or sex as a way to feel more connected. Other suggestions include prioritizing date nights every once in a while or planning to do something fun together at least once a week such as doing a physical activity, cooking together, playing a game, or watching TV.

Tips for the Non-Expressive Partner

“My partner constantly asks me what I’m thinking or feeling. Why can’t he/she just back off and stop trying to change me?”

You may not understand what your partner is asking for when he/she asks you to open up or expresses feeling lonely and unloved when you don’t. Or you may feel uncomfortable sharing emotions even when you can recognize that you’re having some. When your partner pulls away from you or demands you open up, you may feel hurt, frustrated, or annoyed and respond by pulling away. You may also get frustrated because you can think of all the other ways you show your partner you love them and feel annoyed or hurt that your partner accuses you of being cold, unloving, and/or uncaring.

  1. Acknowledge Your Differences. When you start feeling frustrated about this, remember that possible natural difference in emotional expressiveness) could be contributing to both you and your partner’s feelings. If the two of you are different, it will be important to talk about: a) situations/topics where it’s really important you try your best to open up and b) situations/topics that are really difficult for you to open up about and maybe your partner needs to be more accepting of that.
  2. Try to be Vulnerable. It may not be easy for you but one way your relationship will feel closer is if you can share things you usually keep to yourself, you might think of these as “vulnerable” emotions. By sharing your feelings such as when something hurt you or upset you, you will create a space of intimacy. Your partner will appreciate that you’ve opened up and you are likely to feel better that you got something off your chest. If sharing your feelings verbally is harder for you, consider writing your feelings down first and sharing those words with your partner. Or, you could write a letter or card for your partner.
  3. Other Kinds of Caring. Even if you are not comfortable expressing yourself, look for other opportunities to show your feelings such as through touch, cuddling, hand-holding, or remembering something your partner asked you to do around the house. Spending quality time together also indicates care, so you could consider planning a date night or an activity where you will have each other’s undivided attention. By showing your care through other means, your partner may be less likely to ask you to open up verbally to show your care.

 

Cycle 2: VULNERABLE EMOTIONS? SHARING? NOT FOR US!

We’re so distant but neither of us feel comfortable opening up.”

You may both feel lonely because you don’t often open up to each other, but also feel frustrated that you have no idea how to be different. On one hand, you may appreciate that your partner does not push you to open up.  On the other hand, however, you may worry that the two of you will turn into roommates rather than partners. These feelings may cause you to pull away even more from each other, even though it only makes things worse.

  1. Try to be Vulnerable with Your Partner. It may not be easy for either of you but being more open can have positive effects. By sharing your feelings such as when something hurt you or upset you, you will create a space of intimacy. Since it may be hard at first to share feelings, try instead opening up about why the process of opening up is hard. You may even learn something about the other that you didn’t know and the process of being open in any capacity is likely to have positive effects on your relationship. Additionally, consider writing your feelings down first and sharing those words with each other. For example, you could both write letters or cards to each other.
  2. Pick What and When to Share. Work together to identify topics or situations where it’s really important for both of you to fight your natural styles to not share. For example, situations where you’re feeling down/upset about something is often a really important time to reach out to your partner for support.
  3. Include Other Types of Intimacy. One way to increase emotional intimacy is to increase intimacy in other domains. If you both are comfortable with touch, consider cuddling, hugs, or even sex as a way to feel more connected. Other suggestions include prioritizing date nights every once in a while or planning to do something fun together at least once a week such as doing a physical activity, cooking together, or playing a game.

 

Recommended Resources

Here are a few more resources that may help you and your partner with issues surrounding emotional intimacy.

Complete a Free, Online Self-Help Program.  Consider working on your relationship through our proven, self-help relationship program. Our program is developed by leaders in the fields of couple therapy and pre-marital education and has been shown through extensive research to improve relationships – more than in-person classes and almost as much as marriage counseling. You’ll work with your partner to complete online activities and receive free support from one of our program coaches. Our program is developed by leaders in the fields of couple therapy and pre-marital education. So, you can be confident that it’s the best thing you can do to strengthen your relationship without the hassle and cost of a therapist. Not sure your partner would go for it?  Take a look at these tips for how to introduce the idea. To find out more about our program, go to our home page.

 

Books that discuss emotions and emotional intimacy:

THE 5 LOVE LANGUAGES: THE SECRET TO LOVE THAT LASTS

HOLD ME TIGHT: SEVEN CONVERSATIONS FOR A LIFETIME OF LOVE