One of the best parts of a relationship is getting to know your partner on a deeper level. But we may feel like we’re at a standstill if our partner is not opening up. This can be frustrating and confusing. But it is also a common issue.
So what do you do?
A study was published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships that explored the ways individuals in romantic relationships discuss and resolve disagreements in openness standards. Not surprisingly, some of these ways are constructive and some are destructive.
When you discuss (or do not discuss) openness with your partner, what strategy are you using? What strategy should you use?
Constructive Strategies for Encouraging Openness
These strategies, used at the appropriate time and place, can help you discuss your openness standard with your partner and maybe even compromise on different standards for this time in your life.
What do constructive strategies consist of?
This is the process of talking through your dissatisfaction. This kind of communication with your partner will help you talk through your feelings while showing your partner that you are committed to growing and improving your relationship.
You may even learn something new: why is your partner feeling closed off right now? What is your partner comfortable opening up about, and what subjects are still sensitive?
Humor can be used to discuss serious topics in a more casual way. Humor may help your partner open up about certain issues in your relationship. It allows him or her to be more comfortable with the subject.
We tend to be more closed off when we are intimidated or nervous – when we lighten up, we open up.
Seeking social support
If you have discussed openness standards with your partner and he or she is not ready to open up, it may be time to seek social support.
I want to clarify what this does and does not mean. As a reader of this blog, you know I am a strong advocate of sealing your exits in a marriage. Navigating a relationship is complicated with just two people involved. When you add a third party (or a fourth, fifth, sixth, etc. party), it can really muddy the water.
These exits can pull you away from your marriage. They can cause you to avoid dealing with issues between you and your partner. And this often ends in serious marriage troubles or even divorce.
But that doesn’t mean you have to go through troubled times alone. You may be feeling lonely, unloved, or uncertain. Time with friends and family can boost your mood, take your mind off things, and remind you that you are loved and worthy of love. These things can help renew your energy and strengthen your commitment to your relationship.
Just be careful not to use your friends and family as a “dumping ground” for all the things you want to talk to your spouse about. You shouldn’t be sharing the intimate details of your conflicts, asking them to take sides, or enlisting their opinions on your struggles. If you need this kind of help reaching your spouse, it’s time to go beyond friends and family, and seek the help of a relationship professional.
Destructive Strategies for Encouraging Openness
These strategies, as the name implies, tend to backfire and cause more harm than good in terms of encouraging openness and communication. Strive to avoid them at all costs or you may actually push your partner away rather than drawing them in.
These bad strategies include:
We often equate openness with trust or love. If we feel that spouses are distancing themselves, we may feel rejected or like our partner does not trust us.
Do not slip into this mindset due to a misunderstanding. There are many reasons why someone may act distant or close up around people. Do not make assumptions, especially ones that will kill your confidence.
Throwing negativity at your partner for being closed off is not going to make them open up. Yes, you may be frustrated because they are being distant. But taking it out on them won’t help.
This is especially true if you have not talked about your standards and issues directly. We all have the right to be as open or closed off as we can emotionally handle.
Your partner is being distant, so you try to mirror their distance to make it look like you and your partner are on the same level. But distancing yourself only negates your feelings and desires for your partner to be more open.
Plus, it creates a lot of space between you and your partner – eventually, you may feel like you are going backward in your relationship. Take the lead in being open with your partner, and you may be surprised by their response.
The bottom line is that you should open up about opening up with your partner. In other words, talk about what you want and hope for.
If their openness standard does not match yours, you will need to work on building understanding on both sides. You may want to consider reaching out for help from a relationship professional as you navigate this tricky landscape together.
Rooting for you!