Why Emotional Openness Can Be Difficult And What To Do About It

There are ways to encourage and nurture a heart-to-heart relationship with the one you love.

When you love someone and pour your heart out to them it can be very painful and frustrating when you realize that they are "miles away" even though you are living in close proximity. It's hard to put your finger on it, because they can be evasive, make excuses, or engage in constant activity to avoid contact. But you get a definite sense that there is a huge barrier of sorts around their heart, like a no-man's-land which anyone who attempts to cross, does so at their own peril. Then at other times you may discover that in fact you are the one who is not emotionally open. Either way, emotional openness can be difficult for many reasons, but thankfully there are ways of encouraging and nurturing a heart-to-heart relationship with the one you love.

This article will look at five possible reasons for emotional unavailability, and then six ways to encourage emotional openness.

Possible reasons for emotional unavailability:

1. Past hurts that are unresolved  

One of the main reasons for being emotionally unavailable has to do with past painful experiences which have caused the person to close up their heart. This may have happened in childhood or more recently. If someone has been betrayed or cheated on in previous love relationships, they may have made an inner vow not to allow their heart to be broken again, so they protect it by building a barrier of unavailability.  

2. Fear and insecurity 

Fear and insecurity also contribute largely to the lack of emotional openness in a relationship. When you love someone dearly you may be afraid of saying something that will hurt them. Or you may fear that if you really tell them how you feel and what you have been through, they may think less of you or reject you and withdraw from you. 

3. Addictions

People who are addicted in any way are emotionally unavailable because their addiction is the priority that controls them and consumes all their energy. This also includes workaholics who use their work as an escape or an excuse not to engage on an emotional level with their loved ones, or in fact with anyone. 

4. Lack of training or practice

In some families or cultures, sharing your emotions is seen as weak or worthless, and relationships are maintained at a superficial and unemotional level. If someone has grown up this way it may take a lot of practise and encouragement for them to learn the skill of being emotionally open. 

5. Temporary vs. chronic unavailability

There are different types of emotional unavailability which can be either temporary or long lasting and chronic. The latter may be due to mental illness or abuse and trauma during childhood. With temporary unavailability, the person may be preoccupied for a while with other issues which take priority over the relationship, such as a health concern or a family obligation. Those who have been recently bereaved or divorced may be temporarily unavailable as they allow their emotions time to heal and recover. 

How to encourage emotional openness:

1. Resolve past hurts

Past hurts that have been buried or shoved into the basement of our hearts will inevitably surface in some shape or form to cause trouble at a later stage. As painful as it is, unless those hurtful experiences are carefully examined and appropriately grieved, they cannot be effectively laid to rest and will continue to fester. Deciding to forgive those who have hurt us can be a huge relief which often results in a new level of emotional openness. 

2. Conquer your fear of rejection

Fear of rejection can have a paralyzing effect on relationships, preventing us from being open with one another, but ironically rejection can occur more often when we are unavailable than when we share our deep dark secrets. And to be honest, if someone rejects you after you bare your heart openly with them, then you are probably better off sans that kind of relationship. 

3. Don't confuse physical with emotional intimacy

Physical intimacy in a relationship does not necessarily lead to emotional intimacy unless the relationship is build up in other ways besides the physical aspect. It is wonderful when the two go hand in hand, but sex can never be a substitute for true intimacy on an emotional level. Physical intimacy is likely to be less satisfying when one or both partners feel disconnected from each other.

4. Create an inviting atmosphere

Emotional openness can never be demanded, but should rather be by invitation. When an atmosphere of acceptance is created, then your partner is more likely to be willing to share their feelings openly. Be patient and understanding, starting with small steps and small disclosures, and gradually building up from there.  

5. Listen carefully

When your loved one shares something with you, listen very carefully, without thinking about what you are going to say next. Just concentrate on what they are actually saying and hear their heart and the feelings expressed behind the words. Look into their eyes and make sure that your cell phone and TV are switched off.  

6. Validate each other's emotions

Often as children we may have been given the impression that our feelings were bad or irrelevant. Crying may have been stigmatized as a sign of weakness, especially for boys. In an intimate and loving relationship you can encourage openness and vulnerability by validating each other's feelings. You can do this by reflecting or repeating your partner's feelings in your own words, showing that you have understood and that the way they feel is valid. This can help them to learn to trust their own emotions.

Overcoming the obstacles to emotional openness is well worth the effort it takes. When you find the courage to be vulnerable with one another you can expect to be rewarded with a new sense of closeness and emotional connection with your partner. Sharing your innermost feelings and finding acceptance can be one of the greatest gifts you can give to one another.

Cover image via Fotolia

Sylvia Smith is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples. She has helped countless individuals and organizations around the world, offering effective and efficient solutions for healthy and successful relationships. Her mission is to provide inspiration, support and empowerment to everyone on their journey to a great marriage. She is a featured writer for Marriage.com, a reliable resource to support healthy, happy marriages. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Google+ and Pinterest.