You can probably guess that the “3 Ways to Guarantee Your Partner Will Open Up!” part of this title is written tongue in cheek! Communication in relationships doesn’t come with guaranteed results.
In December 2016, I was asked to contribute three tips to a “Huffington Post” relationship piece about getting one’s spouse to open up more. I’d like to share what I submitted, then discuss the overarching idea of trying to get someone to do what you want.
3 tips for communication in relationships
Consider your timing.
The spouse who wants the partner to open up more may be so focused on wanting that so much that he or she fails to consider what’s going on for the partner.
Did he or she just walk through the door from work? Is it late at night or did one or both of you have a little too much to drink!
A simple question such as “Is this a good time to talk?” can go a long way toward helping your partner feel considered and comfortable, rather than put on the spot.
Check in with yourself.
Be sure you’re in a good frame of mind for an opening-up type of conversation.
Rule of thumb: If you’re feeling a sense of urgency, wait until another time to try to have the conversation. That sense of urgency means that your motivation may be rooted in what I call the “three A’s”:
- an agenda
None of these will result in a satisfying conversation. And check your judgment at the door. Your spouse won’t feel comfortable opening up if he or she anticipates being judged.
Schedule regular fun activities together that foster connection and emotional intimacy.
Having conversations in a comfortable setting to check in with each other can help spouses feel more relaxed and open.
The Obama family famously had their evening “roses and thorns” conversations, each discussing a positive thing and a frustrating thing that happened that day. That’s a good start. You can also make a “ritual” of activities you both enjoy.
This is not the time to try to make your spouse do your favorite activity, but to do something that appeals to both of you: make an interesting cocktail and/or appetizer together, go on a walk, watch a favorite movie and see if you can find something new in it to discuss afterward. Keep an open mind and see what happens!
Making time to connect on a regular basis develops a level of comfort that can allow a more reserved spouse to open up.
About that guarantee….
Pretty basic information, right? But something’s missing.
What’s missing—especially in the first part of my title above—is the idea that, while you can make it more comfortable for your spouse or partner to open up, your spouse or partner is who he or she is.
Your partner may not be someone who wants to open up, no matter what you say or do!
This is crucial, because the “Huffington Post” article and the spoofing part of my title are structured in such a way as to make it seem as though you have the right and power to make your spouse open up. And that there are guaranteed ways to accomplish this.
Which can lead to great frustration for you and your partner!
…There’s not one!
I’m more comfortable with the idea that you can set the stage for a nice conversation, but it will happen only if your partner wants to open up. And much of that is independent of you!
So many people believe that if only they do their part well, they will get what they want, but this leaves out something important: the other person! Their needs, wants, personality, and psychology matter. The other person is an equal part of the couple equation. Acknowledging the limits of your influence is an important part of maturity and satisfaction.
If you’d like help with your relationship, including realistic goals for communication in relationships, please reach out.
Diane Spear, LCSW-R, is a “Huffington Post”-quoted relationship expert who owns a private practice in the Union Square/East Village area of Manhattan (New York City). She specializes in anxiety, depression, couples, and parenting treatment, and has been helping people find the joy in everyday life since 1995. She is accepting new patients. To learn more about Diane’s approach to couples treatment, click here.