One of the questions I am asked over and over again when I'm doing relationship coaching is "How can I get my guy to open up about his feelings?" It's a question that comes from deep frustration, so let me share a few tips that might help you out.
For anyone (and especially a man) to open up about their emotions, there definitely needs to be trust and safety in the relationship. This may take time and “baby step” experiences of opening up to develop. And, if there is any history of betrayal from the past, including early childhood issues, this may be even more challenging .
That being said, the likelihood this actually happening can be improved by taking the following steps:
1. Don’t push for feelings! This usually gets the opposite result in men and they will dig in even deeper. Just create an environment of what IS shared. This will create safety.
2. Positive reinforcement is the key. Like training a dog (which is perhaps a good metaphor here), you need to give us rewards for those baby steps in opening up and sharing.
3. Be interested and curious about what your partner has to share. Don’t have an agenda about what subjects are to be shared or communicated. Let it flow organically.
4. Express appreciation and gratitude for what IS shared. We all want to be admired for stretching beyond our comfort zone and need the kudos. Again, this is positive reinforcement.
5. Be sensitive in how you respond to what is shared. Any feeling of judgment or negative reaction, any defensiveness, will most likely shut him down in these early stages of sharing. Remember, you ASKED for it, so be prepared, in case you hear things that you don’t necessarily enjoy hearing.
6. Finally, initiate these conversations with a “soft startup.” This is a term defined by Dr. John Gottman, a well-respected relationship researcher. One of the major indicators of a successful relationship is beginning a conversation with kindness, acceptance, compassion and caring.
In general, women are much better at the “soft startup” than men, so if you want the conversation to go in a positive direction, be aware of this and take responsibility for creating it. Keep in mind that discussions in general end on a similar emotional tone as the tone they begin on.
This is also a great tip for conflict resolution with your partner, as men are much more likely to share their feelings when there is conflict going on. Gottman’s research indicates that 96% of the time that a communication involves a “soft start” it ends with a positive resolution. Pretty good odds, don’t you think?
Some tips for the "soft startup" are:
• Select a relatively stress-free time in the day.
• Start off the discussion with a positive statement.
• Use “I” statements to avoid the feeling of blame.
• Show appreciation for your partner if any progress is made. Again, positive reinforcement is crucial.
• If either of you becomes too triggered, consider a time-out to cool down and continue the discussion later.
To clarify this last statement, while it’s good to vent, it is better to vent to a friend or a therapist. To be even more precise, it’s good for YOU to vent, but venting about your partner TO your partner is NOT very good for your relationship!
I’ve presented a lot of information here and I hope that it will be helpful. Test it out and please post your comments on how it works for you.