in: Dating & Relationships

How to Help an Emotionally Unavailable Partner

When our partners suffer, whether it’s your husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend, we hope to show them full support. But knowing how to help an emotionally unavailable partner can be tough. This should help.


Following my recent article, “What Being Emotionally Unavailable Really Means and Why Men Do It,” I could see from the comments that there was a general consensus that a man’s partner, and how safe he felt in the relationship, has a big impact on how likely he is to show up and open up.

So what happens when he is working on being open and available but keeps getting responses from his partner that shows him it’s not safe to open up? He retreats and is even less likely to open up again.

I see this happen a lot in relationships; and every time someone tries to make themselves emotionally available only to get shut down unconsciously by his or her partner, it reinforces the belief that sharing is not helpful or safe.

If you are caught in the midst of this issue, you will likely find yourself asking, “How do I help my emotionally unavailable husband, wife, or partner?”

For someone to open up in a relationship it requires a receptive, supportive, and open space. Both partners need to be cultivating growth in the relationship, personally and individually.

I have often heard people talk about how their partners shut down, but when I watch this at play, it’s not one-sided, often the person has an unconscious reaction to their partners openness.

When it comes to men specifically, sometimes their partner’s expression or sharing doesn’t fit their model of how a relationship “should” look or how a man “should’ feel. Often it challenges the very person who wants him to be open—consequently, they unconsciously shut him down. Even while shutting him down they’re still demanding that he is open with them. And they don’t even see the impact they have on the situation.

It can be frustrating for everyone involved and it’s really important to remember that both people in the situation are impacted by the other’s responses.

It’s easy to blame someone else for an aspect of a relationship; however, it takes two to tango, and two to create a dynamic.

So how can you support your partner in being fully present?

Know Yourself & Manage Yourself.

First off, know yourself. Learn your triggers and vulnerabilities. Know that some topics and areas are going to create an automatic response and you need to develop emotional self-management around these.

Get Clear & Take Ownership.

Get clear about what those topics are, list them out and own them. Taking ownership of your emotional responses means not blaming your partner for how you feel when they are triggered. These are your triggers. For your partner to be open and honest, they need to be their full selves, not just the part of themselves that doesn’t trigger you.

Communicate Instead of Acting Out.

This means saying how you feel, rather than showing. It means using “I” statements rather than “you” statements. Here is an example:

You could pull the “Oh yes, that guy from work asked me out yesterday” as a way of getting back for some behavior that triggered you. Or you could say, “I felt very uncomfortable when you mentioned that girl because my insecurity about not being good enough came up.”

You could stonewall him or give him the silent treatment or you could say, “I am frustrated right now and need time to think.”

Every time you act out or blame rather than share, you are creating an environment where your partner needs to shut down to stay safe. Communicating your feelings creates a dialog, punishing by behavior is a threat.

Be Patient.

Give your partner time and space if he or she needs it to process their emotions or the events that took place; don’t let your anxiety and desire for certainty drive you to push your partner, husband, or wife to open up or share. Respect that each person has a way they processes, and so do you. It is your responsibility to manage your emotions and your partner’s to process in which ever way works best for them.

Stop Fighting & Start Teaming Up.

Stop thinking your way is the right and only way. Your way is right for you, while your partner must figure out what’s right for them. Give him or her room to discover this and compassion for how difficult this may be for them. While you’re at it, give yourself piles of compassion because you will need it while you manage your discomfort and unhealthy coping strategies during a challenging time.

You are both looking for and hoping to find something meaningful from the relationship, discuss this and whenever possible remind yourself you are both a team, not against each other—even if you see or do things differently.

Take the Pressure Off.

It’s not your partner’s job to make you happy. While they are learning to be open and available, ensure you are busy making yourself happy, giving yourself everything you need so your partner can stay on their journey without the need to withdraw because of added pressure.

Fight Fairly & Effectively.

Do not throw anything your partner, husband, or wife has expressed back at them during an argument. Not anything! When you take their feelings and use them for ammunition or to prove a point, you are showing your partner it is not safe to share with you.

Listen instead of sharing your point. Listen to what they’re saying—listen with empathy and with a longing to truly understand your partner. Leave judgement at the door and only bring compassion in.

When you fight, get clear about the outcome you want. Is it a healthy outcome for you both or are you simply acting out? And if you’re really acting out ask how you can communicate instead.

All of these steps require you to really up your investment in yourself and the relationship. They require you to acknowledge the impact you have on your partner’s sharing while still staying in your space.

This is not an easy path, but it is a rewarding path for developing deeper connection and understanding between you and your partner. This requires practice and you will get it wrong. When you do, go back to your special someone, tell your partner how you made a mistake and demonstrate to them what openness and vulnerability looks like.

Mostly, every step of the way, remind yourself and your partner of the love you feel and how this practice is ultimately about respecting that love.

This article was originally published with the Good Men Project; republished with the kindest permission. 

[image: via shutterstock]


About the Author

Sile Walsh is a passionate full-time transformation coach, author and speaker. Specializing in personal development, helping you be your best self in life, business and relationships. Sile believes real happiness comes from being authentic, having healthy relationships and living with purpose. Get to know more about Sile over at SileWalsh.com or read her self care book.

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