How To Connect With A Closed-Off Partner

Relationships feel the most fulfilling when it's an equal partnership. That means equal amounts of give-and-take when it comes to emotions, responsibilities, and effort in a partnership. So it can be especially frustrating when one partner feels like they're doing more emotional labor or that the other partner is closed off. This usually means being closed off emotionally, but even if it's just a partner who doesn't share a ton at all, this can be draining on the person at the other half of the relationship. Effort and a close emotional connection keep a partnership growing and solid. Having one partner put in all the effort or carry the relationship is a surefire way to ruin one.

But having a closed-off partner isn't always a sign that you need to end the relationship. It often doesn't have to do with you at all; people don't open up when they've been conditioned to think that their emotions aren't valid or have been made to feel unsafe when sharing them. On Psychology Today, Tina Gilbertson, LPC, wrote that it takes two to power a relationship. "It's important to realize that the silent treatment (as opposed to longer-term estrangement, which also includes physical distance) always requires two people, not just one," she said. "As much as they're not talking to you, you're also holding your tongue while you wait for them to come around." So even if you feel put off by their lack of emotional intimacy, leading by example is a key fix.

A partner might be closed off because of past experiences

Again, just because your partner doesn't open up doesn't mean it has anything to do with you. And realizing why a partner might be closed off is one of the first steps in better understanding them and hopefully working through it. "It's important to explore with your partner the reasons they won't open up and about the topics they won't open up to you regarding. It's important not to personalize their defensiveness as having to do with you," Christie Tcharkhoutian, a licensed marriage and family therapist, told Elite Daily

A lot of times, someone doesn't open up, even to someone they love, because they don't feel safe. Once again, not because of anything you're doing, but because they've had bad experiences in the past. Maybe they've been penalized for having emotions or sharing their feelings. Or maybe they've been invalidated and betrayed; they might just feel safer in not sharing anything at all. If they have any trauma or hesitation at all because of these things, they can retreat, even subconsciously, if pushed.

Obviously, continuing to not open up has a detrimental impact on your relationships. Elena Bahar, LMFT, wrote for Modern Intimacy that the partner who is the only one opening up can feel drained. "Doing all the emotional labor in a relationship is not an easy task which can leave you feeling starved for some genuine emotional connection," she wrote. 

Helping a partner open up involves a lot of leading by example and compassion

One way to help your partner open up is by taking the lead and sharing vulnerable or intimate things about yourself first. It allows your partner to see an example and also feel like there is equal footing and expectations. It gets rid of any pressure they might be feeling from you as well. Tina Gilbertson, LPC, wrote for Psychology Today that it's important not to use "you" statements when discussing this issue. Using "I" statements and describing how you feel, either about the situation or just in general, helps in two ways. Gilbertson wrote that "it makes you the one who's vulnerable, so they don't have to get defensive," and it is a good model on how to communicate. "Be the change you wish to see in the relationship," she said. "Give, before you take. Do it first, and let them follow your lead."

Dr. Gary Brown, a couples' therapist, told Elite Daily that he recommends patience. Building trust takes time, and depending on how deep-rooted their issues are, it can take a while to build enough up. "In the very best of relationships, you're going to be tested," he said. "That's OK. You just need to build openness as a cornerstone of your love."

Clear communication and time are your best friends when working with a closed-off partner

Once there is that trust and safe environment for your partner, Counseling Directory member Kathryn Taylor told HuffPost that a closed-off partner might still need additional time. "In a moment where emotions aren't running high and you are both calm, ask them for a time that suits them when you can talk about things," she said. "Try to ensure that this doesn't come across as confrontational or aggressive."

Asking questions, clarifying points they're making, and being an active listener will give them a safe environment and make them feel understood. This also creates a space and relationship where they hopefully won't feel regret about opening up. You're showing them that they won't get the same horrible reactions from you that they may have gotten before that led to them being closed off.

Tina Gilbertson wrote for Psychology Today that positive affirmations are really important as well. "If you value the relationship, don't hesitate to say so," Gilbertson writes. Creating a really comfortable and loving environment will make your partner feel a lot better about opening up. And reminding them, you're n love with them and how much they mean to you will bolster their confidence in your relationship too.