While it can be frustrating and upsetting to be with someone who shuts down and has difficulty expressing emotion…
You can take it personally but we’ve found that it’s really about something else…
It’s about different realities.
You think one way and the other person thinks another way and for whatever reason, revealing his or her thoughts doesn’t feel safe.
Here’s what Susie did years ago in her previous marriage that speaks exactly to this idea of difficulty expressing emotion…
She and her previous husband both loved her grandfather who had recently passed. On the way home from the funeral, Susie was angry.
When her husband didn’t show any emotion, she poked at him with questions like, “Don’t you care that he died?” so he would show her some feeling.
It was many years later that she realized what she really wanted in that moment was for him to put his arm around her, comfort her and say, “Yeah we both loved him and will miss him.”
Instead, she was critical and lashed out at him–and he shut down even more.
She later realized that he was probably just trying to keep it together and the only way he saw to do that was to shut down.
If you’re in relationship with someone who doesn’t express feelings, it’s important to notice when you have a certain expectations of how they “should” act or what they should do, react, or respond.
You somehow think that because they show up differently, there’s something wrong when it may not be that way at all.
When you’re blaming and pushing someone to feel and express feelings, all that does is close them down further which is probably what you’ve already seen.
But like Susie in her previous relationship, you keep doing it anyway–hoping for a different result.
So what do you do if you’re with someone who has difficulty expressing emotion?
Here also are 3 ways to look at your situation a little differently…
1. Understand where emotion or feelings really come from.
Feelings come from and as a result of what we are believing about our thoughts in the moment.
It’s not the other way around–we have feelings and then we have thoughts and then we respond from there.
The feelings come as a result of how we think about certain things and that changes from moment to moment.
You may be upset at someone because they aren’t reacting or responding in a certain way or the way you would in the moment, the truth is that reactions can change from moment to moment.
It’s huge to just notice that your way isn’t necessarily the right way or the only way and communicate from that place.
2. Calm down and focus on you.
We remind people in this situation to first calm down.
Susie now realizes that she didn’t need to act the way she did toward her ex when her grandfather died.
Knowing what she knows now, if she had taken her attention off her ex and how he should act and focus on herself and what she was feeling, she would have realized that she was sad and wanted to be consoled.
Instead she went on the attack and wasn’t emotionally available to herself as she accused him of being.
If she had been aware of her thoughts and feelings, she might have been able to ask him for what she truly needed in that moment. It might have been a moment of connection instead of disconnection.
So if you’re frustrated being with someone you consider emotionally unavailable and not able to express feelings, start with you.
When you think someone should be more emotionally open with you, you can ask yourself if you’re being emotionally open to yourself and to your partner.
When you want someone to show up a certain way, you can also make a loving request like Susie could have with her ex.
3. Recognize when your partner does express emotion in his or her way
When you have the continuous thought that your partner holds back and doesn’t express feelings, you might miss small openings when they do happen.
It might be something as simple as him or her expressing, “I’ve had a bad day.”
If this happens, it can be really connecting to be curious and listen to what happens next when you ask something like, “How so?” instead of launching into how bad your day was.
You might be surprised what happens when you focus on connection instead of expressing emotion in a certain way.
How can you be with a partner who has difficulty expressing emotion the way you do or would like?
You just be with them, love them.
Don’t force them, try to change them or make them wrong.
When you honor where they are in the way they see things and in their process, you’re on the path to connecting with love at a deeper level.