Intimacy in a relationship comes from trusting and being trusted by your partner. Trust comes from a variety of things, one of which is being vulnerable and letting your partner in. But for some people, this openness isn’t easy.
There are lots of reasons you might struggle to be open with your partner. Sometimes you might even have more than one reason. But if you want to build a solid relationship that will last, you need to be able to identify the reason and address it so you can create that close connection.
Here are a few of the most common reasons people hold back from being open with their partner and how you can move past them.
Being open is about being vulnerable. It’s about sharing things that are very personal, sometimes embarrassing, and might even give your partner the ability to hurt you. So it makes sense that you might feel as if you’re being judged by your partner for what you share — and that it might make you think twice about sharing something.
When it comes to feeling judged, you first need to answer this question: Are you really being judged by your partner? While you might feel judged, it’s important to consider that you might be judging yourself or you might be assuming your partner will judge you because others have.
And if you realize that your partner is judging you, you might need to consider whether this is the first time and whether this is a good relationship for either of you.
Lack of reciprocity
You shared something deeply personal with your partner and they didn’t return the gesture. So now you don’t open up at all because you don’t like the unequal feeling of being the only one who’s open. It makes perfect sense but it also doesn’t make for a healthy relationship.
When it’s about a lack of reciprocity, it’s important to look at your partner’s relationships with other people. Do they share personal things with others, such as a sibling, parent, close friend, or even an ex? If they seem to be closed off with everyone, not just you, then you’ll need to decide if you can accept being in a relationship with someone who simply doesn’t share.
On the other hand, if there is one or more people with whom they have and do share personal things with, you’ll want to start with a conversation about why they don’t share with you. The answer, or lack of one, to that will help guide your next steps.
Shame or embarrassment
Similar to feeling judged, sometimes you don’t want to share things with a partner because you feel shame or embarrassment about it. And because you feel ashamed or embarrassed, the idea of sharing it with someone else, even if they are the closest person in the world to you, is just too much.
When it comes to shame and embarrassment, you need to decide whether it’s something you really need to share with your partner. While secrets may be unhealthy for a relationship, each individual in a relationship is entitled to their privacy. And privacy can mean you keep some things to yourself because they simply don’t need to be shared with your partner.
If it’s something you feel you need to share with your partner, you might begin by letting them know that you feel ashamed or embarrassed and asking them to just listen. If they really love you, they will — and they just might surprise you with their response when you’re done sharing.
Relationships are complicated, with the emotions, backgrounds, and perspectives of two individuals. A misused word, an odd tone, a unique turn of phrase can easily create a minor or major misunderstanding. And if those misunderstandings happen often enough, you can easily reach a point where you decide it’s just easier to stop trying to share with your partner.
But when you stop sharing, when you stop opening up, you also tend to stop the relationship from growing. When there’s no room for intimacy, there’s no room for growth. So if there are frequent misunderstandings, it might be worth first deciding whether they’re just misunderstandings or whether your partner might be deliberately trying to cause conflict and confusion between the two of you.
It’s also often a good idea when misunderstandings are a frequent occurrence to seek out the services of a couple’s counselor to help you learn how to communicate better.
Fear of rejection
This tends to be more common in the early stages of a relationship, when you’re still getting to know each other and feeling out the relationship. You worry that this might be the last straw, the thing that makes this person decide they don’t want to be with you after all.
Most of the time, fear of rejection comes from your own insecurities. If you believe that to be the case, often the best way to get past it is to force yourself to be open with your partner. When you see that they didn’t reject you, it can help you feel more secure in opening up to them in the future.
If you’ve been in the relationship awhile and this feeling is still sticking around, it might be a good idea to talk to a therapist. If it’s a new feeling in a long-term relationship, couple’s counseling may help you figure out why you feel that way and how to get past it.
Fear of your partner’s reaction
Whether you’re afraid of physical violence, extreme anger, or that your partner will leave you, sometimes the decision not to be open comes down to being afraid of how your partner will react. Not wanting to “poke the bear” or risk an unwanted or unwarranted reaction, you decide to just keep things to yourself instead.
This is a delicate reason to navigate. This reason can be as simple as you overthinking how your partner will react to as complex as being in an abusive relationship. In between the two is that your partner tends to overreact and you know that those overreactions are damaging to your relationship and you’re merely trying to prevent that.
When you fear your partner’s reaction, you may need to start by taking the time to sit with yourself and explore why you feel that fear. Determining where it’s coming from (overthinking, abuse, or somewhere in between) can help you figure out how best to deal with it. The best thing to do here is take your time and approach it carefully.
Relationships require being open
Unless you’re in a casual relationship where you’ve both been clear that you don’t want to make a close connection, relationships require both partners to be open. Being open with each other, allowing yourselves to be vulnerable, builds the foundation of trust and protection that allows your relationship to blossom and grow.
If you feel like you can’t be open in your relationship, it’s critical to get to the bottom of why and resolve it. If you can’t identify the reason or you can’t resolve it, you may need to consider that this relationship isn’t the one for you. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The best relationship is the one where you can be yourself without worry.
Wendy Miller is a freelance relationship writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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