Won’t? Maybe it is Can’t…

ConfusedI often hear people say that they want more emotional connection and expression from their partner. They say their partner won’t express their feelings or even state their needs. That lack of sharing often leaves the first person feeling locked out of the relationship. It feels like their partner doesn’t care and won’t let them in.

In my opinion, while certainly not exclusively, but more often than not, the person that doesn’t share is male. I’ve written before about the impact our society has about emotions in general but especially for men. How they aren’t to be expressed and that having emotions is a sign of weakness.

But what we know is that sharing emotions is not a weakness, in fact failing to share emotions limits our ability to deeply connected, healthy and happy relationships. Fear and avoidance of emotions is what truly the problem.

When people realize that they do want emotional expression from their partner, they often ask for it. They may even demand it. Sometimes that works. But too often it doesn’t. The requests for sharing of thoughts and feelings is met with continued silence. And when that happens, it is often identified as a refusal to share. Clients come in and say, “my partner won’t share with me.”

The unfortunate truth is that often it isn’t that they won’t share…they can’t share. They are being asked to do something that they just honestly don’t have the skills or understanding to do.

It may seem crazy. How can you not say what your feelings are? You are having them. Just name them. But they can’t. They don’t have the words. In fact, for many people emotions have been so ignored that they can’t even identify what emotion they are having, much less share that information.

Think about it like this. Imagine being dropped into the middle of a country where you’ve never heard the language. Someone starts insisting that you talk to them in this new language. And when you don’t, they insist more loudly. They insist more frequently. They start exhibiting their frustration. They get angry. Does it help you to communicate? No…because it isn’t because you won’t, it is because you can’t. You may even feel bad because you do want to communicate.

That’s the position some people put their partners in when they insist that they share their emotions. Those people may even shame and humiliate their partners for their inability. They accuse their partners of not caring when that isn’t the case at all.

There is a solution. It starts with not making assumptions about your partner. Instead it takes compassion and gentleness to find out the real reason they aren’t sharing. And if it is a lack of skill and experience, it means not shaming them for it. And finally, it takes patience to help your partner learn the language of emotions…how to recognize them in themselves and how to name them.

Take the time to be gentle and compassionate with your partner. You may be surprised to find out that the reason they aren’t doing what you want isn’t because they won’t…it may be because they can’t.

About awentherapy

I am Jay Blevins, LMFT (www.awentherapy.com). I am a licensed systems therapist with a private practice in Madison, WI. While I work with individuals and partners around a wide variety of issues, my primary focus in on alternative relationship structures, alternative sex and sexuality, and power dynamics. I am a contributor to various relationship and sexuality blogs and publications and have been a frequent presenter at alternative lifestyle events and psychotherapy conferences.
This entry was posted in Awen Therapy, Change, Connection, Couples Therapy, Criticism, Emotional Intelligence, Emotions, Expression, Fear, Humiliation, Jay Blevins, MFT, Psychotherapy, Relationships, Shame, Therapy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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