One of many people’s biggest complaints in a relationship is “my partner doesn’t tell me how they feel” (or they won’t “open up” or “talk to me,” etc.).

Ask these people what’s ‘literally the worst thing’ in love and — second only to the thought of their partner leaving them — they will tell you: the frustration of a partner not sharing their feelings.

So, overwhelmed with the anxiety of not knowing — and being ill-equipped to manage this anxiety in healthier, more constructive ways — these people rush their partner, crowding them emotionally and coercing them:

Talk to me! Tell me how you feel. I wanna talk about it. I want to know what you’re feeling. I just want you to open up. Share with me. Tell me. Talk to me.

Give me. Give me. Give me.

People like this think love means “always sharing” and “sharing everything,” and they think this behavior translates as “intimacy”. In reality, it’s just disrespecting your partner’s personal space and steamrolling healthy boundaries.

I’m not suggesting that shutting down and stonewalling is the path to a great relationship  —  that’s not good, either. Because love does mean sharing. It does mean talking about how you feel and “letting the other person in”, and being vulnerable and open and honest — all of that’s great.

But there’s a huge difference between offering and being obligated.

Offering to share with our partner is intimate. Being pushed to isn’t. If we bully our partners into sharing, we are directly undercutting the very intimacy we think we’re building. If we whine, or cajole, or get defensive, or pissy, or play any kind of emotional war games in response to them holding back, we are being shittier than they are.

Because other people’s emotions are first and foremost theirs, not ours. What they do with them is their prerogative, not ours. And hearing them, if they choose to share, is a privilege, not a right. We are not owed anything in their heads.

Sharing is caring. But care is also about being fair. Love is about respecting boundaries and understanding what’s yours, what’s theirs, and what they want as well.

“Yeah, but if I don’t know what’s wrong,” we may ask, “then how can I fix it?” I understand where this is coming from, but it’s also worth understanding: other people are not ours to dig at or fix, and doing so is only loving if it’s also welcomed. Our partners are not our personal puzzles and our relationship isn’t a game of codependency Clue.

“But I just want them to share!” Mmhm. And you’d probably also like it if someone gave you a million dollars. But we are no more entitled to someone’s personal experience than we are to someone’s money.

“But why won’t they just tell me?! Why is that so hard?” Because they don’t want to. Maybe they’re not ready, maybe nothing’s wrong, maybe the feelings are still half-baked, maybe now’s not the time, maybe they’re self-soothing, maybe it’s not a big deal, maybe they don’t like how you latch on when they share; it doesn’t matter. They don’t want to. We can’t push.

We can make ourselves available, we can ask, we can invite, we can listen.

But above all, we must respect boundaries and recognize that it’s their emotions, and  not ours. The good thing is that with that comes the beautiful treasure of understanding: when they finally do share, it’s because they wanted to. And when they’re ready, if it’s important, they will.

 

Kris Gage is a writer, motorcyclist, software manager and drink-slinger of the south.

 

Tagged as: