NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, November 13, 2022

How to Become More Emotionally Available in Your Relationship

In my prior article, What Does It Mean to Be Emotionally Available?, I began a discussion about emotional availability, defined the term and compared it to emotional unavailability.  In this article, I'm focusing on how to become more emotionally available (see my articles: Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Greater Intimacy in a Relationship and Emotional Vulnerability is a Strength in a Relationship).

Becoming More Emotionally Available in Your Relationship

As a brief recap: Emotional Availability includes being:
  • Open
  • Honest
  • Emotionally vulnerable with each other
Being emotionally available looks like this:
  • Having deep and meaningful conversations with your partner about your emotions where you allow yourself to be vulnerable.  
  • Allowing yourself to get emotionally close to your partner.
  • Listening and attuning to your partner's experiences and being empathetic to their emotions--even if their experiences are different from your own.
  • Allowing your partner to comfort you when you're going through a difficult time.
  • Comforting your partner when they're going through a difficult time. 
How to Become More Emotionally Available in Your Relationship
As I mentioned in my prior article, the healthiest and happiest relationships are between partners who are emotionally available to each other.

Becoming More Emotionally Available in Your Relationship

The reality is that emotionally availability isn't an all-or-nothing phenomenon.  

In other words, most people aren't either emotionally available or unavailable.  There might be situations where they're more open and other situations where they're not.  

No one is emotionally available 100% of the time, but a worthwhile goal for someone who tends to withdraw emotionally is to become more consistently open. 

Steps to Becoming More Emotionally Available
Here are some basic steps you can try:
  • Become Aware of When You Distance Emotionally From Yourself: Emotional distancing or withdrawing often occurs within yourself before it occurs with your partner.  You can begin to recognize when this is happening when you feel cut off from your own emotions. You can practice checking in with yourself periodically throughout the day and asking yourself what you're feeling.  If you draw a blank or if what you sense is vague, you might be cutting yourself off from your emotions (see below: Learn to Identifying Your Emotions).
  • Become Aware of When You Distance Yourself From Your Partner: Develop an awareness of when you tend to distance yourself emotionally from your partner.  Maybe it's when you feel criticized, ashamed, challenged, sad, angry, resentful or some other emotion.  Even if, at first, you don't recognize that you're withdrawing, think about it after an incident with your partner and be honest with yourself.  If you can do this by either journaling or meditating about it on a regular basis, you can eventually develop an awareness of when it's happening in the moment as a way to try to change your response.
  • Learn to Identify Your Emotions: This can be challenging for someone who has spent most of their life suppressing or numbing their feelings.  Suppressing or numbing feelings might have been an adaptive survival strategy in a family that didn't tolerate the expression of emotions, but when you're an adult in a relationship, it's no longer adaptive.  By journaling or meditating, you can reflect on a recent memory of an uncomfortable emotion you felt.  Slow down and take your time. At first, you might only have a vague sense of the emotions in terms of feeling uncomfortable, but if you include bodily awareness (e.g., throat constricted or clenched fists), you can get a felt sense of what you were experiencing because you're tapping into the mind-body connection and possible unconscious feelings (The Mind-Body Connection: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).
  • Communicate With Your Partner: As you become aware and develop insight into how you withdraw emotionally and the uncomfortable emotions you're experiencing, talk to your partner about what you have discovered about yourself. This takes courage, so start with something relatively small and work your way up to sharing more vulnerable feelings. This will help you to feel safer over time. Being open and honest in this way will bring you closer and you're practicing being vulnerable.  Although this might be difficult at first, it's possible to get better at it over time.  Also, let your partner know that you're not asking them to fix you (in reality, no one can fix anyone).  Let them know that you're talking about it as a way to learn how to open up so you can get closer to them, and you just want them to listen. When you're sharing, stick to your own experiences as opposed to blaming or criticizing your partner (How to Improve Communication in Your Relationship).
  • Provide Time and Space For Your Partner to Share Their Emotions: Becoming more emotionally available is a two-way street. In addition to sharing your emotions, you want to strive to get comfortable with listening and being attuned to your partner.  Once again, apply the same ground rules as when you're communicating with your partner: Your partner is sticking to their own experiences and not blaming or criticizing you.

When to Seek Help in Therapy
Becoming more emotionally available can be challenging, especially if you have unresolved trauma.

Emotional triggers from the past come up in a fraction of a second, which occurs before the logical part of your brain can determine if what you're feeling is from the past or the present.  This is part of what makes triggers so difficult to manage.

In addition, if you spent your early years surviving in your family by shutting down emotionally, you might not feel safe enough to be more open emotionally--even with a partner that you love and trust (see my article: How Unresolved Trauma Can Affect How You Feel About Yourself and How Trauma Can Affect Relationships).

Also, if you have a traumatic relationship history, being vulnerable with your current partner can be too scary to do on your own.  

If you have tried to resolve these problems on your own and you keep coming up against the same emotional blocks, you could benefit from working with a trauma therapist who can help you to process the traumatic events that are creating obstacles for you.

Working through unresolved trauma with a trauma therapist can free you of your traumatic history so you can be more emotionally available to yourself as well as your partner.

Next Article
In my next article, I'll provide a clinical vignette to show how experiential therapy can help you to overcome trauma and open up emotionally.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

I am a trauma therapist who has helped many people overcome unresolved trauma (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.