What to Do If Your Partner Won't Talk About Their Feelings

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When a partner doesn’t discuss their feelings, it’s hard for the other person and can lead to discord. People want to feel like they have open communication and true intimacy. So, how can you encourage your partner to open up?

Don’t Give Up on Communication

According to John Gottman, women are the ones to bring up issues 80% of the time in heterosexual relationships. A partner who won’t talk about their feelings is a common issue. Emotions serve a variety of purposes. If your partner is reticent or uncomfortable when asked to share their emotions, they will perhaps avoid conversation or give you one-word answers. This can become frustrating. Common causes for their discomfort in engaging with you about emotions include:

  • fear of not being articulate
  • fear they’ll be accused of something
  • worry they’ll be shamed
  • lack of emotional intelligence
  • inability to identify what they’re feeling
  • toxic masculinity

How Culture Affects Expressiveness

Our cultures affect our communications greatly. If men are taught to avoid being vulnerable or are prejudiced against women due to toxic masculinity, they likely will not have learned that expressing their emotions is healthy. They therefore will remain tight-lipped.

If your partner won’t open up about expressing emotions, they’re more likely to avoid mental health treatment, too. Depression anxiety, substance abuse issues, and mental health problems may be viewed as weakness.

While emotions like happiness, sadness, anger and fear are considered universal emotions, for Japanese culture, for example, it’s less customary to show strong negative emotions in front of others compared to American culture.

Cultural ways of expressing emotions even influence how emotions are experienced, according to research. This study sought to determine if less expressive Chinese individuals from Beijing and more expressive Americans from LA experienced emotions in different ways.

Findings indicate that the differences in expressiveness did correspond to differences in how somatosensory mechanisms contributed to constructing feelings. So, while different customs and cultures influence the expression of feelings, they also shape an individual’s understanding of how they feel.

Ways To Encourage Your Partner to Open Up

Use Positive Body Language

You can create a comfortable environment for conversations, says Dr. Amy E. Keller, doctor of psychology in psychoanalysis, LMFT and couples’ therapist, by paying attention and through touch. She says, “One formula that I coach clients to use with unresponsive partners is to speak softly, make sure you have direct eye contact and touch their arm in a loving way.”

Dr. Amy (as she prefers to be called) doesn’t stop there. She says, “While smiling, use phrases like ‘Just indulge me. I would like to get to know you better and I am curious about the importance of going to your boss's son's baseball game every week. Tell me how this serves you and I will do my best to understand and support you.’"

Remind Them You’re Not Criticizing

Dr. Amy added that you can also reassure your significant other by saying, "This is not an attack or judgment. I really just want to hear your thoughts about (fill-in-the-blank).”

It’s okay to tell your partner you’re frustrated and share your feelings with your partner. But if they feel they’re being judged, they might shut down. What if you are being critical and don’t want to be?

“Learning how to recognize when you’re being judgmental is the first step. Then we can shift our thinking. This is a core component of many skills and mental health treatments, like dialectical behavior therapy (or DBT) and mindfulness,” said Amy Morin, LCSW in her podcast on becoming less judgmental. Morin is a therapist, author, and Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. Her Ted-X talk, The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong, has been viewed more than 15 million times.

Normalize Sharing of Emotions in Conversations

Model healthy sharing by communicating your feelings. Set the standard so you share feelings regularly. Once your partner starts to open up, actively listen (instead of scrolling through your phone). Be sure to use cognitive and emotional empathy. It’s best not to discuss the issue in the middle of an argument. Choose a quiet time in which both you and your partner are relaxed.

Be Responsive To Encourage Your Partner to Open Up

Knowing your way of responding influences whether your partner will bottle up their feelings or not. Not much research has explored interpersonal processes that facilitate or inhibit emotional expression. That is until a 2020 study looked at the impact of perceived partner responsiveness and found that it encouraged emotional expression.

The research used two different studies (a daily diary and a lab experiment). Overall results showed that believing your partner to be responsive led to higher levels of emotional expression. This finding was shown to be true for both positive and negative emotional expression, even when controlling for gender and other relationship features.

A Word From Verywell

If your partner still won’t share their feelings and your disappointment has led to resentment, seek out the help of a therapist for yourself or a therapist for the both of you. Here are tips on finding the right therapist for you, and here are the best online therapy services that you can attend remotely via telephone, video calls, chat rooms, or email.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Immordino-Yang MH, Yang XF, Damasio H. Cultural modes of expressing emotions influence how emotions are experiencedEmotion. 2016;16(7):1033-1039. doi:10.1037/emo0000201

  2. Ruan Y, Reis HT, Clark MS, Hirsch JL, Bink BD. Can I tell you how I feel? Perceived partner responsiveness encourages emotional expressionEmotion. 2020;20(3):329-342. doi:10.1037/emo0000650

By Barbara Field
Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.