Whether it be a discussion among close friends or your significant other, moving toward emotional availability may sound easy, but it can be very difficult to be emotionally available to another person, especially your intimate partner. Some of the barriers that could get in the way of being emotionally available to your partner could be that you are feeling hurt yourself, consuming too many cocktails or being newly sober, or were simply never in touch with your own emotions to begin with. Furthermore, sometimes our emotions are buried so deep that we cannot access them easily. Keep reading to find out how emotional availability is defined and learn ways that you can move toward emotional availability with your significant other.
Before you can be more effective in being emotionally available to others, it is important to learn how to be more in touch with your own emotions, which is what emotional availability means. Some of the ways to increase awareness of your own level of emotionality is to focus on your body, below your neck, and your internal sensations there. Do you feel a tightness in your chest, a pit in your stomach, or even a feeling of lightness in your heart? These are examples of how our emotions can manifest themselves in our body. Next, if you were to assign a basic emotion to the various bodily sensations that you are feeling, what would it be? For starters, is it a positive or a negative feeling/sensation? Where specifically is it located? Which is the best emotion that fits the sensation whether it be happy, calm, angry, fearful, anxious, or sad? If you are not sure, ask yourself “am I feeling…” (happy, calm, etc.) and go down your list until you get to the one that feels right. You can also learn more about your emotions here. Becoming more emotionally aware of yourself could be more challenging, at first, then you might expect. To that end, be gentle with yourself via checking in with your emotions (using the above suggestions) on a regular basis. Practicing this new mindset about how you feel will make it easier for you to communicate your emotions more confidently with others.
It is important to note that being more open with your own emotions does not mean that you need to tell everyone everything or even divulge personal information about yourself to loved ones without any filter or boundaries. The reason emotional availability is an important part of close relationships is that it helps build intimacy and trust, which we all need. In most cases, if you are willing to take intimate, emotional risks then it helps the other person do the same. For example, have you ever been in a support group or 12-Step meeting when another person in the group became emotionally humbled? Maybe they cried or verbally described something very personal which got your undivided attention? It is times like this where we as humans typically want to open our minds and hearts to help others. Now if this vulnerable person was someone close to you, and you feel safe opening up about your own feelings, you can see how this helps to build a stronger, more intimate connection. It is important to know that this transition is not easy to do if you are not used to it. You may feel anxious, defensive, or maybe stop doing it if the other party is not responding to you in the way that you expected. This is okay as all new behaviors take time to be more natural and smooth as no one does feelings perfectly. Most folks feel awkward, intimidated, or extremely anxious when the learn to communicate more intimate or vulnerable information about themselves. This is why this tip is called Moving Toward Emotional Availability. Consider the following examples of how to do this:
- Being more open and honest about your thoughts/feelings. For example, if someone close to you sees that you are stressed out about something you don’t want to talk about and asks how you feel, you can be honest and say “thank you for your concern, but I am too upset to talk right now.” You can also say, “let’s find a good time to discuss this later when I am feeling in a better place to connect about this issue.” You can also keep it more simple by saying, “I had a stressful day today.” All of these examples here communicate honesty and also shows respect toward the person asking about it. Another way to communicate with people who you know care about you, is to volunteer your thoughts and feelings about a specific situation, before you are asked about it while also adding the the above statements after you say it. It is also important to be aware of your own reaction to how others respond to the feelings you put out. It may be helpful to tell others that you are trying something new in terms of being more emotionally present so other people will not be surprised if you respond in a more emotionally honest way.
- Be an attentive and active listener when someone close to you is sharing something vulnerable or personal. If your loved one is discussing an issue that is important to him or her, try to make space to listen to them. This could include making eye contact, reflecting back what you hear the person saying, or asking open-ended questions to help move the conversation forward. It is also effective to just listen and not say anything, especially if you are not used to hearing emotionally-charged information or are uncomfortable yourself. For example, if your loved one shares with you how they were in a minor car accident and was shaken up emotionally, aside from making eye contact with them, you can say things like “I know how frightening that can be, what can I do to help you?” The conversation can be moved forward by saying “what is our next steps in resolving this?” By using the term “our” instead of “you,” it implies support and a team effort toward the solution. Be careful not appear disinterested, check your phone while they are talking to you, or blame them without really hearing what is being said which could potentially create resistance in the conversation.
- Offer empathy and support. Instead of just responding to the “content” of what the person is telling you, make the effort to determine how the person feels by imagining yourself in that same situation. For example, if your partner talks about how their boss may have treated them unfairly, you can say something like “I can see how this could really upset you. What do you need from me to help you feel better?” as opposed to getting lost in the details of what disturbed your partner is feeling. This could feel very uncomfortable or anxiety-producing at first until you are more at ease with how to communicate your feelings. Try not to let any anxious feelings prevent you from speaking your mind. Again, it takes practice to do this. Just know that not everyone is good at this and it is okay,, especially when you are not used to communicating on an emotional level
- Honor someone’s trust in you. It is easy to verbalize a commitment to not repeat something that someone asked you not to, but what about not sharing personal information about others regardless of whether they specifically said, “don’t tell anyone this.” For example, someone close to you may have shared something vulnerable from their past, but failed to tell you not to repeat it. Using your judgment and empathic understanding, you move toward emotional availability by asking yourself “if I was them, how would I feel about this information being repeated to others?” If the answer is clearly that you would not want that information talked about if it was your own, then that is a clue to not repeat it to others without needing the original person to declare it between the two of you.
- Make the time to talk and follow through on a conversation you believe is important to the other person. Sometimes life gets busy and we may not be open to talking and listening at the same time our loved one is ready. It is easy to say, “let’s talk about this later,” but the key is to follow through with making the time to come back to that conversation by suggesting an alternative time to talk, preferably on your own initiative without being asked again because it shows that you care about the other person’s feelings. However, failure to come back to the fact that a conversation needs to be had could wrongly convey that whatever that issue is about is not as important to you as it is to them. Remember, non-verbal actions have more weight.
As far as take-aways from this article, remember that sharing about feelings more openly and honestly, as well as being a good listener to others, is a process that takes time in order to be most effective. Sometimes sharing about feelings can be anxiety-provoking and that is okay. As long as you are open and willing to emotionally present with others, you will be okay. If you would like to learn more about how to be more emotionally available, please contact the Center for Growth and make an appointment with a therapist.
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