**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a close friend, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
As a former emotionally-unavailable-love enthusiast, I can attest to the constant angst of being in a relationship with someone who struggles to express their feelings. You never know when they will pull away or end things abruptly. It’s the verbal equivalent of white-knuckle driving.
I empathized with my friend when she told me that she was feeling insecure in her relationship because her boyfriend couldn’t express his feelings. I could see the fear in her eyes, the same fear I had felt countless times. I wanted to tell her that it would be OK, but I didn’t want to lie to her.
When you’re in a relationship with someone who can’t express their feelings, you will always feel insecure. It’s not necessarily their fault; some people are just naturally reserved. But it does create a dynamic in which you constantly question the relationship.
“He tells me he loves me all the time,” she said. “But I can never feel it. You know what I mean?”
I nodded because I did know what she meant. For some people, I love you is just something you say. But if the other person does not feel loved by you, then the words are meaningless.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears. “I’m just so tired of feeling this way.”
What does it mean when someone can’t express their emotions?
Not being emotional is not always a sign of being distant or uncaring. It could simply mean that they have trouble articulating their feelings. Sometimes it merely means that they’re just not good with words.
For some people, a lack of emotional expression is a form of self-preservation. Telling someone how you feel can make you feel vulnerable, like you’re putting yourself out there and opening yourself up to rejection. So instead of taking that risk, some people keep their feelings to themselves.
But whatever the reason, a lack of emotional expression can put a strain on a relationship.
Emotionality is a spectrum.
Everyone emotes at the level that they feel comfortable. And that’s OK. It’s easy for some people to pour their hearts out, but it’s just too difficult for others.
The important thing is to be honest with your partner about your comfort level with emotions. If you need a lot of emotional reassurance, be upfront about it. Otherwise, you’ll end up feeling frustrated and resentful.
And if you’re in a relationship with someone who is not very emotional, try to be understanding. It’s not easy for them to express their feelings, so cut them some slack.
Emotional expression boils down to comfort and safety. If it doesn’t feel safe to be vulnerable, your partner will have difficulty expressing their emotions. It would help if you created an environment where your partner feels comfortable and safe to express themselves. Only then will you be able to truly connect with them on an emotional level.
“You may not realize your upbringing greatly shaped how you view, approach, and express your emotions. Those belief systems may not be shared by your partners or be all that helpful.” — Margarita Tartakovsky, MS
So how can you create a safe space for someone else when you feel insecure yourself?
The first step is to understand that feeling insecure is normal. It’s OK to have doubts, especially when you have barred your soul to someone who struggles to express themselves.
The second step is to communicate with your partner. If you’re feeling insecure, tell them. Don’t try to bottle it up. It will only make things worse for you and them. Expressing your doubts and insecurities might be scary for you, but your partner will probably be able to relate to that feeling.
Lastly, try to be patient. Change doesn’t happen overnight. It will take time for your partner to feel comfortable enough to open up to you. In the meantime, try to focus on the positive aspects of your relationship. Remind yourself of all the reasons you’re with them in the first place.
“Staying vulnerable, open and compassionate toward our partner can make them feel safe and allow them to take a chance on being close. Being our best is the surest way to bring out the best in our partners.” — Lisa Firestone, Ph.D.
Emotional detachment vs. Trouble expressing feelings
I would be remiss if I didn’t drive the point home that having trouble expressing your feelings does not mean that you are emotionally unavailable or detached.
There is a big difference between being emotionally unavailable and having trouble expressing your emotions.
Emotionally unavailable people are typically unwilling or unable to connect with their emotions. For whatever reason, emotionally detached people consciously choose not to get emotionally involved.
On the other hand, people who have trouble expressing their emotions are capable of deep feelings. But they find it difficult to put those feelings into words.
As for my friend, with a little bit of a nudge from me, she had a heart-to-heart with her beau. She told him how she was feeling, and he was able to open up a little bit more.
It hasn’t been easy for either of them, but their efforts seem to be paying off.
Do you find it difficult to express your emotions? Do you think it’s caused problems in your relationships? Let me know in the comments!