In my previous blog, I provided 21 subtle signs of an emotionally unavailable man. I was overwhelmed with the responses from men, saying that many, if not all, of the signs resonated with them. They tell me they don’t want to be this way because they feel stuck in dating or in their relationship. They say that they can see the lonely and gloomy future, being alone and lonely, because they go through date after date, and one relationship after another.
Wanting to change is a necessary component to allow for closeness and ultimately having a great relationship. Here are 5 tips to making yourself more available to your partner:
- Identify your distancing strategies. These are strategies that create emotional or physical distance between you and your partner and suppress intimacy. You do them often, so they may feel so natural to you that you’re not even aware that they create distance and uncertainty in your relationship. The first step in changing behaviors is to recognize them. Some examples (check out my previous blog for more): You may focus on their imperfections, you keep future plans fuzzy, and you ignore or diminish your partner’s positive qualities or behaviors. Remind yourself that despite your discomfort with intimacy, you need it for a happy relationship.
- Speak up for your need for space. You will always have a need for space, particularly when things get too intimate with your partner. Do this as early as possible when you meet someone so that they don’t take things personally. Say it has nothing to do with them, but it’s something that you’ve needed in every relationship and will continue to need in your new one. Give examples: “If we spend a whole day together, I might not text you as much the next day or two” or “I don’t like to text daily when I first start dating someone.”
- Distract yourself. It’s easier for you to let your guard down to your partner if there’s a distraction. Engage in activities such as making dinner together or going for a walk. When you’re not hyper-focused on an intimate moment, but rather on the activity, it can help you access your loving feelings instead of repressing them.
- Think about secure people and how they behave in their relationships. Secure people are warm and loving, comfortable with closeness, communicate issues well, and work toward common ground during conflict. Pick 2-3 people and write down how they act and react in various situations, how they respond to and interact with their partner, and their overarching beliefs about relationships. Strive to engage in the ways that they do. Don’t overwhelm yourself and try everything at once; pick one behavior to try every week or so.
- Tell people what they mean to you. It might be easier to start with a non-romantic partner. It doesn’t have to be an in-depth conversation. At the end of a phone call with a friend, you can say, “Hey, I really appreciate you listening to me today. You’re a good listener and I always feel like you understand where I’m coming from. It means a lot.” I give this task to my clients and their reaction is always surprise–surprise at how much the kind words meant to the people they spoke with, and how often it was reciprocated. Little by little, you will see the positive results of this practice, and may help you be more emotionally accessible to your romantic partner.
- Challenge your negative interpretations of your partner’s behavior. You have a tendency of ignoring positive behaviors or diminishing their value. Continually focusing on the negative will cause your relationship to be overwhelmed with negativity, and it won’t be fun for either of you to be in it. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt that their intentions are positive or at least neutral.
- Challenge your catastrophizing beliefs. Your new girlfriend invites you on a romantic weekend getaway, and your brain can only think that this means you’re one step closer to marriage and a life in the suburbs. Or she invites you to hang out with her nieces and nephews, and you assume you’re practicing for parenthood. Pump the breaks. It only means she wants to spend quality time with you for a couple of days, and it definitely doesn’t mean she sees you in her future forever. Bring yourself to focus on the moment at hand, and try to avoid applying meaning that doesn’t exist.
It is possible to become more emotionally available. It takes effort, but little changes done consistently can give you the kind of relationship that deep down, you’ve always wanted.