During a recent couples counseling session, Kylie, 36, spoke about her frustration with her husband, Tim, 35, who she feels distances himself emotionally and doesn’t show empathy when she’s upset very often. They’ve been married three years and she’s concerned that if she doesn’t feel closer to him, it will cause them to split up because she feels lonely in their marriage.
Kylie reflects: “Tim is a good husband in many ways but he tends to go into a shell and doesn’t deal with emotions very well. Yesterday, I had an argument with my sister that upset me and all he could say was “Get over it, that’s just the way your sister is, you should know that by now.” I felt worse after sharing with him and retreated to my office. I worked all night on a Saturday which is usually our date night.”
In a recent article on his website, Kyle Benson addresses one of the most common problems reported by the couples he works with: one or both partners not being emotionally available. Because this is such a widespread and relatable issue in relationships, Benson unpacks what he calls “The 6 Steps to Becoming an Emotionally Available Lover.”
Benson’s insights, borne not only of his counseling of couples, but also out of his own personal experience in relationships, are both practical and grounded. As with so many strategies to overcome romantic hurdles, Benson’s 6 Steps are rooted in self-awareness and the desire for couples to actively work on themselves and their partnership.
In Step 1 (“Take a hard look at the beliefs you have about yourself in your relationship”), Benson asks readers to probe their feelings about themselves as a way to become more emotionally accessible to their partner. He writes that partners “explore why it is that you don’t feel worthy of a close, loving relationship” and challenges couples with a question: “Is there a way to challenge your belief that if your partner gets to truly know you, they will reject you?” Simply put, we must look inward before we can be a fully functional and present part of a happy relationship.
In Step 2, Benson preaches empathy, urging each half of a couple to “make your partner’s need feel equal to yours.” Then, in the third step, Benson approaches a touchy subject in a non-threatening way. He writes that “emotionally unavailable partners often have a secret life—a backup plan for when the relationship fails.” While the notion of a “secret life” conjures thoughts of infidelity and dishonesty, Benson’s definition is much broader. The basic philosophy is the secrets create emotional distance and prevent true connection in a nurturing relationship. In short, you need to go “all in” on a happy and healthy life with your partner.
Benson’s Steps 4-6 are again the stuff of mindfulness, as being deliberate is essential to achieving emotional availability. Step 4 — “Make time for your partner” — is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Benson points out that actions speak louder than words, and “making time” is more a product of prioritizing your relationship than it is about giving up other parts of your life not directly related to your partner.
Step 5 — “Work on taking responsibility for your emotions” — is yet another practical approach. Benson counsels partners to take a personal inventory, regulate their emotions, and practice an active understanding of the negative emotions that may be impacting their relationship. The simple act of owning your anger, frustration, or impulses to blame your partner, is a key to activating the kind of empathy that empowers couples to be loving, accepting and available to one another.
Finally, Step 6 — “Commit to opening up” — is a sort of culmination of the previous five steps. If you’re self-aware, empathetic and able to take ownership of your own emotions and flaws, you will be able to foster and honest dialogue with your partner. Sharing your hopes, fears, dreams and desires fully and transparently truly is the definition of being emotionally available, and is sure to spell success in your relationship.
During our last session, Kylie was able to use an “I statement” to tell Tim how she felt and what she needed to feel closer to him. She stated “I feel lonely when you give me quick advice and are not able to show you get how I feel when I’m upset. I need you to let me know you understand and find a way to validate my feelings. If you can do this, I’ll feel closer to you and happier.”
Fortunately, Tim was able to respond in a favorable way, didn’t get defensive, saying that he would make more of an effort not to give quick advice or retreat emotionally when Kylie was upset. While this couple still has work to do to maintain intimacy, they are on the path to achieving authentic love that is sustainable. As Kyle Benson’s article points out, being more emotionally available is the key to finding intimate love that endures the test of time.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.
Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020.