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Unexpressive Partner

Question:

I love someone who has great difficulty expressing himself. he holds all emotions in. even during sex. he had an abusive father that walked out at an early age to never return. Could this be one of the reasons? He then was brought up by a mother that never remarried and his grandmother. Does the bottled up anger for his father hold him back? Please help.

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Answer:

Your partner has a complex life history that certainly has bearing on why he is the way he is today. Unfortunately, nobody has any way of knowing what caused what. It is very likely that the abuse and abandonment your partner suffered as a child affected him, but it is probably not possible or tremendously useful to try and specify exactly how these experiences have affected him.

I take it that you are not just curious about how your partners’ (lack of) expressive style came about but rather that you would like to see him become more expressive. There is no quick or easy route to this goal, if this is what you are interested in. Your partner probably developed his style as a way of avoiding feeling hurt and out of control and it has become such a way of being in the world for him now that he doesn’t notice it anymore and doesn’t know how to act differently. In fact, he might be expected to feel threatened and unappreciated if anyone were to suggest he wasn’t acting in the right way. Don’t expect him to be able to change easily. He can change, and will if he is so motivated – but don’t bet your relationship on his need to make this change. This will only set you up for heartache. Rather, see if you can’t accept him as he is – and view any changes he can make towards greater intimacy as a bonus.

I would suggest that you start on your road to changing your relationship by telling your partner just how much you care for him, and that you understand where he comes from in his stoicism, but that it is something that doesn’t work for you too well. Provide him with concrete examples of how he could be more expressive – don’t assume he knows how to do what you want and is just holding it back. Chances are good he literally doesn’t know what to do differently. Explicitly praise and reward him when he makes small changes you are happy with. Down the road, you might (as a couple) think about counseling, or intimacy classes, dancing lessons, etc. – things that would bring you together as a couple in new, challenging ways. None of this will stand a chance if he isn’t on board with you, wanting to become closer, valuing and trusting your relationship, wanting to grow as a person, and wanting to please you. Work towards an environment that fosters this sort of exchange between yourselves.

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