What first attracts a man or woman is often quite different from what compels him/her to stick around. In the early stages of attraction we feel very close someone we don’t really know much about. With time, we learn things about the other person that either moves the relationship forward, slows it down or ends it.
In a relationship where two people increasingly feel emotionally safe with each other, self-disclosure is an ongoing process. Usually one person takes the risk of disclosing personal information and then “tests” whether the other reciprocates. If the other is willing, ready and capable of emotional self-disclosure, he/she self-discloses at the same level. The give and take provides important information about the emotions and feelings happening inside each person as well as the emotions and feelings that each person has about the relationship.
In relationships where one or both parties do not feel emotionally safe for self-disclosure, one person may self-disclose more than the other person and this is usually the person who is more eager to move the relationship forward. But because the other person is not forthcoming or reciprocating at the same level of self-disclosure, the person who is showing more of their inner person begins to feel vulnerable or emotionally exposed. This is when most relationships begin having problems.
When people don’t feel that they are being let in, they complain about lack of emotional connection (something is missing), lash out in anger (we don’t communicate) and/or emotionally shut down.
To move a relationship forward, one must learn 1) healthy self-closure and 2) provide an emotionally safe environment that encourages the other person to self-disclose at a relatively same level and long enough to form a deeper emotional bond.
1) Healthy self-closure
We are all different when it comes to self-disclosure. Some people self-disclose too much too soon and others begins with disclosing little information at a time, all the while checking the receiver’s reactions and feedback.
2) Emotionally safe environment
Some things you can do to create a supportive and non-threatening environment include:
- Show sensitivity and appreciation for the effort he/she is making to reveal his/her inner being.
- Don’t judge what the other person reveals to you (e.g. tell them how it should have been said better, why they should not think/feel/believing that way, or psychoanalyzing them)
- Don’t reveal to other people what the other person reveals to you (unless they are okay with it).
- Make an effort to really understand the other person’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, fantasies, difficulties, dreams, hopes or past.
- Respect his/her desire to hold back on some things until he/she feels emotionally safe to self-disclose.