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Emotional Availability

Sharing emotions means being able to use “I feel” statements – for example, “I feel angry,” “I feel sad,” “I feel confused.” It’s important not to add the word “that” to our “I feel” statements – “I feel that…” – which changes the statement from an expression of emotion to an intellectual explanation.

To share emotions we must have a high level of trust with the other person. We make ourselves vulnerable, lower some of our boundaries and let our friend, partner or therapist see us at moments when we may not be at our best.

When we are truly able to share emotions with another person, we are being emotionally available. But, for a variety of reasons, not everyone has the same capacity for emotional availability.

Emotional availability is to some extent a learned skill. If we grow up in a home in which it is safe to explore and express emotions, we will find it easier to do so as adults. We can express sadness, excitement, self-doubt, fear and even anger without thinking it will end our relationship. We will not only be able to express our own emotions, but we will also have the ability to sense emotions in others.

On the other hand, if we grow up in a home in which emotions are contained or not valued (for example, when intellectual performance, perfection, secrets or physical attributes are given highest priority), we may have a harder time identifying and expressing our emotions as adults.

In a romantic relationship, the two partners must be somewhat balanced in their emotional availability. This can seem easy in the earliest stages of the relationship, when both partners are fully engaged, excited and caught up in the intensity of attention and learning about each other. Both individuals are likely to be in a heightened emotional state and even reserved people may find themselves expressing more emotions than usual.

But as the relationship moves into a more committed stage, when “normal” life takes over and some of the early excitement diminishes, the partners may learn that their individual emotional characters and needs are quite different. Instead of all the focus of their time together being on each other and the relationship, one partner may now return his or her attention (and even passion) to work, family or outside activities.

One partner may seem more reserved and less emotional than in the initial stages, while the other continues to hunger for the extreme vulnerability and closeness they experienced in those early days. Over time, without intervention, their differences can become a burden, one person feeling smothered and the other feeling emotionally abandoned.

In a successful relationship, both partners must have personal boundaries, strong identities, self-esteem AND emotional fulfillment at the level that seems right for them. The more the individuals have explored their own boundaries, identity, self-esteem and emotions, the easier it will be to share that knowledge and skill in a mature, committed relationship.

The ideal time to begin this exploration is before we begin a relationship. But if we find ourselves in a relationship that is emotionally out of balance, a therapist or relationship coach can be extremely helpful as we seek emotional communication and fulfillment.

For a free phone consult, call Dr. Fibus at 818.395.2831.

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