How to get boyfriend to be more emotionally intimate?
September 29, 2008 3:11 PM   Subscribe

How can I get my boyfriend to be more emotionally intimate with me without prying or being annoying?

He goes out of his way physically and financially just to make me happy. He puts up with me when I am super stressed. I like to think that I do the same for him. But when it comes down to our personal lives, he can be distant and a bit socially awkward about some personal topics. It is not like he even had a bad childhood, or has any reason to hate the world. He is a happy, intelligent person with a lot of opinions on objective stuff. We have been dating for months and I thought we were at the point where we could be more emotionally intimate. It matters to me because it is reassuring, and because it is one way of knowing if this person is really worth spending a good amount of my life with. I love spending time with him, but this issue has been a burden on me and I feel like I can not do much about it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Have you talked to him about it? Because, you know, he's going to know a lot more about why he's not ready to chat about his emotions with you that anyone here is.
posted by Solomon at 3:21 PM on September 29, 2008

Seconding the "talk about it."

And then there's the "respect his boundaries" part. Some people are more reserved than others. Some people have certain things they don't like to talk about. It's okay for him to feel that way.

But it's also okay for you to tell him you feel differently.

There's no timetable for emotional revelations, you know. He'll share things as he feels comfortable, or not, just as you've shared things as you've felt comfortable, or not.

And no matter what, it will be helpful to get your concerns about this on the table.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:24 PM on September 29, 2008

While talking to him about it and asking for something different are both within your right and a good idea, remember that going out of his way physically and financially are probably the ways he best knows how to show affection. You can certainly ask for different, but that will take time - maybe even a long time. The most important thing is not to forget the meaning behind what he is expressing to you already.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 3:26 PM on September 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

You can't make him more emotionally available. He's really the only one who has control over that.

Stop thinking about it in terms of him having some flaw that needs fixing. It doesn't matter if there's some deep emotional trauma from his childhood or not -- he's not a puzzle to solve. Instead, this is a problem with both of you, namely, how you two interact. It's going to need both of you to work with each other, to compromise, and to try to understand the other's point of view.

So what do you need to do, given that you cannot do anything to control how emotionally available he is? You need to explain to him why you do not feel he is emotionally available enough, you need to be open to understanding things from his point of view, and you need to think of this as an issue for both of you to solve (as opposed to a problem for him to overcome).

Even if, in the end, his issues with intimacy are severe enough that he should consult a psychologist, it's still important that the two of you work together to understand how to make your relationship work, given these difficulties.
posted by Ms. Saint at 3:50 PM on September 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

I had a boyfriend like that once. I ended up talking to him about it, and he basically said he's just not the type of person to 'open up' early on.

He wasn't like me, who is perfectly willing to just strike up a conversation on a random memory. I walk around my old neighbourhoods and say "hah, one time, this happened, isn't that mad?", his memory just never got stirred like that. Once he knew I was taking it a little personally, he tried a little harder to throw in little anecdotes here and there about his childhood.

It took a little effort and I found that if I wanted to hear a story, all I had to do was ask the right questions, and pay attention. Soon enough, I started hearing his stories twice over- that's when I knew that I had finally gotten to know him, and he had finally reached his comfort zone with me.

Just remember not to take it too personally (it's hard, I know), and talk to him! About this, about anything, everything- eventually he'll have to reciprocate.
posted by sunshinesky at 3:51 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

nthing l33tpolicywonk on the meaning of what he's already doing, but IMHO being "distant and a bit socially awkward about some personal topics" is quite a specific thing, and I'm not sure that it is neccessarily the same thing as being generally emotionally distant. I don't mean this to sound harsh at all, so please don't take it that way, but I think your need to resolve this issue in terms of it being a reassuring thing for you perhaps says more about your own issues than it does about him. People are different, he has as much right to be him as you have to be you, the fundamental question is whether you can accomodate and celebrate your differences or not...
posted by Chairboy at 3:52 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

We have been dating for months. Well, "months" isn't all that long (especially if it's two or three rather than seven or eight). Emotional intimacy takes time. His timeline may be longer than yours. I think if everything is working as well as you say, then you should try to relax and let him reach his comfort zone. I understand the feeling of wondering if it's worth the investment. But sometimes you just have to wait it out. Believe me, lots of emotional intimacy right up front isn't always an indicator of relationship staying power.

I've been in a relationship for over four years. And it's the best I've ever had, and the only one I ever want. But it took time... for various reasons, he was feeling very emotionally vulnerable when we met. It was well over 6 months before I started to see him open up about certain subjects. It was a year before I met some of his closest friends. It was nearly two years before I met his parents (who live in the same town as we do). But we really clicked, and he was a warm, kind and supportive man, and I decided to back off and give him the time he needed. He came around. I can't promise the same for you, but I think pushing is not going to achieve the result you want.
posted by kimdog at 3:57 PM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you might benefit from reading the book The Five Love Languages, frequently recommended on AskMetafilter. You want your BF to reveal things about his emotions because that's a language that makes sense to you. But maybe the whole time he's been expressing intimacy to you in a different way, that is much more meaningful to him.
posted by matildaben at 4:10 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's kind of hard without examples to get an exact picture of the emotional distance you're talking about, so I'm just going to bust out with my own personal experiences on this and assume you are in a similar situation to the one I was in a few years ago.

My guy is the type of guy who will think things like "you look great" or "I love you" a lot, but only says it once in a great while. I say whatever I think pretty much as soon as I think it. So we had a pretty hard time relating to one another at first, because it seemed like I was doing all the feeling in the relationship. This was not the case. I was simply doing all the talking.

It took me a few years to get used to it, but I did eventually learn to read his nonverbal cues. He's very expressive through affection and at this point I can tell when he's thinking the things I tend to say out loud. He learned that I like to hear "I love you" every so often (because I told him).

Ultimately, I think the most important thing is that we each kept up with the style of communication we were comfortable with until eventually, we found a nice spot in the middle. It's worth asking yourself if you will get to that point (and if you're willing to wait for it).
posted by smalls at 7:03 PM on September 29, 2008 [6 favorites]

Seconding sondrialiac. I had to just wait it out. "Months" is really not a long time, although having been in your situation I am sympathetic to why it's frustrating to wait when you don't need to. It took two years for my fiance to show very much emotion aside from generally being happy. Then it was another two years before he opened up significantly. Two years after that, now, he's considerably more emotional around me. So that took six years total.

In the meantime, just try to be patient and enjoy the good stuff. The upside with people who aren't prone to huge emotional displays is that there's generally not as much drama.
posted by Nattie at 8:35 PM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

get him drunk.
posted by leibniz at 12:21 AM on September 30, 2008

You might want to read this. Yes it is from Oprah, but it is rather interesting.

While I don't subscribe to the men are... women are... idea simply because there are so many exceptions, I do believe there are general tendencies in language and relating. So perhaps you might try to stop wishing your man would relate to you like a woman would and he can stop wishing you'd *not* relate like men would.

I know you asked how to get your boyfriend to be more intimate, I speak from experience that you simply cannot. - nor should you. You write that "It matters to me because it is reassuring," but you need to consider that it might matter to your man that he be given space. There are different styles of intimacy, different styles of relating.

Speaking as a man who is like this, I would resent pressure (not to say that is what you are doing) to be emotionally intimate. it would make me markedly *less* intimate because any attempt at intimacy would feel forced and awkward. Frankly, I would feel a bit like a trained seal. Where's my fish?

Again you have the right to have a boyfriend whose style of relating is more like yours if it is important to you. I don't think you have the right to change him or expect him to change.

If he is everything perfect other than this one thing, perhaps looking at him as someone from another cultural tradition where people are reticent might put some pressure off of him. Think of him as a Finn.
posted by xetere at 8:04 AM on September 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Everytime he opens up, even a little, shower him with affection and let him know how great he is. Works every time. Guys are really simple.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:16 AM on September 30, 2008

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