Making Relationships Work

On "being emotionally available"

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What does being "emotionally available" really mean? How does it show up practically between two people? This page discusses the concept further.

Being "emotionally available" means that you are listening to what your partner is saying. Additionally it means that you're allowing yourself to resonate with how he or she is feeling and that you're putting your own stuff aside, just for the time being.

People use the word "empathy" to describe the emotional quality in "being emotionally available". Empathy refers to the ability to sense and understand someone else's feelings as if they were your own. Putting all of those elements together means being emotionally available is quite a complex skill. Here are the individual building blocks:

Active Listening

Listening means just that: being quiet and focusing on what the other person has to say.

Don't interrupt too much, but maybe show that you are actively engaged by nodding or smiling.

Your job is to listen and try to understand what he or she is saying means to them.

It's often a good idea to ask open-ended questions, which allow the other person to explore the topic further. Really give your partner space at this point. Don't rush things: talking and really understanding takes time. It is possible that your partner's story will change as it unfolds.

That's normal. Saying things out loud to somebody else is a powerful process, which in itself means things move forward in some way.

Please remember that you are not required to fix things for your partner. No practical action may be called for except to listen and try to understand. If you feel it hard to sit with the other person's emotion, simply try and relax.

Active listening

Listening is something you can do by yourself. In active listening you are listening and then showing your partner that you are listening.

You are listening as well as communicating back to your partner that you are listening.

This will mean that the other gets a sense that you are really present with them. You can communicate that you are listening by non verbal cues such as smiling, nodding, and matching the other person's gestures. You can also communicate that you are listening by supportive "uhm" and "ahm" noises, or by saying the odd word here and there such as "I see".

Asking questions is also great. If you can stick more to open ended questions, which will give your partner a chance to open up the conversation rather than close it down.

Make space for the other

One could see making space for the other quite literally, as in setting time aside to focus on the other person.

It's really important that couples do have time with each other and for each other, so they can manage every day life together.

However, making space for someone is also about making space for somebody in your mind. This means giving the other person your attention and setting aside your own issues and worries for the moment.

If you find this difficult, it might help to think about it in ego state terms. When you make space for another, you are willing to stay grounded in your Adult ego state: in other words, you're willing to be present in a calm and grounded way without your own concerns impinging on your attention to what your partner is saying.

If what is being said is about you in some way, don't react to it straight away. You are there just now to support the other, not to defend yourself.

Quite often the other person does not want to attack you in some way, but simply wants you to listen non-defensively to what they have to say.

Being open

Being open means that you are willing to let yourself resonate with another person's emotions.

Once you make some space for another person's emotions, and you are actively listening to what he or she may be expressing, you may feel emotionally moved by what he or she is saying and feeling. Being open allows you to feel with the other person and emotionally understand what is going on for them.

Be prepared to let yourself be stirred by him or her!  Allow them to impact you.

This is an important aspect of being close to someone.

If you're resonating with somebody else's feeling, you often naturally go to the complementary emotional position. That is, if somebody feels sad, what is called for from you is compassion; if they feel anger, it is listening and taking them seriously; when they are anxious, it's reassurance; and when they are happy or excited, you could mirror delight.

May 3 2023

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