How to get a man to open up to you emotionally is a question many women ask themselves, and there’s no simple answer.
But building a strong foundation and trust and having the right approach (and patience) are essential ingredients.
Maybe you feel he’s not sharing what’s on his mind or emotionally closed off. You might be looking for a stronger emotional and intellectual connection but aren’t sure how to achieve that.
It’s important to remember that historically, (most) men have been socialized to believe that showing feelings is a sign of weakness.
They’re not encouraged to be in touch with or open about their feelings as much as women are. The narrative they grew up with is “Boys don’t cry” and “Suck it up”.
That being said, some men are very open and comfortable with their emotions. It depends on his upbringing, personality, and attachment style, so getting a guy to open up means considering these factors.
Of course, creating an open, honest, emotionally intimate relationship isn’t only up to you – the man in your life must work on it, too. However, I will focus on what you can do to help a guy open up, according to the men I spoke to for this article.
Consider His Culture, Upbringing, Personality, and Attachment Style
Before you keep reading about how to get a guy to open up, consider him as a person.
What kind of culture and environment did he grow up in? Is he more introverted or extroverted? Does he have an insecure attachment style?
Some people grow up in a household where talking about feelings is discouraged. Patriarchal cultures teach men that showing emotions is “for women” and that being like a woman is degrading.
For these men, opening up emotionally might feel alien and extremely uncomfortable. For men who were encouraged from a young age to talk about their feelings, it’s easier.
If he grew up in a family in which deep conversations always ended in conflict, then he might have come to associate opening up with being in trouble.
A man with an avoidant attachment style probably feels little need to share and be open, and he’s most likely quite happy without much emotional intimacy.
- Reflect on him as a person – what about his upbringing and personality might be stopping him from opening up?
- Depending on your relationship, you could even ask him that question – don’t force it, just explore that with him in an open-ended manner (more on this below).
- Take this as an opportunity to develop and apply empathy. Consider his point of view as this will allow you to approach him with more understanding.
Timing is Important
Talking about feelings, fears, and desires comes more naturally to some than others.
If the man in your life struggles to open up, it’s probably a good idea to ensure he has the time and energy for that sort of conversation.
You could ask him about his feelings and thoughts when you’re alone with nothing much else to do or arrange a time when it suits you both.
Over time, the more you practice and prioritize emotional support and intimacy, it will become normalized and happen naturally.
Every man I spoke to said that trust is the key ingredient to get a man to open up.
Ben said, for example, “You have to be a good friend; someone I can trust. But if I can sense you’re cool and won’t run your mouth, I’m more likely to open up even when I don’t know you that well.”
Would you open up to someone if you thought they would use what you said against you later or if you thought they’d make fun of what you said?
Probably not. So, if vulnerability doesn’t come easily to you anyway, being able to trust that person is even more important.
- Showing him you won’t throw whatever he’s told you back in his face, for example, during an argument.
- He pays attention to how you speak to and about other people. If he knows you spill people’s secrets or make fun of the things people tell you, he knows he can’t trust you with that kind of information.
- If he opens up and you get angry or berate him, it will chip away at his trust and he’ll be less likely to open up again.
Action Steps: Building Trust
Share – Be open and transparent yourself. Share your own feelings and show him that you can be vulnerable around him.
Show Vulnerability – Tell him about your weaknesses and faults. Share a story that shows him it’s okay not to be perfect.
Alfie said, “Seeing softness and humility in someone else brings my guard down. If someone else exposes a vulnerability, I find it easier to be more open with them.”
Take it Slow – David said, “It’s like hunting a deer. Approach him slowly and carefully but with confidence.
Don’t just go in and say, “Hey, tell me about your feelings!” – that will scare him away. Start with questions that don’t go too deep and then increase the “intensity”.”
Be Kind and Respectful – Men can feel quite vulnerable opening up so make sure he knows you’re on his side and that the questions or conversation are not about winning or finding faults.
He’ll learn that opening up isn’t so bad when you’re respectful and kind. He’ll learn that opening up means trouble if you’re constantly looking for mistakes and go on the attack.
Give Him Space and Practice Patience – Forcing him to talk about something will probably not get you the result you’re looking for.
You have to build that type of relationship first and for that, you need to give him space and practice patience.
Show Him The Benefits of Vulnerability
Oscar said, “A guy has to see the benefit of opening up to you.”
If you show an interest and engage with what he tells you, he’ll come to value those conversations. It will bring him relief, build a deeper bond, and make him feel like he can be himself around you.
Conversely, if he associates stress and conflict with opening up to you, he won’t see the benefit or value in doing so.
You don’t have to solve all his problems – just give him the space to talk. Allowing someone to let it all out can sometimes be more helpful than getting advice.
Be Mindful of Your Verbal and Body Language
The way you approach him will have an impact on the outcome of your conversation, so be mindful of your verbal and body language.
Let’s say you want to know how your boyfriend feels about your relationship.
In one scenario, you enter the room while he’s working on his laptop, tap him on his shoulder, and ask him with crossed arms and a frown, “Do you even love me? You’re so cold towards me all the time.”
In a different scenario, you wait until you’ve sat down together, and you both have free time. Your body language is open, and you say, “I wanted to speak to you about something that’s been on my mind if that’s okay? I’ve been feeling a bit unsettled about our relationship recently because we seem to be quite distant. How do you feel about that?”
Which scenario do you think would make it more likely for him to be open and honest with you?
- Before you start a conversation, take a breath and remember what your aim is – to find a solution or to improve the situation. The way you approach him will influence how the conversation goes.
- Use “I” statements e.g., “I’ve been feeling…” rather than “You” statements e.g., “You do this all the time” or “You clearly don’t love me anymore”
- Be mindful of your body language: uncross your arms, relax your face, and use open body language instead.
- Use kind and respectful language and avoid accusations and judgment.
Be Open and Curious
Following on from the last point about language, it’s best to approach him with openness and curiosity.
If you’re looking for an answer to something or you just want to connect emotionally, ask an open-ended but specific question, and then actually listen to what he says.
Ben said, “When I’m being open about something, I don’t like being interrupted with questions. Let me vent and let all my problems out. If you ask questions, it makes me lose my train of thought.”
He added, “Don’t ask “How do you feel?” because that would make me answer “Yeah, I’m fine”. Specific questions like “How do you feel about x?” or “How’s it going with x?” would get me to open up a bit more.”
Dave said it was important not to interpret what he was saying but to listen to the actual words that were coming out of his mouth: “I was telling her how I felt and she kept saying “This is what you mean” and “You’re trying to say this” – she wasn’t listening to what I was saying. She was just trying to prove that I was somehow against her.”
- Don’t assume – ask. If you don’t know exactly what he means, ask him to clarify.
- Accept his words for what they are, and avoid interpretations. According to the men I spoke to, men are generally very straightforward and don’t speak “in code”.
- Practice active listening.
- Ask open-ended but specific questions.
- Avoid asking loaded questions (“Do you think she’s prettier than me?”) because that makes it feel like your agenda is to argue.
- Passive-aggressiveness is never helpful – say what you mean assertively and calmly instead.
Mind Your Energy
If you approach a conversation expecting a negative outcome, he will likely feel that and shut down unless he enjoys confrontation.
Although having arguments is normal sometimes, they’re rarely productive because it’s mostly about who’s winning (in reality, no one wins), who is wrong, and making accusations.
Having an open discussion is much more productive.
For that to happen, it’s important to have conversations with a solution-focused approach. That means, keeping in mind that 1) you want to find a solution 2) you don’t want to hurt his feelings and 3) want the relationship to last.
Foster a Healthy Relationship
When you have a good relationship overall, he’ll probably feel more comfortable opening up to you.
If there’s constant conflict, passive-aggressiveness, and distance, it’s difficult to have an emotionally intimate relationship.
Action Steps: Creating a Safe Space and Healthy Foundation
- Show your appreciation for the things he does for you. Express your gratitude generously.
- Do new and fun things together.
- Compliment him and tell him when he’s done something well (i.e., positive reinforcement).
- Focus on his strengths and good qualities.
- Show an interest in his interests.
Tread Lightly and Use Humor
You don’t have to wait until there’s a problem to engage in a deep discussion. Having a laugh and lighthearted conversation about all sorts of things without an agenda will create more openness between you.
He might impulsively decide to open up in that moment or at least it will give him the feeling that it’s a safe space.
When you allow a man to be himself and provide an environment that is relaxed and positive, he’ll find it easier to be open with you, as Alfie said, “The more I can be myself around you, the more I can open up.”
Let Go of Your Insecurities
Your own insecurities can sometimes get in the way of a man opening up to you, as Marvin has experienced with his girlfriend.
Marvin and Iris have been together for a couple of years now and share a lot of happy times. Iris wants more commitment and for Marvin to move in with her, but Marvin enjoys his freedom and is more cautious about moving in together.
One afternoon, she asked him, “What do you think of our living situation?” Marvin answered honestly and said, “I think it’s best if we have our own places but have lots of sleepovers and spend time together. I just think it’s better for us to keep separate places for now.”
This triggered Iris’s fear of rejection and she became very angry, accusing Marvin of not wanting to commit and wanting out of the relationship.
Marvin felt the question had been loaded, and she only wanted to hear one answer rather than hear his opinion. It made him shut down, and he resolved to only give her answers he thought she wanted to hear.
If you show him you’re very sensitive and take everything to mean he’s pulling away from you, he’ll avoid opening up.
He doesn’t want to hurt your feelings, so if he doesn’t feel like you can handle the truth, he’ll hold back and be very cautious.
- Try to listen with an attitude of “It’s not about me.”
- Listen with the aim of understanding, not to catch him out or find fault in what he’s saying.
- Trust that he means what he says.
- Work on your attachment insecurities.
- Many men struggle to open up emotionally because of the way they’ve been socialized.
- Everyone is different and it’s therefore important to consider his personality and upbringing and practice empathy.
- Give him space and don’t force it; have patience.
- Build a foundation of trust – give him the feeling that he can talk to you about anything.
- Emotional intimacy has to be developed over time. Handle him and his emotions with care and love.
- Keep practicing and prioritizing emotional intimacy and support.
- Lead by example: be vulnerable around him, share your feelings, and show him how to be open.
- Be open and curious; ask open-ended but specific questions; and practice active listening.
- Let go of assumptions and judgement and give him the space to talk and vent.
- Be mindful of your verbal and body language – approach him with openness and kindness.
- Take a solution-focused approach but don’t focus on solving his problems – just let him talk.
- Build on other types of intimacy and foster a healthy relationship e.g., talk about his interests, do new and exciting things together, have a laugh and be silly together, and work on your sex life.
- Give him compliments, appreciate him, and focus on his strengths and positive qualities.
- Work on your own insecurities.
If you’ve done all you can do to create a space for him to be open with you, but he doesn’t budge, maybe the problem is that you’re incompatible. Don’t give him an ultimatum, but tell him your emotional needs aren’t being met, and consider moving on.