Do you have a partner who clams up on you the second a conversation turns the least bit intense?
I have a friend who has a partner who does this. She has confided this to me: “Sometimes, I’d like to stand on his chest and pry his lips apart to let those thoughts come out, because I know they’re in there!”
I’ve advised her that may be considered assault, so instead she may want to try what Marriage Sherpa’s marriage counselors have found to be the #1 way to unclam a partner.
In this blog, I’ll give you that #1 way, and also explain why some people can’t seem to open up and spill their guts. Please keep reading…
The Sealed Shell Partner
Reactions to a clammed-up partner like the one my friend has are not unusual. It is ultra-frustrating to get someone to open up who doesn’t want to. You feel ignored, blown off, and disrespected.
Not the way to go if you desire a good relationship, is it?
Here’s what you should know: when someone doesn’t open up, it’s not because they can’t, it’s because they won’t. Which means, what seems to be unfixable to you, an open partner, does have a remedy that can get them to open up to you in return.
But before we get to that, let’s go over what causes someone to clam up in the first place.
One of the top reasons a person clams up is because it’s a protective mechanism. It’s why clams do it, hence, the name.
If your partner feels uncomfortable with the subject you are trying to discuss or feels he or she is about to receive blame or criticism, this may trigger a subconscious reaction to shut down. They’re not doing it to be cruel to you. They’re trying to protect their tender parts.
It could stem from childhood. Or, maybe they’ve had a job that has trained them to not discuss problems but to bury them. Whatever the root cause, clamming up is a habit, and it’s a bad one to bring to a relationship.
And, like all bad habits, it can be reformulated into a good one.
The #1 Way to Unclam Your Partner
So, it’s time to stop the emotional limbo and get your partner to open up. While they may hope you’ll get the message and just not bring up sensitive topics, that is not a healthy option. A good relationship requires open, honest communication… even when it gets sticky.
Your partner really may not realize the extent of their clamming up, nor its effect on you. So, it is important that, during a time you don’t have a sensitive topic to discuss, you first tell them in a nonjudgmental way, “You know, I have experienced that you have a tendency to shut down when I talk about something that makes you uncomfortable.”
Next, tell them what it feels like for you, also in a nonjudgmental way and using “I” statements rather than “You” statements, which can come across as accusatory. So, you could say, “I feel ignored and not taken seriously when that happens, when what I need is to know that you’ve heard me and that you will respond to me.”
And now, the #1 way to unclam your partner:
Set the Expectation
When you do have a topic you’d like to bring up that you feel your partner will more than likely clam up over, prepare them and then set the expectation.
For example, you could say:
“Honey, I need to talk with you about something that is important to me. I would like for you to hear me out. You don’t have to respond right away. If you need time to think over what I’ve said, I understand. But if you could respond to me later this evening, that would really be great. Do you think you could work with that?”
Then, wait for them to respond. They may say they need information, in which case, you tell them that’s fine, but you would still like them to commit to a response of some sort within a certain time period.
This will help them break the habit of wishful thinking that the problem will just blow over, or if they ignore it, there really is no problem.
Also, be careful in your presentation. Be mindful, again, of using “You, you, you,” which your partner may take as “You’re bad, bad, bad.” You are entitled to your feelings and your perception of events, but if you want to get someone’s attention, it works better to take ownership of your feelings by saying “I feel, I thought, I felt,” etc.