There’s nothing quite like connecting with someone on a deep, emotional level. Unfortunately, some guys are just tougher nuts to crack and seem to hold back at the thought of opening up. It may be from a fear of your reaction, or maybe he shies away from vulnerability. Whatever the case, you’re missing out. After all, emotional intimacy is one of the keys to a healthy relationship. So how do you get him to open up? It’s a process of creating a safe, loving, and low-pressure environment and he’ll love you for it.
Skip the agenda. If you go into a conversation thinking, “I’m going to get him to open up tonight,” you’re creating a pressure-filled environment. You may not realize you’re doing it, but you’ll have an anticipation that he can sense, which might raise his walls. Plus, it may take more time for him to open up than you think. Avoid disappointment and don’t set up your evening as a pass-fail openness test.
Create a comfortable environment. People rarely feel compelled to open up when sitting across a table in a crowded restaurant. Think of where you’d want to be if you were going to open up. Laid out on a blanket under the stars? On a night drive while listening to your favorite music? Laying in bed in the vulnerable minutes before falling asleep? Provide comforting opportunities like these to raise your chances that he’ll open up.
Tell stories. Skip the leading questions like, “What was your relationship with your father like?” This isn’t an interview. Leading questions are great when he’s already opening up, but it’s a no-no when he’s still got his guard up. Instead, start telling your own life stories. People connect through stories and it’s often the easiest way to get someone to open up. If you’re worried about intimidating him, start with funny and light stories. You can always get deeper as the night goes on.
Lead by example. A relationship means give and take. If you want him to open up, be an open book as well. Tell your stories of your tough childhood or the moment when you had to say a final goodbye to a relative. There’s a very good chance he’ll feel comfortable enough to reciprocate if you’re doing it, too. Pick stories that many people connect with and might have a similar story, like bullying, depression, and first loves. This might prompt him to say, “Yeah, the same thing happened to me…”
Keep things easy. Intensity can be intimidating and off-putting. Of all the times when you want to act casual, this is one–especially if he’s on the brink of opening up. A great way to do this is to create a comfortable silence. He might want to fill it by opening up to you. Just lean against him and relish in the silence.
Listen. Once he starts, you don’t want to scare him from continuing, right? It’s time to use all the listening skills you’ve learned over the years. Make eye contact and nod when appropriate. Don’t try to steer the conversation away from him and back to yourself. This is about him after all, not you.
Ask leading questions. Is he telling you a tough story? Now’s the time to ask deep questions. During lulls, ask him questions to keep the story going. “Wow, what was that like?” “How did your brother/mom/friend react?” This not only shows that you’re listening, but it also helps him know that you’re interested in the story.
Show empathy. One of the biggest fears people have if they have trouble opening up is that someone won’t understand what they went through. Be supportive, comfort him when a story gets tough, and say things like, “Wow, I would have felt the same way.” Most importantly, show him gratitude that he’s opened up.
Let him choose the depth. He might start small to test the waters. If you feel like there’s more hidden depth to him, don’t let that get you down. This first conversation is just a stepping stone. If he feels like you’re pressuring him to go deeper than he’s comfortable with, his emotional wall may just become permanent.
Don’t expect this to happen overnight. Some guys are more guarded than others. Perhaps he’s opened up to someone in the past and it backfired on him. Respect that it might take time. Above all else, don’t give him the impression that you’re trying to get him to open up right now. That’s a quick way to have him erect his walls and close his doors. If all of this is done right, though, you’ll be taking your relationship to the next level.