A couple dancing in a kitchen and smiling at each other

How to open your heart and let love in

by Eharmony Editorial Team - February 28, 2012

Do you struggle to get past the first few months in a relationship? Do you find yourself withdrawing from your partner and struggle to connect with them again? If so read on to find out more about what may be happening.

Do you struggle to open up? Are you holding on to pain from the past? Take a look at our guide on opening your heart and let love in again 

Traditionally it is believed that it is men who retreat into their caves leaving their poor women outside baffled and confused as to what to do to coax them out. Realistically it can be either sex that withdraws emotionally and it can be a painful experience, both for the person who has withdrawn and for the person on the outside. Here we look at why it happens and what you can do about it.

Why do we withdraw?

According to some experts this emotional response is a result of being brought up by parents who were unable to fulfil our emotional needs. It may equally be a response to old relationships that have not been fully healed. We withdraw because we think we are going to be hurt again or because something has upset us and we don’t know how to talk about it or say what we need. One minute we are open, all embracing and full of joy and then for no reason we clam up feeling hurt, isolated and alone. It doesn’t really matter what caused us to shut down so much as what we can do about it once it has happened. Some people are permanently shut down, not trusting anyone but desperately wanting someone to break through their defences and touch their heart.

What it feels like when your heart closes

You will know when your heart has closed because the world will seem like a dull place – the colour and vitality go like a sun-faded picture; you lose trust in people and often feel angry, blaming, and resentful and like the world is against you. It is a very lonely place to be and your partner is usually the person closest so often the one who gets the blame – if only they were more affectionate or demonstrative; why don’t they make you happy? In this state we see all of our partner’s faults in technicolor and may accuse them of being the very thing we are denying in ourselves – selfish, angry, lacking in affection, shut down, cold and heartless -We are sure that if this were a perfect relationship we would never feel this way.

The truth is that if this is a recurring pattern in our relationships it probably isn’t our partner’s fault- they may have inadvertently flicked the switch but they didn’t cause the original pain. Even if they do buy flowers, show affection or make us laugh we may have become so rigid and unresponsive it probably won’t penetrate our defences and we may think that their gestures aren’t genuine but just a response to our complaining.

How to open your heart:

1. Give more to others

The first and most important thing you can do is give what you want to other people – be the change you want to see in the world. If you want more affection be more affectionate with those around you; if you need a boost to your self esteem, boost someone else’s by telling them when they have done something well; if you want to be able to trust more, be more trustworthy, really be there for people when they need you. Think about what you want and then look around you and see where you can give it to someone else. This has the natural effect of opening your mind and heart as you take your attention away from you and your problems and focus on others.

2. Listen to what you complain about

The second thing you can do is to listen to what you complain about in others and then look at yourself – are those feelings yours, but you are projecting them onto your partner because you are afraid to feel them yourself? Relationships are like mirrors, what we struggle with in others is often what we deny in ourselves – if you can spot it, you’ve got it. If you can learn to acknowledge difficult emotions in other people you will come to accept them more in yourself and be less likely to close your heart when you feel them.

3. Be present

Often we shut down because our mind has raced ahead in a situation and we think we know what is going to happen. Most emotional discomfort is caused when we are thinking about the past, usually with regret, or the future, often with fear. The place we miss out on most is here and now. When you feel yourself withdrawing from your partner stop and ask yourself if you weren’t thinking about the past or the future is there anything really wrong right now?

4. Be appreciative

It is all too easy to focus on everything that is wrong with our life and relationship. To keep your heart really open make a daily practice of noting what you appreciate in your life and especially in your relationship.