Try a heart share

A common complaint from women is they can’t get their guy to open up — to share his innermost thoughts, fears, and dreams. This is difficult to do for many people, women as well as men.

During my marriage, I learned a technique that made it easier to be vulnerable and talk about things that you might not normally discuss. We learned it from our relationship counselor, a gifted woman named Sonika Tinker, MSW.

Before I share the technique, let me tell you why we went to Sonika. When we were first married, we’d plan quarterly relationship retreats for ourselves. Since we were both seminar leaders, it was fun sharing the design of a special workshop just for us. After a while, we realized it was hard to be designer, facilitator and participant, so we sought someone else to lead us. That’s when we found Sonika. We set up quarterly meetings with her to work on deepening our relationship and work out any kinks that we weren’t comfortable bringing up on our own. I likened our relationship to a high performing car needing frequent tune ups to continue to run well. (As you know, I was delusional about lots of things in my marriage!)

heart shareSonika suggested we do what she dubbed “heart shares” at least once a week, right before lights out when we were still lucid enough to be fully present. So not lying in bed before drifting to sleep. But going to bed half-hour early, lighting some candles and snuggling. A heart share isn’t reporting what happened during the day, or what you have coming up tomorrow. It has nothing to do with tasks.

Instead, it is being vulnerable to your partner, sharing concerns you have about your life, health, or loved one(s). Or it could be sharing a dream for the future in a way that in another setting you may withhold because you’re concerned your partner may think it’s silly or be threatened (if it’s a direction different than you know s/he wants to go).

The key when you are listening to a heart share is to really work at active listening. You’re saying, “Shouldn’t you do that all the time?” But we don’t when we’re talking about the mundane logistics of life. So when you’re listening to your partner, work to listen without interrupting, breathe in tandem, show you’re listening, not redirect the conversation to what you want, or object to what’s being said. If he raises a doubt or concern, you can say, “I can understand how you might feel that way,” but you aren’t — at that moment — to tell him why his perception is wrong.

Each person gets 10-15 minutes. When it feels one is winding up, the listener says, “Is there anything else?” You want the other to feel complete. Then you switch.

When both of you are done, you may want to go back and say, “Wow. I never realized you had a dream of being a citizen of the world. Have you thought of how we could make that happen, even on a small scale at first?” Or, “I understand your feelings of inadequacy about creating a loving committed relationship since your ex cheated on you.” You’re not problem solving here. You’re just showing you listened, and wanting more information if needed.

Heart shares don’t have to wait until a couple is in a committed relationship. They can happen when you feel safe and connected enough to allow yourself to be vulnerable without fear of being chastised or ridiculed. At first they may seem awkward. But if both of you want to have a deeper emotional connection, you can introduce this topic and approach the first few as practice, knowing that you will have some kinks to work out.

If you’re willing to try a heart share, tell us what happened afterward.

Technorati Tags:,,,,,,,, , , , ,

Got a topic on dating after 40 you want Dating Goddess to address? Send your issue to







11 responses to “Try a heart share”

  1. Elena Avatar

    I like the name of this exercise and the explicit instructions on how to carry out it. Thanks for sharing this info. One thing though that I’m wondering about….DG it is obvious you spent a lot of time and effort on making your marriage work. How could your ex have participated in all those workshops and still blindside you the way that he did? Was he lying the entire time you were working with Sonika?

  2. hunter Avatar

    …our innermost fears? The typical response I get is, “well get over it.”

    ….I mention dreams, often, I hear, “Everyone says that, why don’t you accomplish that now?”

    Makes me feel like I just got put through the slicer..

  3. Rod Avatar

    Geez, now I miss my (ex) gf even more, DG 🙁 We did a ‘heartshare’ pretty much every single evening, even long distance. Going to the garden to eat worms now.

  4. Lulu Avatar

    DG, this makes me smile, because it assumes a) men and women are able to communicate, and b) want to. maybe it’s because I’m British, but I’ve never experienced this level of communication, I’m afraid to say, and I’m sure I’m as much to blame as my ex-partners. At one tender (I thought) moment with the last man in my life, when I felt particularly close to him, I asked him to try and tell me how he felt about the relationship…I was hoping for some kind of declaration or reassurance that we were on the same page. He reeplied abruptly “I don’t analyse emotions” and I realised that not only was this true, but that he didn’t feel anything for me, despite our long relationship. It was a convenience and habit, just when to me it was becoming something far more significant. We jst weren’t singing from the same hymn book. Sigh.

  5. Dating Goddess Avatar

    Elena: I don’t put the blame on him. We both made plenty of mistakes. I was interpreting things to match my view of the marriage I wanted to be in, rather than really take a hard look at what was going on. When one is presented with two conflicting pieces of information (he would be loving then distant), you choose the one that matches your view.

    And, in retrospect, we both withheld some during our sessions, as we were sensitive to the other’s feelings and didn’t want to hurt him/her. Interesting, isn’t it, that when you withhold in the name of not wanting to hurt the other, you end up hurting them even more. As skilled as we both were in communication, there were just some things that seemed too cruel to say, even though they would have been our truth. But we didn’t know how to say them without being cruel.

    Hunter: Sounds like you’ve tried this with women who were insensitive or trust hadn’t been established. I’m impressed you’ve done it though! The right woman will not give you these responses. Also, if you set it up as an exercise and share the ground rules, then if you feel put down, you can say something in the moment. You have parameters for what’s acceptable. And that’s why you approach the first few as practice sessions to help each other be clear on what are valuable comments and what aren’t.

    Rod: You can heart share with us! We don’t want you eating worms.

    Lulu: Stereotypically, men are not as capable of describing their emotions as clearly as women. And even many women stumble about this. So we have to ask them other things that give us the same information. That’s why asking about dreams for the future, for example, tells you a lot. If he includes you in some of those dreams, you know where you stand. But even if you aren’t part of that image, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel fondly toward you, it’s just he hasn’t decided to build a future together.

  6. Lulu Avatar

    DG, I can empathise with the sense of a partner in a relationship feeling close and then distant. It’s part of the dance of the sexes, and sometimes we’re out of step entirely. My mistake was in my interpretation of the relationship, which can be a problem, as you say. I was wrong to think we had a future. He was, I later discovered, already creating a profile on Guardian Soulmates, under another name. Because the history of on-line activity is clearly displayed, you can tell when a person last logged on, last updated, etc, so I was under no illusions. In fact, his closeness/distance behaviour had already made me feel insecure, but with no proof of anything it is easy to feel wrong-footed or just paranoid. Sometimes we attribute too much to the wrong relationship, out of, as you say, a wish to have things go as we want them to. We have to rely on our partners being truthful and in order to trust them, we are vulnerable to these kind of mistakes. Choosing the right person in the first place is the hardest part.

  7. bookyone Avatar

    Hi DG,

    Wow, the idea of being able to share like this just blows my mind. I have never allowed myself to get that close to anybody, as the more another person knows about your weaknesses, the more ammo they have to hurt you with when they decide to fight dirty, (IME men are particularly good at this). It’s bad enough every guy I’ve ever dated has used my ugly face against me sooner or later, but more than this, (my ED, my IBS, my various other social issues and physical ailments), I’d never share, not unless I was feeling especially masochistic.

    My guess is that this would work well for those who don’t have major issues, or who only have a few major issues they can work on together, and/or who have a deep level of trust in the other person and faith that their SO won’t tear them a new one by using their personal vulnerablilities aganst them in a moment of crisis. If I ever met a man I felt I could trust 110%, inside and out, then maybe I’d consider this, but, at present, I have a hard enough time opening up to my therapist about my myriad problems, let alone letting anyone else in on them.

    Best wishes from bookyone 🙂

  8. sd Avatar

    This is the dream of the perfect meeting of minds and emotions and goals in life.

    I wish it was always a good and loving thing, but sometimes you have to realize that the other party may NOT have your heart in their best interests…

    My ex was incredibly gifted at this, shared deeply and widely, and drew me out a great deal in the first few years we were together.
    It felt safe, loving, a relief to share all of me, enlightening about the inner ‘him’, a place to build the relationship on solid granite…

    When you are in the first flush of a romance, and when you are moving forward with a commitment to another person, this all seems so wonderful and full of love.

    But I look back now and realize something else:
    For him it wasn’t so much simple heartshare as a deep pool of NEED- and the more I poured in non-judgemental love and acceptance the MORE he needed from me.
    And this was true of the physical relationship as well; he needed more, always more from me.

    It gradually became that all things I shared about my past, and hopes and dreams, and feelings were subtly used by him to change what he said about himself, to better manipulate me into the emotional state of complete acceptance and love no matter what.

    And when I gently tried to offer insight to help him deal with areas he claimed he was stuck on, it was somehow turned on me and *I* became the one needing help to fix what was ‘broken’ with *me* since that was what was causing *his* behavior- said with such love and concern and ‘honesty’ I was completely confused about what was going on.

    Honestly, if I were JUST me without outside real world obligations like work, no children, no family or friends to spend time with, his expectations might have been doable beyond the 3-5 years I managed, because I was truly trusting of his intentions.

    It took me many more YEARS of marriage and abortive counseling to realize *I* was not the source of the problems, even if he claimed I was and held up as examples any weaknesses in myself I had shared with him or he had decided he could convince me were true.

    Just a word to the wise- love but with clear eyes, trust but with common sense, accept but within reason.

  9. Dating Goddess Avatar

    SD: Ugh! Sad that someone can use something so intimate to manipulate you.

    In my twenties, I dated a man who I later saw was very manipulative. He and his overbearing roommate convinced me that I “really needed help” because I didn’t give in to their manipulations. I did seek counseling, but more to understand how I could allow myself to be chastised by such manipulative people. I saw that I had some self-esteem issues tied to my upbringing that led me to feel that this was what I deserved because it was what I was used to. So while their motivations were dubious, the outcome of my seeking help resulted in a new understanding of myself and tools to not fall for the same type of men.

    So I wouldn’t write off heart shares all together just because some people will abuse it. It is all part of getting to know someone and seeing how trustworthy they are to treat your vulnerabilities safe and not use them against you. Without that kind of trust, I don’t know how you can have a meaningful long-term relationship.

  10. Lulu Avatar

    I don’t really know how we got onto this line of discussion, from Heartshare to getting out of difficult relationships, but I’d like to reccommend a book called ‘How to Fall Out of Love and Land on Your Feet’ by Richard Sylvestri. His guide to impossible relationships and convoluted emotions is second to none, and it’s recognising our own behaviour as well as that of our ex lover/husband’s which is so illuminating.

  11. Tia Avatar

    Wow, that is a beautiful idea. Next time I have someone in my life, I want to try it. Thanks.