Allow us to teach you how to make your partner feel emotionally seen, yes?
Hellooo, active listening and creating safe spaces. 🙋♀️
Being in a relationship comes with a lot of perks, from a built-in Valentine’s Day lover to having someone to marathon Netflix with all weekend. And while things like similar tastes in TV shows and date activities might be part of what makes a relationship fun, according to eharmony’s 2023 dating trends report, feeling emotionally seen is one of the most important factors that people in relationships look for from their partners.
To give you a better idea, out of close to 1000 adults surveyed, 55 percent said they feel most loved when their partner makes them feel emotionally seen. In fact, close to half (46 percent) of the respondents reported the classic love languages (like quality time, acts of service, gift giving/receiving, words of affirmation, and physical touch) don’t encompass the way they express and receive love. What does, you ask? Giving and feeling emotional security (like feeling seen, heard, and taken care of), which resonated with 35 percent of people as a new love language.
Now, in case you’re at a loss of what being emotionally seen even means, one of eharmony's relationship experts, therapist Minaa B., LMSW, explains it’s all about awareness and attunement. “Seeing someone emotionally means understanding a person’s emotional state and being able to engage with them from a place of respect, empathy, and compassion,” she says. Think of the classic situation where someone says they’re fine when they’re clearly not fine. If they’re being emotionally seen, their partner might respond by providing a safe space for them to open up or giving them the room to process their own feelings.
This will, obviously, look different depending on what someone's needs are. At a base level, however, taking care of someone emotionally looks like “active listening and [making them feel] safe, reflective listening or mirroring (hearing, being present, and repeating back what you heard), and showing empathy, especially during difficult conversations,” says psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist, Lee Phillips, EdD.
The big question, of course, is *how* one goes about authentically making their partner feel emotionally seen. Glad you asked! Turns out, there’s more to it than just nodding with glazed eyes as your S.O. unpacks their day. Luckily, seeing someone emotionally—and asking to be emotionally seen—is easier than you think…even if you’ve never been a “let’s talk about our feelings” kind of person. Here’s how to become a bona fide pro at making your loved ones feel emotionally seen, validated, and supported.
Why is feeling emotionally seen so important in relationships?
It’s all about learned behavior and biology. “Feeling emotionally seen increases oxytocin (a chemical in the brain known as 'the love hormone') which elicits feelings of passion, happiness, and arousal,” explains Minaa B. “When we feel emotionally seen by someone, it cultivates a sense of safety, which then regulates our nervous system to be calm and centered.” You know those times when you feel like you’re about to lose it, but then someone lets you vent, really listens, and you feel better? They make you feel emotionally seen, which in turn, helps you break out of your body's natural fight-flight-freeze response—aka: how your body responds to perceived threats—and relax.
In fact, that give-and-take of seeing and being seen can be the foundation for a healthy connection, explains therapist and wellness contributor for The Knot, Alyssa Mancao, LCSW. “When we think about our earliest relationships (with our caregivers), we depended on them to ‘see’ us (our wants, needs, joys, sadness) and provide an appropriate response to those emotions in order for us to develop healthy and secure attachments,” she says. “Those healthy attachments continue in our adulthood.”
Since emotional attunement is so ingrained in the human experience, it makes total sense why having a partner who is able to recognize your emotions and respond accordingly is hella desirable. Not only can they help you through hard times, but they can also make you feel comfortable being emotionally vulnerable throughout your relationship as well, which is key to feeling supported. (Which, hi, you should absolutely feel when you're in a relationship.)
“Feeling emotionally seen removes blame and shame within a couple’s interactions and in their relationship as a whole,” says Lee. “[Emotional attunement] creates honesty, trust, healthy communication, intimacy, and respect.” When you’re honest with your partner about how you feel—and they respond empathetically and from a place of understanding—it instantly makes you feel closer, more connected, and safe.
On the other hand, if your emotional needs aren’t being met, respected, or acknowledged, you’ll likely feel resentment, disappointment, and loneliness. “Without being emotionally seen, a rupture can occur in the relationship, leading to more conflict,” Lee explains.
How to make your partner feel emotionally seen
Since emotions are complex—not to mention that every relationship is different—there (unfortunately) isn’t a one-size-fits-all move that’ll make your partner feel emotionally seen. In general, though, Mancao says active listening, skillful validation, and asking thoughtful questions are great places to start, as well as learning how to anticipate your partner’s emotional needs.
“While our partners can't read our minds, we feel seen when they're able to anticipate when we need more emotional affection from them,” she explains. Example: Your S.O. had a hard day at work and you know they might be feeling stressed, so you do things that you know make them feel loved and cherished, like cooking their favorite dinner or giving them the space and compassion to vent.
If this sounds a little complicated, don’t stress. It’s totally okay if none of this comes naturally to you. Mancao says it takes intention, effort, and authenticity (not to mention patience and practice) to get the hang of it. And tbh, even if you’re not the best at reading and responding to emotional cues, all the pros agree you can (and should!) learn how to develop this skill. Here are some expert-backed places to start.
- Ask your partner if they're emotionally available to talk before launching into a heavy topic.
- Recognize their contributions and achievements by thanking them and complimenting them.
- Utilize a “safe word” that can be used if one (or both) of you is feeling heated, frustrated, or triggered during conversations.
- Put your phone down and eliminate distractions when your partner is talking to you.
- Use open and inviting body language, like making eye contact and not crossing your arms.
- When they talk about their problems, don’t judge or try to solve the issue, but listen with curiosity.
- Listen to their needs, remember them, and act on them.
- Honor their whole selves by creating space for their quirks, needs, flaws, and successes.
Remember: Feeling emotionally seen is vital in *all* types of relationships, not just romantic ones. So, if you find yourself feeling like your significant other, friend, sibling, parent, or another important person in your life isn’t truly ~seeing~ you, it could be worth having a conversation for the sake of your bond. Minaa B. suggests taking some time to identify what’s missing (like proactive listening, compassion, or understanding) from your connection, then communicating that with your loved one in a safe, no-pressure space.
Ultimately, by learning how to actively listen, provide validation, and use conflict as an opportunity for growth, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of strong and fulfilling relationships. “Having someone listen to your hurt and sit with you in it—while continuing to offer love and support—is top-tier human connection,” says Mancao. Love that for you.