And what you should do, as their partner
One of the more common complaints from people regarding their partners is when they “won’t open up” — when they seem like they’ve got something on their mind, or are upset about something, but when asked about simply answer, “I’m fine.”
It can be frustrating. And the reasons can vary — sometimes, yes, when dealing with someone who’s a little emotionally unhealthy, it is as passive aggressive.
But there’s also a myriad of other reasons that are, well, fine…
Reason #1: It’s not a big deal and it will blow over
This is by far the most common reason — like 90% of situations.
Sure, something’s on their mind — but it’s so small or silly that it’s not worth discussing, and they know it’ll blow over.
Initial reactions aren’t always rational or real
We may have knee-jerk reactions of fear or insecurity or sadness or anger or whatever that aren’t in our control. What is in our control is what we do with it, and maybe they want to be sure that it’s the latter, not the former, that they’re parsing out as an “issue.”
Feelings aren’t always valid
We are entitled to our feelings, but that doesn’t mean they’re all valid. It’s our responsibility to internalize things we experience so that rationale can catch up to keep things in check them. It’ll blow over faster if they don’t drag you along for that process.
Reason #2: they don’t want to (or are not yet ready to) talk about it
The second most likely reason.
Emotions need processing, and people are entitled to space
People may idealize the whole “share everything with each other, always” thing in relationships, but taken too literally, that’s horse shit. Healthy people often work through things on their own — at least first — rather than dumping emotional odds and ends on their partner.
Reason #3 (uncommon): you guys just talked about it, but they need a moment to lick their wounds.
This will happen if you guys just got done discussing an issue and reached reconciliation (perhaps even an apology, whatever) and there are just some lingering feelings they’re still soothing.
There’s nothing more for you to say or do — they got what they needed. This part is on them. They just need a second and they’ll be fine.
But note: if you’re still prodding “what’s wrong?” or “are you okay?” (and your partner is actually having to answer “I’m fine”) after they already explained and discussed the issue, there’s something wrong with you. Chill, fam. Damn.
Reason #4 (uncommon): now is not the time or place to talk about it.
Maybe you’re in the car on the way to have dinner with your parents, or on the phone while you’re at work, or out with friends at 1 am. In any case, it’s possible that they’re not fine but “now” is not the time or place to have that conversation.
Reason #5: bro, they *are* fine.
Maybe they’re just being introspective, and you’re projecting on them. (Maybe you’ve got your own insecurity you should address?) Calm yourself, champ. Everything’s cool.
Reason #6: They’re an emotionally unhealthy person.
If it later turns out that it is “a big deal”…
Or they did want to talk about it…
Or they are still upset…
And it was an appropriate time and place to talk about it…
…Yet they still answer “I’m fine” when you ask them what’s wrong…
Then they are an emotionally unhealthy person who needs to work on some of their own emotional management before the two of you can continue with the relationship.
How emotionally healthy partners say “I’m fine”
Healthy people don’t constantly nudge and prod their partners with stupid shit, because they understand that it’s stupid. (And if everything is presented as a priority, nothing is a priority.)
Healthy partners save “what’s wrong” conversations for things that are actually a.) important and b.) actionable. When they talk to you about something, you can feel confident that they aren’t “crying wolf,” and care enough to cover both of those things.
When a healthy partner WON’T just say “I’m fine:”
When it is a big deal and worth discussing. When it’s the time and place to talk. And when they know how they feel, what they want to say, and what they’d like from you, if anything.
What you should do:
In short: chill, fam. damn.
Trust your partner
If you can’t trust your partner, you need to work on that first. You should be able to believe them when they say they’re fine, or trust that they’ll share when it’s time.
You should feel confident that you guys are a team and want the same things — to build a good relationship and enjoy the everyday.
Respect your partner’s emotional boundaries
We are not entitled to know our partner’s feelings. It is never appropriate to prod, push, pressure or demand that they share — ever.
“Other people’s emotions are first and foremost theirs, not ours. What they do with them is their prerogative, not ours. And hearing them, if they choose to share, is a privilege, not a right. We are not ‘owed’ anything in their heads.”
Be patient — not grabby
Let them have a minute to sit with their own feelings, figure out what they are, and whether they want to share. They’ll do if and when they’re ready.
Understand and defend your own boundaries, too.
If your partner is the kind of person to passive-aggressively tell you “I’m fine”— feigning a non-issue when you ask about it, only to later blow up about it— then you deserve to reset emotional expectations.
It’s not appropriate or healthy or acceptable for one person to show up and ask their partner “what’s wrong?”, offering them the opportunity to talk about it, and for them to respond by under-communicating and playing emotional war games. The partner using “I’m fine” passive-aggressively has much emotional work to do in managing their own emotional needs — and communication.
Build a healthy understand of love
Based on communication and trust, yes, but also emotional ownership and healthy boundaries.