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The Art of Relational Crying

The sweet spot between a crybaby and a blocked crier.

Key points

  • Crying, albeit natural, is not always easy to do in intimate relationships but is worth learning.
  • Over-crying in relationships casts you as weak and prevents personal and relational growth.
  • Blocked criers suffer from a more limited emotional range and invoke less empathy from their partner.
Lee Murry/Pixabay
Learning the art of relational crying will help you find the sweet spot of feeling without being flooded.
Source: Lee Murry/Pixabay

Crying is a natural and organic way of expressing and releasing emotions. Sometimes you have tears of joy, sometimes of sadness. Either way, there is usually a huge sense of relief. Crying usually enlists empathy and closeness with your partner, as vulnerability brings people together.

Yet crying in a relationship is not always easy. Some of us cry very often (over-crying), and some of us find it hard to cry at all (blocked criers). Both of these extremes have their handicaps and take their tolls on intimate relationships.

The art of relational crying is the balance between these two extremes. That is, finding a way to feel and express feelings verbally and non-verbally (crying) without being flooded or blocked. In order to learn this art, we must first start with unpacking the two polarities of over-crying and blocked crying.

Over-crying (AKA crybabies)

I often meet partners (usually women) who frequently cry. This is especially common with partners who experience themselves as victims or martyrs in their relationship. With every challenging comment, they begin to cry.

Over-crying can function as a defense mechanism because when you cry, people usually back off, become softer and more understanding. This is especially true if your partner is sharing something you don’t really want to hear (that might be your fault), such as unwarranted feedback, disappointment, or hurt.

Over-crying is a form of blocking. It blocks challenging conversations, criticism, pain, heat, intimacy. When done too frequently, it can even be a form of emotional manipulation, casting the other as an aggressor who is “hurting” the crier.

But too much crying too often has its costs:

  • You don’t grow. Because your loved ones back off and walk on eggshells around you, they also stop giving you constructive feedback. You aren’t stretched or challenged. You always remain in your comfort zone.
  • Your relationship becomes stagnant, shallow, and boring. Avoiding the heat keeps both of you safe, but there is no excitement, spontaneity, passion, or creativity. Partners are afraid to keep it real with you because they don’t want the subsequent drama. More and more topics are avoided, more taboos are in place, and, over time, there are very few topics that can be discussed freely.
  • You become the "high maintenance" partner. When you cry, then your partner needs to cheer you up and comfort you again and again. And after a while, that becomes tedious and annoying.
  • Everything becomes about you. Your crying (and subsequent pain) becomes the focus of the conversation instead of your partner’s feelings or your relationship dynamic.
  • People avoid you. Since it almost always is about you and your pain, people avoid getting too intimate or lively with you.

On the other extreme, there are the blocked criers.

Blocked criers

Not crying at all is also a wonderful defense mechanism. It helps keep a façade of strength and signals to people that you cannot be hurt.

Many blocked criers have grown up with a martyr parent who cried a lot, and they vowed not to be like them (a corrective intergenerational script). Others, who as children were socialized or mocked early on for crying, learn to shut their tear ducts completely. Many men learn not to cry as part of the psychological patriarchy and socialization they go through as boys.

Blocked crying also has its tolls:

  • Limited range of emotions. Over time, when you stop accessing the lower register of the emotional range (such as sadness, despair, and hopelessness), you also might lose access to higher levels of joy. You start missing out on the depths and heights of life.
  • Limited catharsis release. When the duct is blocked, there can be no emotional release, and you start repressing difficult feelings, which more often than not spill out in passive-aggressive behavior.
  • Less empathy from others. When you never cry, people assume you are always OK and offer you less empathy when you may be feeling the need for it.
  • You don’t grow. Since people assume you are always OK, they assume you don’t need help or challenge.

How then to master the art of relational crying?

With some awareness and effort, you can find the sweet spot of crying in your relationship, which will help add depth, emotion, empathy, and closeness.

Begin by sharing this article with your partner. Talk about it and reflect on which kind of crier you are. Then follow the following steps.

If you are an over-crier:

  • Set the stage that crying ≠ blocking. Make a deal with your partner that crying does not stop the conversation. Even if tears are streaming down your face, it doesn’t mean that the conversation must stop.

  • Remind your partner that they don’t have to fix, heal, or pity you. Your pain is not their responsibility. They just need to listen.

  • Get curious and verbalize live the feelings behind the tears. When you start feeling emotional, broadcast live (self-exposure) what is happening for you at the time. Don’t make eye contact so that you aren’t so self-conscious and begin speaking: What are your thoughts and feelings? What is triggering your tears? Often, what is behind the tears is not necessarily feelings of pain. It might actually be anger, fear, a feeling of being overwhelmed, frustration, excitement, or disappointment. By verbalizing your feelings, you can "Name It to Tame It." That will also help you enter into a difficult conversation and raise the temperature in your relationship.
  • It will take time. The water might still flow, but over time, you will notice you are able to feel strong feelings and hold hot crucibles without (or with) tears.

If you are a blocked crier:

  • Create safe spaces to explore pain. Perhaps it's when you are alone, in nature, or with a friend or lover. Curate a space where you don’t feel judged.
  • Allow yourself to feel the pain. You won’t collapse from it. It's OK. Remind yourself that the key to your joy is in your pain.
  • Verbalize your pain. Broadcast live what’s happening (hurting) in your heart. If you dare, try to position yourself in a physically vulnerable position (such as being held or the fetal position), which can sometimes evoke exposed feelings.
  • Don’t make eye contact when you cry. Making eye contact might push you into hyper self-awareness and embarrassment or self-consciousness. Just “enjoy” the cry; let it pass through you.
  • It will take time. It will take time to rewire your brain and patterns, so expect slow progress. Even a single tear is a good start.

Once you and your partner learn not to veer into either extreme, the relational space between you will be sufficiently damp to feel but solid enough to think.

Learning the art of relational crying will help you find the sweet spot of feeling without being flooded, of thinking without being a bot.


Real, T. (1996). I Don't Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of The Male Depression. New York, NY: Scribner.

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