You love hanging out with him. You’ve got great chemistry. And he always makes you laugh.
Except when he doesn’t.
It’s not like he’s doing anything terrible. Maybe he doesn’t always respond to your messages right away—or at all. Maybe he prefers to watch Netflix instead of talk about his past (or the future).
And sometimes (okay, most of the time), it feels like you’re the one doing all the work. The more you try to forge an emotional connection, the more your partner seems to pull away.
If this sounds like your current relationship, you might be dating someone who’s emotionally unavailable.
It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot, but what does emotionally unavailable mean? Why do some of us struggle to express emotion? Is there any way emotionally unavailable people can change?
The answers you seek lie just ahead.
What Does It Mean to Be Emotionally Unavailable?
The term “emotional availability” got its start from a 1960s research study analyzing the parent-child attachment relationship. Decades later, researchers expanded this theory to include the way adults regulate emotion and forge connections with others.
Simply put, emotionally available people are able to trust others, communicate openly, and commit to a stable relationship.
Emotionally unavailable people are not.
Healthy relationships are based on mutual concern and a warm, intimate connection with your partner. Someone who is emotionally unavailable is either unwilling or unable to forge that connection.
Research suggests that people who were raised by emotionally distant parents may carry that trait of avoidant attachment throughout their lives. Others may experience depression, fear getting hurt, or temporarily close themselves off after a bad break-up.
And while the emotionally unavailable man is the stereotype, there are plenty of emotionally available women out there too.
How Can You Tell If Someone Is Emotionally Unavailable?
There’s a difference between someone who wants to “take it slow” and someone who is unavailable emotionally. Here are some red flags to watch out for.
- They rarely (if ever) return your calls or answer your texts.
- They regularly cancel dates or turn up late.
- They’ve never been in a serious relationship.
- They never ask about your family, hobbies, or work.
- Your conversation never goes deeper than surface-level.
- You always do what they want to (when they want to do it).
- You feel like you’re the only one doing any “work” in the relationship.
- They get defensive or even angry if you ask direct questions.
- They’re critical and judgmental of you and others.
- They invalidate your feelings or say you’re “too intense.”
- They play mind games and don’t respect your time.
People who are emotionally unavailable put up a wall, knowingly or not, that prevents intimacy with another person. They may be experts at dating casually, as long as they can call the shots and keep their partner at arm’s length.
The result? The person on the other end (that’s you) feels unloved, unappreciated, even rejected.
As mentioned earlier, emotional detachment could be chronic or temporary. Its roots could run deep, going back to the person’s early childhood. Difficulty with emotional responses is also common after someone is widowed or divorced.
Of course, you also need to consider the possibility that “emotionally unavailable” actually translates into “he’s just not that into you.”
Am I Emotionally Unavailable?
Here’s an interesting twist to our discussion: What if you’re the emotionally unavailable partner in the relationship?
Again, here are some red flags to help with your self-assessment.
- You have a hard time trusting people.
- You often cancel plans at the last minute.
- You’re uncomfortable talking about yourself or your feelings.
- You like to “keep your options open.”
- You worry you’ll lose yourself in a serious relationship.
- You value your independence and feel you don’t need anyone else.
- You’re critical of people and blame others for your problems or mistakes.
Keep in mind that answering “yes” to some of these statements doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It’s unlikely you’ll make a dramatic change overnight, but you can take steps to improve the way you show emotion.
Identify your root issue, whether it was a nasty breakup or a poor relationship with your parents. Practice opening up, even if it’s just writing in a journal or creating music or art. In time, try to express more emotion to a trusted family member or close friend.
While you’re working on becoming more emotionally available, share the journey with your partner. Take it slow, focus on small changes, and stay connected via text if you need some physical distance.
How to Deal With Someone Who Is Emotionally Unavailable
And now we come to the million-dollar question: Can you change someone who’s emotionally unavailable?
The short answer is no. You can’t. Which means you have two options.
Option number one: You can choose to focus on the positive aspects of the relationship. You could lower your expectations, be patient, and try to find a way to get through to them. If they’re open to the idea, couples counseling could give you the tools you need to improve your emotional connection.
Option number two: Accept the fact that you might want more from your partner than they’re able (or willing to give). Accept the fact that you can’t “fix” them—or anyone else. Finally, accept the fact that you deserve to be in a healthy, committed relationship with someone who is emotionally available.
Coaching to Improve Emotional Availablity
Are you dating someone who is emotionally unavailable? Or, after some soul-searching, have you determined that perhaps you’re the one who’s emotionally distant?
Either way, hope is not lost. Healthy relationships and healthy emotional responses are possible if you’re willing to dig deep—and don’t mind hearing some hard truths.
I’ve built my career around advising people just like you on healthy relationships, overcoming setbacks, and finding happiness. Could a one-on-one coaching session be the boost you need to get your life back on track?
I offer free 10-minute consultations, so you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Click here to get one step closer to the relationship (and the life) you’ve always wanted.