Being in a healthy relationship requires work, even when both partners are open about their feelings and are equally invested in making it work. However, when one of the partners is emotionally unavailable things become incredibly challenging, and unless something is done about it, it might mean the end of the couple. But what is being emotionally unavailable? And is there something that can be done about it?
What does being emotionally unavailable mean?
Being emotionally unavailable means that the person is closed-off and unwilling to discuss emotions. More often than not, there is a deep disconnect between their consciousness and their feelings, meaning that sometimes they suffer from anxiety or depression and are completely unaware of it.
Something to keep in mind is that a person who is emotionally unavailable does not have bad intentions at heart. They are not planning on hurting people with their behavior, it’s something unconscious and it leads them to act in a distant way.
Logically, this affects their relationship with themselves and with others. A person who is emotionally unavailable might be the life of the party, but that doesn’t mean they are establishing deep meaningful connections. For a partner, this can be incredibly challenging, frustrating, and downright painful. This is bound to cause issues in the relationship. While one partner is looking for connection and intimacy, the emotionally unavailable partner might perceive this as an intrusion. This will lead to feelings of rejection or abandonment.
Sadly, an emotionally unavailable person not only has a difficult time expressing their own emotions but also receiving the emotions of others. They have a hard time feeling loved, and empathy can be an entirely foreign concept. Also, they can become quite defensive when things get too emotional and unconsciously decide to take a step back whenever they feel their boundaries being approached. But how can you identify an emotionally unavailable person?
Signs you or your partner is emotionally unavailable
Spotting the emotionally unavailable person isn’t always easy. They often give the appearance of having and being able to develop normal relationships. It’s when things go from the superficial to the deep that some signs can start to appear.
1. Shutting down
An emotionally unavailable person often shuts down when feelings are mentioned. This can often be spotted when a couple is past the initial courtship process when it’s not all about charming each other but about developing a true connection. While the emotionally unavailable partner might be willing to listen to the person they are with, they rarely reciprocate by opening up about themselves. This creates a lack of balance in the couple and things might end quite abruptly. They might even choose to simply disappear to avoid an emotional confrontation.
Also, a different way to shut down is by using humor. They might start making jokes the minute talks about feelings take place as a way to avoid getting involved.
2. High walls
Another sign of an emotionally unavailable person is when they have set boundaries so firm that no one can come in. They claim a right to having a private life –which is normally healthy- but in this case, there is a vast distance that immediately kills any potential connection. The sex might be great, but there is a lack of intimacy as the other person is unwilling to put their walls down.
3. Long-term? What is that?
While this is not a definite sign, people who are emotionally unavailable often haven’t been involved in long-term relationships. This is, of course, caused by the inability to form a healthy sustainable connection.
4. Lack of communication
Communication –or the lack of it- can also be something to look at when trying to identify an emotionally unavailable partner. They might leave texts on read for ages and take a long time to get back to the other person. This is a way to put distance between each other and keep emotions at bay.
5. They might judge emotions
It can also happen that emotionally unavailable people become quite critical of those who are openly expressing their emotions. They might see this as a sign of weakness or something truly incomprehensible to them.
Lastly, another sign is the need to keep control. This means that the person will be unwilling to change their schedule or routines in favor of meeting their partner halfway. Their lack of empathy and unwillingness to get involved leads them to put their needs first at all times.
Anyone that has been to therapy has probably talked about their parents more than they expected. This is because we learn all about love during childhood. While we might change our perspectives and behaviors later on, our initial understanding of what love is and how it is demonstrated comes from how our parents showed us their love.
This is also true for emotionally unavailable people. Very often, they grew up with one or two emotionally unavailable parents. They learned not to get involved and to not expect love or demonstrations of feelings from others.
In other cases, they had traumatic childhoods, and being emotionally unavailable has become a defense mechanism. “If I don’t get involved then I can’t be hurt”. In some cases, there was abuse during childhood. In others, expression of emotion was seen as weakness in the household and they have learned to repress their feelings and tune out when emotions are shown.
Also, emotionally unavailable people often have self-esteem issues, feeling that they are not good enough for others. Therefore, they can become experts in self-sabotage, ending things before the other person does to avoid feeling sad.
How to cope
Are emotionally unavailable people a lost cause? Not at all! As a partner, you should know that it is up to you whether you stay or you go. As an emotionally unavailable person, the first step is acceptance, as always. The second one is to look for help, which might mean going to therapy, where tools to approach and connect with your feelings in a healthy way can be developed.
Also, there needs to be a focus on developing good self-esteem as this can be one of the root causes. Usually, emotionally unavailable people have deep-rooted trust issues. This is something that can also be managed with a therapist. Once trust is developed with a therapist and the patient experiences how good it can feel to be able to open up and confide in someone, they might be more willing to do so with their partner.
Lastly, but equally important is to keep in mind that having a connection and true intimacy does not mean there are no boundaries. We all need time and space for ourselves and feeling like worthy individuals. The emotionally unavailable person can’t be expected to tear down their walls immediately nor should they have to. They can open up little by little and still keep certain things to themselves, as we all do.
For the partner, patience is the name of the game. This can be a long process, but if they are willing to go through it and their significant other truly wants to work on themselves, things can only go up from here.