I’ve been getting a lot of questions about partners who are not emotionally available. A lot of my clients ask me to decipher their partners’ unpredictable and inconsistent behaviors. So I’ve decided to write a blogpost about the tips I give to my clients. Here are 15 ways to tell if you are with an emotionally unavailable partner.
1. They send mixed signals
Does your person of interest seem to be hot and cold all the time, meaning one minute they contact you consistently and next they disappear or ghost you? It could feel like a fast forwarding and then a sharp pull away. And it will leave you completely confused. These emotionally unavailable individuals act this way because they are also VERY. And to make things worse, most of the times, they behave in this way unconsciously and not on purpose. It happens often because they lack insight into their own behavior. Once they reach the intimacy they’ve been craving, now they have to back off and go into their little no-emotion cave to reclaim their “independence” and reach the equilibrium. They want to be with you and have that intimacy and connection but when they have it, they also feel suffocated and they get the urge to run or create distance. So what you see is a lot of “come here, go away” behaviors.
2. They have an avoidant attachment style
In my clinical/personal experience, most of the emotionally unavailable partners have a type of avoidant attachment style, more likely the disorganized type. They most likely learned to “shut off” their emotions as a defense mechanism to cope with their attachment anxiety.
Of course being an emotionally unavailable doesn’t make someone a bad person. This is their coping mechanism to avoid pain, fear, rejection, and vulnerability. But if they are not willing to “break down” their emotional walls themselves, we can’t force them.
3. They dismiss your feelings
An emotionally unavailable partner often have a difficulty expressing their own or handling your emotions. If you don’t bring it up yourself, they might not ever ask about your feelings. And you will be ignored, or criticized if you do express your needs to have more or a deeper connection with them.
4. They tell you that they haven’t been able to commit in the past
Yes, they do tell you these things. You just have to believe it when you hear them. They might even say things like how they don’t believe in commitment or marriage, being exclusive, or giving each other titles such as boyfriend or girlfriend. So take them at their word: they are not ready. No, they are not going to change with/for you. If you want someone who is emotionally available, accept what they are saying and move forward.
I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I didn’t believe in that people CAN change. In fact, I see people change all the time. But I also know that you cannot change anyone who doesn’t want to change. And sometimes even if they really want to commit themselves fully to you, they find themselves incapable because they just don’t know how. They’ve only had the superficial and distant relationships that they are committed to create (the only thing that they are committed to) by keeping everyone at arm’s length.
5. They withhold touch
Emotionally unavailable people deny you of touch in everyday setting. They won’t kiss you on the cheeks when they leave for work in the morning, they won’t hold your hand when you cry watching a movie, and they won’t put their arms around you or sit close to you when you are sitting on the couch together to relax. They won’t respond or reciprocate even if you initiate. You will feel rejected and disconnected from your partner, which will make you limit your effort in initiating touch. By withholding touch the emotionally unavailable partner reached his/her goal, which is to push away others to keep themselves safe from feeling vulnerable.
But you still have needs to be close to your attachment figure and need to be touched. So you are likely to start trying to get this needs met through sex. Now you are using sex as a means of getting a validation that your partner still loves you and he/she still cares for you. You begin to overcompensate with sex for the other physical/emotional touch you are lacking from the relationship.
For the emotionally unavailable person, this is a simple way of exercising their control not to reveal themselves emotionally (consciously or unconsciously). But for you, a chronic denial of touch has serious negative effects. It can trigger on-going sense of anxiety (as you are never soothed by your partner), sense of loss, and sense of insecurity (“if they don’t want to touch me, there must be something wrong with me”).
If this hits too close to home, you need to be able to set a healthy boundary in this toxic relationship. Knowingly or unknowingly, your partner is actively pushing you away to keep themselves safe. I would highly recommend these emotionally unavailable partners to start working with an attachment therapist in individual and couples treatment. If they are not willing or capable of putting in any effort, it’s time for you to decide if you want to live the rest of your life being denied of all the emotional and physical needs. And I hope that you don’t choose this option because they WILL NOT change no matter how long you wait.
6. They lie to you to avoid conflict or shut down during the conflict
Conflicts require a real conversation with real feelings. So emotionally unavailable people will do everything possible to avoid conflicts. They also shut down during conflicts and might even leave the scene, making you feel abandoned.
7. They prefer talking through texts than phone or in person
An emotionally unavailable partner prefer texting than talking to you in person or over the phone. This is another way (most likely unintended) to create some distance to avoid intimacy overload. And as you can imagine, they have a very low tolerance.
8. They don’t make advance and fixed plans with you
I’m sorry, they are not just busy. You are just not their priority.
People who are emotionally available know that consistent interaction creates intimacy and they are not afraid of those engagements. An emotionally unavailable person will avoid creating this intimacy by not making a concreate plans in advance to give themselves more “freedom” in their relationships. There is no consistent forward movement in this relationship. If your interaction is irregular and inconsistent, and they never ask you to make future plans with them, you should consider this as a big red flag.
9. They are fixated with control
They will refuse to modify/change their routine. They tend to be inflexible and hate compromises. Relationships revolve around them.
10. They are perfectionists
They have an ideal partner in their mind. So they will find out the smallest flaw you have and ditch you. They think that there is someone who is “perfect” for them, unlike all the others (um, human beings). The reality is that they are not ready for the intimacy so they become extremely picky about their partners. When they find the flaws in their partners, they feel that now they have a valid reason to leave the relationship.
11. You are always making excuses for them
If you stayed for a long time with someone, who is emotionally unavailable and makes you unhappy, your brain tricks itself so that you can keep doing what you are doing. So you start making excuses for them. “He’s just too busy right now,” “It’s because she had a difficult childhood,” or “He’s going to change, I just need to be more patient.” And this sense of false-hope, allows you to keep staying in an unhealthy or even a toxic relationship.
12. They get defensive and even gaslight you
When you try to address your emotional needs/wants, the emotionally unavailable partner comes back with comments such as, “You are just too sensitive,” “It’s all in your head,” “You are too needy,” “You are crazy,” or “You are too emotional.” They are gaslighting you, telling you that everything is your fault and there is nothing wrong with what they are doing.
13. They are very nice
Of course I am not saying that you should date someone who is not nice or mean. But if someone is overtly nice to the point it feels a bit too much, you might want to pay a close attention to their other behaviors. A lot of emotionally unavailable people compensate their inability to be emotionally present by being extremely nice. This is so that you won’t be able to complain about their emotional unavailability. You may have thought, “He just doesn’t know, it’s not his fault” or “But she has so many other great qualities.” Just because someone is nice, they don’t get a free pass to do whatever they want or not care to make you feel secure and happy.
14. They deny there is an issue
They either lack insight into their own behaviors or even when they do, they don’t see it as a problem. This is the norm for how they relate to others. It is likely that they were lucky enough to date people who will adopt to their dysfunctional ways or they stayed single for a long time to keep their “independence.” They think you are the problem because you are “too needy.” There is no convincing them. Leave them where you found them, in their own sad, independent life. They will always feel unhappy and lonely because they will forever crave (unconsciously/consciously) that intimacy and connection they can’t have.
15. They are evasive/elusive
Do you have difficulty figuring them out? Are their actions incongruent with their words?
Are they only available when it’s convenient for them? Do they disappear for long periods with no regular contact after an intimate night? You are most likely with an emotionally unavailable person.
If you notice that someone you are involved with exhibit some of these qualities, don’t try to change them and move on. Don’t take it personal. It’s not you. They are just not a good fit for you because they won’t ever meet your emotional needs. You don’t need to help them and you will find someone else who will meet your needs.
If you are already involved with someone who is emotionally unavailable, communicate your needs in a non-threatening way (it doesn’t involve blaming, criticizing, or attacking). If they show up, hold the space, and validate your needs, maybe they will be able to work on the relationship with you. Seek out help from an attachment therapist near you.
If they don’t do these things, lack insight, and still dismiss the importance of intimacy, do not stay in that relationship expecting they will change one day. Without doing an extensive work on themselves, it is highly unlikely that they will wake up one day as a changed person.
Most likely, if you are attracted to an emotionally unavailable partner, you have an anxious attachment style. If being attracted to unavailable people is a pattern for you, you will also benefit from working with an attachment therapist so that you can stop the cycle and have a healthy relationship in the future.
So be honest and ask yourself this question; Are you really okay receiving these emotional crumbs?
You know you deserve more.
“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.” –Robin Williams-
If you need help with dealing with emotionally unavailable partner please contact me.
Liz Wee, LMFT, ATR
Do you want to learn more about how you can improve your relationship with your partner? Or are you an individual, who's working on self right now to have better relationships in the future? I would love to assist you!
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