Human beings are emotional creatures. We can experience thousands of emotions—from happy to sad and surprised to fearful. With so many emotions, it’s no wonder we sometimes have problems expressing them to others and sometimes, even understanding them.
Emotional intimacy is a key component of a healthy relationship, but could it not be your strong point? Do you find it hard to be vulnerable with others? Or does your partner seem emotionally distant, unaffectionate or just plain uninterested?
You could be dealing with emotional unavailability.
Read on to learn how to decipher the signs of emotional unavailability and ways you can work toward becoming more emotionally available.
What does emotionally unavailable mean?
To better understand emotional unavailability, it is good to first understand what emotional availability means.
“Being emotionally available describes the ability to make and hold emotional connections with others in relationships,” said Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. “Being emotionally available requires you to be vulnerable, open and honest. It means you trust your partner in the relationship.”
Being emotionally unavailable means you are either uncomfortable or find it difficult to express emotions in healthy ways. You may be emotionally clueless when it comes to your partner’s emotions and may view intimacy as a threat to your emotional security.
“An emotionally unavailable person has a hard time giving and receiving love and sharing deep emotions,” Dr. Fox said. “Whenever you find yourself getting too close to someone, you back off before it gets too serious.”
What causes emotional unavailability?
There are several reasons why you or your partner might be emotionally unavailable.
Attachment issues. If you had a difficult attachment with your primary caregiver, like they showed little interest or affection toward you, then you may model that in other relationships.
Past unpleasant relationships. A painful breakup, abuse, infidelity or cheating may make it challenging to be vulnerable with another person.
Life circumstances. If you are dealing with a mental health condition like depression or anxiety, you may disconnect emotionally from others.
Narcissism. Not every emotionally unavailable person is a narcissist, but every narcissist is emotionally unavailable. They may fake emotion and care for a short period to get something in return.
Am I or my partner emotionally unavailable?
Now that you understand the meaning and causes, here are some signs your relationship shows markers of one person being emotionally unavailable.
- Avoid sharing experiences, feelings, memories and ideas.
- Feel suffocated or overwhelmed by emotional intimacy.
- Avoid labels in relationships.
- Cut things off when things get more serious.
- Are not very affectionate.
- Don’t know how to receive love from another person fully.
- Avoid quality time.
- Are easily defensive.
- Are distrustful.
- Have a history of short-lived relationships.
- Are extremely busy or preoccupied.
- Struggle to love and accept oneself.
Steps to become more emotionally available
If you identify with the statements above, you or your partner might be emotionally unavailable. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be permanent and your current relationship isn’t necessarily doomed.
Dr. Fox shared the following steps you can take to help an emotionally unavailable partner:
- Talk about the concerning behaviors. Talk with your partner about how their unavailability affects you in the relationship.
- Encourage them to find the cause of their emotional unavailability. This is where talking to a licensed behavioral health specialist can help.
- Offer support and encouragement when they open up to you.
- Speak with a mental health specialist. While you think the best of people, sometimes it might be best to end an unhealthy relationship if you feel it negatively affects your happiness and well-being. A specialist can help you decide, gain some perspective and move on if necessary.
If you are trying to be more emotionally available, here are some steps you can take on your own:
- Explore the root cause. If you are coping with trauma from childhood or past relationships, a licensed behavioral health specialist can help you unpack wounds so you can heal.
- Reflect on the patterns that replay in your relationships. Ask yourself why you find it hard to open up. The root cause could be from your childhood or a previous relationship.
- Increase self-compassion and self-forgiveness. When you are comfortable with your own imperfections, you can become more accepting of others’ imperfections.
- Practice opening up. Keep a journal, talk to trusted people, or share personal vulnerabilities via text or email first.
“When it comes to becoming more emotionally available, you have to be connected with your own emotions before you can be connected with others’ emotions,” Dr. Fox said. “This may be scary at first, but the hope is that you’ll be able to give and receive love and have deeper, richer and healthier relationships.”
Being emotionally unavailable doesn’t mean your relationships are doomed. But it does take work and willingness to work on it for your relationships to move forward.
With therapy and resources, you can change course.
Need help becoming more emotionally available to build better relationships?
Call the Banner Behavioral Health Appointment Line at (800) 254-4357.
- Signs You Are in a Codependent Relationship
- How to Strengthen Your Empathy Muscle
- Here’s How You Can Be a Better Listener—And Why It’s Important