Are You Emotionally Unavailable? What This Really Means

Have you asked yourself what emotional unavailability is? 

Do you find yourself looking for signs of emotional unavailability?

If you have a partner, have you looked for signs he’s emotionally unavailable?

What does it really mean when someone is emotionally unavailable?

Simply put, your ability to sustain emotional bonds in relationships is called emotional availability. 

Understandably, if you are emotionally unavailable, it would be impossible to have a great and healthy relationship since you won’t be able to establish any emotional connection.

People who are emotionally closed off, mentally unreachable, or emotionally inept will find relationships challenging.

Rather than establish a solid relationship, they often maintain some distance and date casually.

Let’s say you have been dating someone for six months and you have great sexual chemistry and a lot of things in common. 

However, you feel like something is off.

Perhaps, you have asked yourself if he is emotionally unavailable.

One common question many women often ask is “Am I needy or is he emotionally unavailable?”

If you notice that you find it hard to build a solid relationship or if your partner asks if they are loving someone who is emotionally unavailable, you need to pay close attention.

Emotionally unavailable people often shy away from conversations that deal with emotional experiences.

If you want to know how to spot an emotionally unavailable man, one of the signs to look for is an apparent lack of investment in you or the relationship.

Men who are emotionally unavailable will often leave you wondering if they even like you.

However, since your involvement continues, you assume they might have some feelings for you.

The thing is they probably do. However, there is also the huge probability that he is emotionally unavailable.

How Do You Know if Someone is Emotionally Unavailable?

Dealing with an emotionally unavailable man or an emotionally detached woman can be draining and stressful.

What does being emotionally unavailable mean?

What makes a man emotionally unavailable?

How do you know if you are with an emotionally detached man or woman?

How do you know if you are with an emotionally unavailable partner?

Recognizing emotional unavailability can be tricky for most people.

Most emotionally unavailable people can make their partners feel good about themselves and even hopeful about the future of their relationship.

However, after an encouraging start, you will never be able to connect intimately with emotionally unavailable people.

If you are the emotionally unavailable one in the relationship, your partner will find it almost impossible to maintain anything beyond casual involvement.

Below are some of the most common signs you are emotionally unavailable or you are with an emotionally available partner.

They don’t like to make plans.

People who are emotionally unavailable are very likely to make commitments, regardless if it’s minor or significant.

Here’s one common scenario: you suggest to get together next week. 

They agree and seem enthusiastic about it.

However, when you ask what day works for them, they say they will just get back to you but they never do.

Or maybe they will say they will say they will fit that in their schedule but when the day comes, they come up with a great excuse why they can’t go.

They call the shots.

When you see each other, an emotionally unavailable partner often chooses the activity you will do.

Often, the activities they choose align with their usual routine.

For instance, they might ask you to help around the house or watch the latest episode of their favorite Netflix show even if you have not seen it.

Of course, this is not always a problem especially if they are also receptive and open to your suggestions.

However, if they don’t ask what you would like to do or they seem irritated when you don’t go along with their plan, it might be a cue for you to reconsider if the relationship is really serving your needs.

You do all the work in the relationship.

If you can’t recall the last time you sent a text message that was not a direct reply, it is likely that you are with an emotionally unavailable partner.

If you are doing all the texting, planning, or calling, there’s a huge chance you are with an emotionally unavailable partner. 

While they might enjoy spending time with you, they are not really committed to the work required for the relationship to flourish.

When you are not spending time together and you rarely hear from the person, there is a huge chance they are emotionally unavailable.

If they take days to reply to your messages, especially the meaningful ones, or they tend to ignore it entirely, you might want to reconsider the relationship.

They might say they would rather talk about important things face to face but you’re likely never to hear from them if they are emotionally unavailable.

They avoid the word ‘relationship.’

Emotional unavailability can involve intimacy fears and the fear of commitment.

They might go on relationship behaviors with someone—going on dates, meeting the other party’s friends, and even spending the night together—but they don’t like to make the relationship official.

As long as things are casual, they are cool with it.

However, when you start to go deep, an emotionally unavailable person won’t be there for it.

Practice caution when you are with someone who:

  • Says they are not looking for anything serious.
  • Talks a lot about their ex.
  • Says they are afraid of commitment.
  • Talks about unrequited feelings for a friend.

While it is possible that you caught them at a time when they are ready to work towards change, it can also be otherwise.

What you need to remember though is that when they do or say any of those things, they mean them.

You can never seem to grow closer.

At the start of the relationship, they might verbalize how much they enjoy spending time with you.

They might even openly share some vulnerabilities.

However, you will often likely notice a drastic change in their behavior when you start to get serious.

While it can be tempting to try to make things work out with someone who seems detached and distant, it can be a lot of work.

Unfortunately, many believe that emotionally unavailable people just need to find the right partner.

That once you are able to break through the walls of an emotionally unavailable person, you can make the relationship last.

All you need to do is give it all you’ve got and the other person will come to their senses.

Unfortunately, that’s how many people get trapped with an emotionally unavailable partner.

It is important to keep in mind that unless they do the work themselves, you will end up investing time and energy in a relationship that might not go where you want it to.

Often, the emotionally unavailable party will continue to avoid reciprocation.

Eventually, you will end up draining yourself physically and emotionally trying to make things work.

They reflect your feelings rather than offering their own.

When you share your emotions, pay close attention to how someone responds to them.

Does the other party express their feelings uniquely?

Or are you with someone who merely mirrors what you say and tells you the classic line, “I feel the same way?”

While not everyone is open to talking about their emotions all the time, it is important to remember that if you are in a relationship, you have to be able to connect on an emotional level.

If you are with someone who can’t open up to you when you ask direct questions or when you initiate conversations, then you are with an emotionally unavailable partner.

They blow off plans or show up late.

If your partner does not keep commitments with you or shows up late consistently, it is a subtle way of keeping you at a distance.

This does not mean however that they don’t always care.

They might even sincerely apologize for this flaw.

However, you need to also closely observe if the reason is because they care more about what they want and just don’t want to restructure their life to include you.

In other words, they are not willing to compromise their own needs for whatever it is that they have with you.

Are You the Emotionally Unavailable One?

Maybe some of the signs mentioned above resonate with you and signs you have noticed in yourself.

Or maybe past partners have pointed out those signs to you. 

Emotional unavailability does not mean you are doing something wrong.

You might not realize it but if you are emotionally unavailable, it will show up in your relationships.

If you suspect you are emotionally unavailable, below are some of the telltale signs that will confirm your suspicion:

You back out when there are commitments.

Perhaps you have made plans for a date last week.

Back then, you were excited.

However, now that the date is coming, you feel like giving up your free time is something you don’t want to do.

While it is important to take time out for yourself and prioritize your needs, if you end up always canceling the plans you have made with your partner, you need to ask yourself why you always keep avoiding spending time together.

You always keep your options open.

If you want to be in a committed relationship, you need to focus on one partner only.

However, if you continue to avoid any discussions about exclusivity or long-term commitment, you are likely emotionally unavailable.

Perhaps, you also don’t want to settle for someone whom you think is not right for you.

However, this kind of mindset can limit your ability to invest energy and time for someone you care for.

There is no such thing as the perfect match.

You can still have a wonderful relationship with someone who might not check all your boxes.

You worry about losing yourself in the relationship.

If you are used to being independent, you might worry about losing your independence because of a committed relationship.

Maybe you like doing things your way and on a schedule that works for you.

More than anything however, it is likely that you don’t want to change your life to include your partner.

While there is nothing wrong with those things, it makes you less available if you are in a relationship.

In any healthy relationship, each partner needs to balance their individual needs with the needs of the relationship and their partners.

This may take some exploration and time to do things in a way that feels right for you.

You don’t trust others easily.

If in the past someone has betrayed your trust, you might be cautious about exposing your vulnerabilities to others again.

You might want to keep your thoughts and emotions locked down, afraid that others might use them against you.

When your partner urges you to open up and talk about your feelings, you often respond by changing the subject or shutting down.

You keep ending up with people who are emotionally unavailable.

If you have a pattern of being with partners who are emotionally distant, analyze if you are getting back what you are putting out.

At the beginning, it might seem fun and easy to date those people who don’t ask much from you emotionally.

However, deep down, if you really want to be in a committed relationship with a committed partner, those flings won’t satisfy you for long.

Where Does Emotional Unavailability Come From?

Many factors can contribute to emotional unavailability.

It’s not uncommon to find several possible causes at the heart of this issue.

Attachment issues

Childhood attachment to primary caregivers can have a significant role in emotional unavailability.

If back then your caregivers did not provide support and affection or did not show any interest in your feelings, you might have absorbed the same relationship model.

When you grow up, there is a huge possibility that your attachment to your romantic partners will follow this pattern and you become avoidant.

Temporary circumstances

Emotional unavailability can happen temporarily.

Many people with mental health conditions such as depression have a hard time sustaining an emotional connection with their significant others during a flare-up.

Breakup grief

Experiencing pain in a relationship can make it very vulnerable to be with a new partner.

This is especially true for people who are recovering from:

  • Relationship abuse or toxicity
  • Unrequited feelings
  • Infidelity
  • Unpleasant breakups

Any of the above can cause feelings of low self-esteem and makes it difficult for people to share and experience intimacy.

What To Do Next

The good thing about emotional unavailability is it is not permanent.

However, it is a complex issue and some will find it hard to overcome compared to others.

Change can only occur when you are willing to work hard to make yourself more available emotionally.

If you are with an emotionally unavailable partner, you can also try to work things out with them using the following strategies:

  • Bring up any concerning behaviors they have like avoiding sharing their feelings or avoiding making plans
  • Compassionately point out how those behaviors can affect your relationship
  • Encourage them to connect with a therapist or perhaps you can try couple’s counseling
  • When they open up, make sure to offer support and encouragement

If you want to become more emotionally available, the following beneficial tips can help:

Get to the root cause.

Knowing what the real cause of your emotional unavailability can help you deal with the issue head on.

For instance, if you are going through a nasty breakup, you might need more time to get close to someone new again.

However, if the cause is something more serious like childhood neglect, it would be best that you speak with a therapist. 

Effectively dealing with the effects of abuse or trauma will usually require professional support.

Practice opening up.

It is often helpful that you are more comfortable expressing your emotions before sharing them with a partner.

If you want to practice opening up to your partner or to other people for that matter, keep in mind the following:

  • Share emotional vulnerabilities or issues through text first
  • Talk to people you trust about your emotions (i.e., your family members or close friends)
  • Use music or art to help you practice emotional expression
  • Keep a journal of your feelings

Keep things slow.

As soon as you realize that you are emotionally detached or distant, you might be tempted to change drastically.

However, changing overnight is not really realistic.

True vulnerability will take time and if you push yourself to open up before you are ready, you will only cause yourself discomfort and stress.

A much better approach would be to make small and gradual changes.

It won’t hurt to step out of your comfort zone but you don’t have to do it so drastically that you cause yourself some unwanted stress.

Get your partner involved.

As you explore factors that contribute to emotional unavailability and as you work on becoming more available emotionally, consider discussing with your partner the things that you have learned.

It would be so much easier for you to enlist the support of your significant other if they have a clear understanding of why you are pulling away or always distancing yourself.

It would also be helpful if you explore some effective strategies together such as:

  • Staying connected through text when you need physical and emotional space
  • Sharing emotions by leaving notes for each other

Spend time with people who are in healthy relationships.

When emotional unavailability is caused by attachment issues or unhealthy relationship patterns, it would be best that you explore what a healthy relationship looks like.

One way you can effectively study healthy relationships is spending time with people who are in one.

Think of friends or family members who are in strong, healthy, and long-term relationships and spend some time with them.

Pay close attention to how they interact with each other.

While you won’t always see the full picture, you will get some powerful insight as to what a healthy relationship is really like.

Talk to a therapist.

Emotional unavailability is not something you can always work through alone.

While others can deal with it on their own, it is completely fine to seek professional help.

If you continue to have difficulties dealing with emotional vulnerability and availability despite your best efforts, a therapist can help.

Aside from providing expert support and guidance, therapists can help you identify potential causes and help you take the required steps so you can eliminate relationship patterns that are unhealthy.

If you are already in a relationship, one thing that might be able to help is couples counseling.

Couples counseling can help both you and your partner address any challenges you have together.

Can people who are emotionally unavailable still fall in love?

Some people have difficulty recognizing or expressing key emotions like love or anger.

However, this does not mean they don’t experience any emotions at all.

That said, emotionally unavailable people can still fall in love.

But they might have a difficult time recognizing when it is happening and putting their feelings into words.

Emotional unavailability typically stems from a deep fear of rejection or intimacy.

If falling in love feels threatening or scary, it is natural for people to want to avoid it entirely.

Conclusion

Emotional unavailability can cause both people in a relationship lots of distress and frustration. However, you should not give up on the relationship right away. Talk to your partner first and take time to explore your own behaviors. 

This can help you see your own patterns and behaviors and help you identify the possible issues that are making you unavailable emotionally. 

Knowing what you are up against can also help you work through your issues effectively. Communication, patience, and support from a therapist can also help if you feel like you are not getting anywhere on your own.