One of the necessary ingredients in a healthy emotional relationship with another person is the ability to be present for that person. Being emotionally available means having the capacity to empathize with a person going through something difficult or challenging and providing support, encouragement, and genuine caring about their experience from a selfless and unselfish perspective.
The flip side of this is an emotionally unavailable person. This is a person that does not respond on that emotional level, often resulting in feelings of confusion, loneliness, abandonment, and even isolation even when the partner is physically present. In some cases, this emotional unavailability extends to children of the relationship, and the spouse may feel like he or she is a single parent even though the other partner is at least physically present.
Often people who are emotionally unavailable are people that seem cold and distant, or perhaps aloof and simply “above it all.” They tend to be highly focused on winning or achieving their specific goals, but they never consider how their need to win may be creating feelings of loss, lack of self-esteem, and frustration.
Learning to spot people who are emotionally unavailable is essential to avoid being drawn into a relationship with someone who does not have the capability to provide emotional support and empathy to their partner. At the same time, these people are often highly critical of themselves, and they may be perfectionists and people who have significant emotional trauma and relationship issues in their lives. In some cases, adults who are emotionally unavailable may have had traumatic childhoods or grown up in families where they were emotionally abused or where the display of emotions was seen as negative or as a challenge to family dynamics.
Signs of Emotional Unavailability in Adults
The following are classic signs of the inability to connect with people on an emotional level:
- Extremely analytical – people that focus on the facts or the analysis of an issue but never talk about feelings or express how they feel are often emotionally unavailable.
- Avoid affection and emotional situations – people who are not comfortable showing their emotions strive to avoid any type of emotional situation. They may not want to be present for goodbyes, and they may create conflict to “blow up” a potentially emotional discussion, or they may simply not respond to an attempt to show appreciation, recognition, or love.
- Limit friends and interactions – emotionally unavailable people tend to relate well to work colleagues in work settings, but they tend to avoid social situations where there is more likelihood of emotions and interpersonal relationships being the focus of the conversation.
- They dismiss or discourage your emotional states or make fun of your emotional responses – this is common, and making a joke or telling a partner not to feel emotional about a topic is a common mechanism for the emotionally unavailable to try to control the discussion.
Emotionally unavailable people can change, but they have to recognize the problem and learn to be comfortable with their own emotions before they can be present for their partner.
Girdwain, A. (2019, November 5). 11 Signs of an Emotionally Unavailable Partner- And WTH to Do About It. Retrieved from Women’s Health: https://www.womenshealthmag.com/relationships/a29575105/emotionally-unavailable/
Mateo, A. (2019, October 10). 10 Signs Your Partner Is Emotionally Unavailable. Retrieved from The Oprah Magazine: https://www.oprahmag.com/life/relationships-love/a27899292/signs-emotionally-unavailable-partner/