“It is necessary, and even vital, to set standards for your life and the people you allow in it.”
~ Mandy Hale
It’s important to be clear about what you mean by “emotionally unavailable” as that term can cover a lot of territory.
For example, it might refer to someone who is reluctant, evasive or defensive about their feelings. Perhaps they are shy or even unaware of what they are actually feeling in any given moment. Or maybe they deflect any discussion of their emotions with anger and hostility towards anyone who dares to ask them about their feelings. Or perhaps they are good at “seeming” — seeming to be emotionally connected and available, but it’s only a façade which sooner or later crumbles.
It may also be the case that their feelings are so deeply buried that they are numb to them.
This is common when someone is in active addiction. Addicts use alcohol, drugs or processes (like gambling or sex) to numb emotional discomfort or pain. Thus, addicts are by definition emotionally unavailable.
What’s important here is that it isn’t that the emotionally unavailable don’t have strong feelings or emotions, it’s that they don’t feel safe to show them or discuss them for any number of reasons, some of them very complex. In short, emotional vulnerability is not their thing.
So, if any of the above fits your situation, what to do with your emotionally unavailable man?
You have a choice
It seems to me that you have a clear choice – you can either accept him as he is or go your own way.
We have neither the right nor the power to change others to our liking.
It’s not our job to fix other people. Besides, pushing your man to be as you want him to be will not work. It will likely increase the opposite of what you are looking for – more deflection, more avoidance.
Sure, you might try to engage him conversationally about the issue, but don’t expect that he will be receptive. And, unless this conversation is carefully handled, it will probably only result in pushback.
Now shift the focus
So, my strong suggestion to you is to shift the focus from him to yourself.
I invite you to explore your need to be in relationship with a man who is emotionally shut down. Is there a payoff for you? You can do this exploration on your own and/or with professional help. There are many books and articles on this topic that you might read to get you started.
And here is something else for you to consider.
In my experience, women who become involved with emotionally unavailable men are often suffering from the same condition. Wittingly or otherwise, emotionally unavailable women seek out emotionally unavailable men as they are “safe” in the sense that such men don’t demand emotional intimacy from their partners. Like tends to attract like.
Mary Rizk, Transformative Coach, B.A., M.A., M.Ed. – www.maryrizk.com
Emotional unavailability can vary from person to person, ranging from mild difficulties with emotional expression/understanding to extreme challenges experiencing any degree of emotion. Furthermore, some men may really struggle with their own emotions, but have no problems comforting you with yours. I’m going to break it down for you into two categories, the first being “tolerable” emotional unavailability and the second being times where you should run for the hills. And fast.
You may want to stick in the relationship if…
· Your guy is working on understanding and expressing his emotions in a healthy way.
This may look like him being in therapy or actively working in other ways to better be in touch with himself (such as by reading books, listening to podcasts about this topic, talking with friends about it, etc.).
· He is supportive and understanding of your emotions.
If you feel heard, valued, and seen by him when you open up, this is really important. He may struggle to talk about his emotions to the same degree that you do, but if he can be present with you when you’re wanting to share, this can go a long way.
· He is aware of why it is difficult for him to be emotionally available and the two of you have spoken about this.
He may have past trauma that poses a big challenge for him when it comes to opening up now. If you at least have some understanding of why he’s closed off, it can serve as a helpful reminder on those days where you really wish you could reach him.
Him being emotionally unavailable is a problem if…
· He is completely closed off to the idea of therapy/any kind of help or change.
If he denies that he has any work to do, this is a big red flag and a strong indicator that he likely won’t ever grow. We all have areas to work on and him refusing to look at this challenge for himself is a concern.
· He can’t tolerate it when you want to be vulnerable.
If you are talking with him openly, calmly, and honestly and he gets up and walks off, accuses you of being “too emotional” (or worse), or completely shuts down, your relationship is not heading in a good direction. If this is happening on a consistent basis, there’s no way for the two of you to resolve issues.
· His emotional reactions are all or nothing.
For some men, they are so closed off which means they may be bottling up a lot of what they want to say or really think. Sometimes, this can lead to an explosion where all of what they’ve been feeling comes out as anger. If he shoots from 0 to 10 with his emotions, stay clear. You want a guy who finds a healthy balance when sharing.
Michelle Henderson, MA, LMHC – www.nextchapter-counseling.com
If you suspect your partner is emotionally unavailable, it can be confusing, frustrating, and lonely.
Here is a list of a few signs that he may be emotionally unavailable to you, himself, or others:
- He is unable to express to you how he feels, leaving you feeling disconnected from him
- He is uncomfortable with others’ emotions, sometimes including yours
- He may shut down when you try to engage him in a conversation around how he’s feeling or how a situation made him feel. In some cases, he may even become angry or aggressive
- He is unable to meet your emotional needs
What do you do when you love someone who is emotionally unavailable?
- Most importantly, don’t try to change him. You are responsible for your own mental wellness and growth and no one else’s.
- Try to learn his love language – if not through emotions, then how does he feel connected to others? How does he express his love?
- Engage in self-reflection about this relationship and how it serves you. What are you hoping to get out of this relationship? If this person does not meet your emotional needs, what other needs might he be meeting…and is this enough for you?
How do I get help?
- Whether you’ve just started dating, have been married for 20 years, or are somewhere in between, having an open and honest discussion about therapy with him can be a great starting point. Share your concerns, then suggest either couples therapy so that you can both learn the skills and tools you need to make your relationship successful. Or suggest individual therapy to help your partner explore ways he feels emotionally stuck, and how to become more emotionally available to himself and to you.
- Consider exploring individual therapy for yourself if you notice that this is a pattern in your relationship history. A skilled therapist can help you learn more about your own emotional needs and why you may be stuck in choosing the same emotionally unavailable partners.
If at any point, this relationship feels unsafe (emotionally, physically, or sexually), then it is an unhealthy one for you.
Always use your best judgement when bringing up going to therapy or expressing dissatisfaction with your partner. Many men are open and willing to have these discussions, but some may feel cornered, vulnerable, and threatened. Speaking to a therapist on your own may help you learn how to navigate this.
Anusha Zechella, Ph.D., HSP-P – www.breytapsych.com
1. Impact on you
Being in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable man can oftentimes lead to loneliness, feeling unappreciated or unimportant, and not feeling heard. These are all very hard experiences in general, but even more so when it’s occurring in a relationship that you devote a significant amount of time and energy to.
Having a healthy outlet and way of taking care of yourself is key.
If you feel the need to seek support, do so with someone who is impartial and won’t develop a negative opinion of your partner (this is something you can’t take back in the future).
2. Understanding and patience
Patience is key during tough times and tough conversations with an emotionally unavailable man. You may be able to articulate how you’re feeling and the needs you have, but that type of thinking does not come naturally for these types of men.
Phrases like, “I feel overwhelmed”, “I can’t imagine how you feel”, and “What can I do to support you?” just don’t come easily for them.
If he is open to it, give him time and space to develop this skill and the vocabulary that goes with it.
In the beginning, you may have to give him key phrases to learn when you’re emotionally struggling.
Start with simple, declarative statements like, “I’m sorry your day was hard” or “I’m here for you.” Once he has those down, give him a list of things to offer you that he can refer to (“Do you need a hug?” or “Let me run you a hot bath”).
3. Learn his love language
It may be hard to believe, but emotionally unavailable men do show love at times.
It’s not the way you show love, but it’s there. It can be unspoken or easily overlooked, but he is making efforts to express his commitment in the relationship.
Learning what he feels he brings to the relationship could be one avenue to learn more about his love language.
For example, if your partner was raised to believe providing is his life’s goal, look for ways he financially supports the life you share with him. If he is protective, think of how he responds if someone is disrespecting you.
4. Potential good
Emotionally unavailable men think differently from people who are more open to living in the emotional world. A few aspects I’ve learned to appreciate is their ability to think more rationally and be more decisive. This may not be a great quality during a stressful time, though.
Once you are in a more accepting space of your partner’s emotional unavailability, you can begin to appreciate these potentially overlooked qualities.
They can be very helpful in times of distress as long as he is able to express his rational or decisive thoughts in a kind way.
Sarah Vendegna, MS, LPC – www.vendegnacounseling.com
Something just seems missing in your relationship but you can’t put your finger on it.
You spend time connecting the dots between you last text, last interaction and your partner who is “missing in action.” You feel there must be something you can do to fix this. You think it will just take time and require more effort on your part to make him open up.
In the meantime, you are getting more desperate, your self-esteem is suffering and you’re spending more energy wondering and worrying what’s wrong in your relationship and neglecting other things. Sound familiar?
Often this is a sign of a relationship that doesn’t have an essential component to survive called emotional intimacy. Often this is a sign that you are with a person that is emotionally unavailable.
Emotional intimacy is the closeness and connection partners feel by sharing their emotions and feelings without criticism or judgment, along with showing care, validation and understanding for one another.
An emotionally available partner will provide safety both emotionally and physically for the other person to show who they really are, and likewise, allow themselves to be vulnerable too by the sharing of deeper emotions.
Being involved with someone who is emotionally unavailable can be confusing. The clients I have worked with will say that they feel helpless, alone, and unhappy and wonder if they are doing something (or not doing something for that matter) to cause their partner to not open up and connect with them. They blame themselves for the frequent arguments, mistrust and lack of intimacy.
If you are in a relationship with a partner who is emotional unavailable there are ways to empower yourself and feel more secure.
1. Recognize the signs
An emotionally unavailable partner is someone who has difficulty sharing their emotions or feelings.
- They may have “wounds” from their childhood or past relationships, or have an addiction that cause them to “wall up” and remain guarded.
- They may justify their behaviors and not take responsibility for their inability to open up.
- They may give reasons why they cannot make time to spend together or talk, and say that it will happen soon but you don’t ever see anything come from it.
- They may become angry at you for expressing your feelings or project their emotions onto you.
- They may say you’re being too “needy.”
You may have attraction or sexual chemistry, but very little else.
As the other partner, you may rationalize why you stay in the relationship.
You say to yourself, “Sometimes he’s nice,” and “he does care.” You justify the relationship and tell your friends, “We do talk, and “he tells me I’m important in his life.” You feel sorry for him and feel the need to take care of him and tell others, “He must be going through something,” and “he’s not ready for a commitment.” All these are examples of how you may be convincing yourself that the relationship is healthy when it’s not.
2. Stop blaming yourself
One thing woman do in this situation is blame themselves. They feel if they were more loving, caring, thoughtful or patient that their partner will open up.
First of all, it’s not your fault.
Don’t assume responsibility for another person’s behavior. If you are open to the relationship, have healthy boundaries, and are coming from a place of caring and positive intent, you are relatively healthy.
You don’t have to fix him or the relationship.
When you stop blaming yourself you will gain clarity to know what to do next.
3. Stop fantasizing the relationship
Often women who are in relationships with partners who are emotionally unavailable struggle with codependency or even love addiction.
Love addiction is when the love addict is focused primarily on the other person to meet all their needs, and obsesses and fantasizes about the other person.
How this plays into emotionally unavailability is the focus of the love addict is their partner who isn’t emotionally available and it reinforces to the love addict to keep trying harder for love and approval.
Codependency is what underlies love addiction.
When in a codependent relationship, you may tend to neglect your emotional, physical, and financial needs and hope your partner will fulfill them. You may struggle with boundaries and neglect other parts of your life; your job, family, friendships for the sole purpose of receiving love and acceptance from another.
If you feel you are struggling with love addiction or codependency, seek professional help. There are 12-step support groups and numerous books on the topic that can get you on the road to recovery.
4. Identify your needs
Begin to identify what makes you happy and what your individual needs are. This might be a difficult exercise especially if your focus of attention has been on fixing the relationship or changing for someone else.
If you have been consumed and frustrated that your partner isn’t emotionally available you may have abandoned yourself too.
Make a list of your emotional, physical and spiritual needs. Make a commitment to yourself about when and how you will meet your needs.
5. Reconnect with yourself
If you’ve been in a relationship or in a relationship where your needs are not being met, you may have lost your identity.
Try to reconnect with yourself.
This will involve connecting with your needs and feelings about the relationship (past or present), what you feel sad and angry about, what is unmet in the relationship, what you would like in a healthy relationship, and especially, how you can get back to you.
It is impossible for any one person to meet all your needs, but being in a relationship where your needs are not being met can be painful and lonely.
Don’t keep suffering. Stop and take control of your life. Make yourself a priority. Remember, no one can truly abandon you if you don’t abandon yourself.
Kavita A. Hatten, MS, LPC, NCC- www.phoenixcounseling.net
Emotionally unavailable men are unavailable for reasons that might or might not even be known to them.
When a person is closed off emotionally from building a lasting bond with another human being, that means he is subconsciously trying to protect himself from getting hurt.
Getting too close to someone opens him up to the possibility of getting hurt. He is afraid of being put in such a vulnerable position, so therefore, he will choose to be unavailable to others.
If he takes a long time to answer your text messages, phone calls, or appears evasive when you bring up certain topics, say for example the “where is this relationship going” conversation.
Do you feel he is meeting your needs or is everything about him and on his terms? If he is being avoidant, then you should ask yourself is he really ready for a long-term committed relationship?
A better question to ask yourself is if he is worth your time?
If you are interested in being involved romantically with an emotionally unavailable man, consider the following:
Being in a relationship with a man who is emotionally unavailable can be very painful and unsatisfying since he will most likely not be asking you about how your day went or how you are feeling or any other questions that pertain to him showing any genuine interest in you.
The relationship will be unsatisfying since an emotionally unavailable man would be incapable of meeting any of your emotional needs in a relationship since he is ….emotionally unavailable.
Ask him to have a conversation with you about the future of your relationship and if he doesn’t want to discuss this topic with you, then that’s a red flag.
A man who is emotionally available won’t mind discussing the direction your relationship is taking, even if he is not ready to take the next step such as moving in together or getting engaged. He should at least be willing to hear you out and give his honest opinion on the matter as well as take your opinion into consideration.
But if you are committed to trying to make this work, then remember that it takes two people to make any relationship work out.
You can explain to him that his boundaries are too rigid. Some people have boundaries that are too porous while others have boundaries that are too rigid. So if his boundaries are way too rigid since he is not letting anyone get too close to him, then let him know how that makes you feel.
Make it about you by using “I” statements such as I feel, I want, I need. This will hopefully make him more apt to listen and hear what you have to say.
There are different types of boundaries.
For example, physical boundaries where he may not be affectionate with you.
There are also time boundaries,
- For example does he make time to see you?
- Does he call every evening or does he text you once in a while?
- Does he constantly change plans with you after settling on specific plans?
- Also, take notice of how you feel in the relationship.
- Are you happy when you are together?
- How do you feel when you are apart?
If you don’t feel safe or secure in the relationship, you may be with someone who is emotionally unavailable.
A man who shows you through his actions, rather than his words, that he cares about you is a man who is emotionally available and is very interested in being in a relationship with you.
Emotionally unavailable men have an avoidant attachment style.
There are three main attachment styles, which are avoidant, anxious and secure. Attachment styles have been defined by attachment theory, which was developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, which was later expanded on by Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver to include adult romantic attachment.
So whether you just recently met or have been dating for a while, it is crucial to consider whether or not he is someone worthy of you investing or continuing to invest your energy into.
Jackie Krol, LCSW – www.psychotherapistjackie.com
Men and women have certain biologically determined differences.
How those differences manifest has a lot to do with environmental factors so we can’t generalize anything to all men and all women. We have all heard that “Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus”.
Some of those differences really seem to resonate with people so they probably are descriptive of a lot of how the different genders operate relationally. Again, though, you really can’t generalize; so many other factors – family of origin, culture, religion, race, socioeconomic status, etc. – all come in to play.
In the end, each of us has to determine what we need in order to connect with someone sufficiently to make a successful relationship.
Culturally, our expectations for relationships are different than they were 50 plus years ago. In the ‘50’s and even ‘60’s role definitions were much more narrowly defined. Men were expected to earn the money, while women were expected to raise the children. Women were also expected to create the primary social connections. Probably most women didn’t expect the partner to be their “best friend”.
Now I hear this expectation all of the time. When men fall short of that role, they are often described as emotionally unavailable. They probably are less available than a lot of women, but that doesn’t make them somehow defective.
Each of us has to determine what qualities we need in a mate.
There are the needs that are non-negotiable, the needs that could be negotiable, and then there are preferences. Nobody gets everything they want in a partner, but you have to be clear about what you can and can’t live with.
When I think about emotional unavailability, I think of someone so out of touch, he can’t empathize.
A person like that can be very lonely to live with. Then there are men who can empathize and who care about your emotions but don’t share a lot of their own. They listen, but they don’t talk. These men can be very good partners, but they aren’t likely to serve the same function as a good girlfriend and a glass of wine.
I don’t think you can get a person to become the ideal emotional partner.
Most of us have already learned how to deal with our emotions by the time we are ready to get into a serious relationship. You can try. You can ask your partner how he’s feeling, but don’t be surprised if it’s a short conversation. A lot of times asking a man what he thinks rather than feels will generate more substance.
We are unlikely to get all of our needs met with our partner.
That’s why it’s important to have a variety of sources to get emotional nourishment.
We need to nourish friends and family. We need to develop our own passions to explore on our own. We need to take care of ourselves.
If we do these things we will put less burden on our primary relationship to provide all of our emotional connection.
You have to decide if his positive qualities compensate for some degree of his “emotional unavailability.”
Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
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