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10 Signs of an Emotionally Unavailable Partner

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

finger puppets, woman hugging, male looking emotionally unavailable

That mysterious look, with a bit of melancholy, can attract us to an emotionally unavailable partner. Yet, ultimately, the neglect and selfishness of such behavior in a relationship make it quite challenging.

There are various reasons that someone you are interested in or are in a relationship with may be emotionally unavailable. Their behavior can feel like a constant source of rejection and be challenging to manage.

Emotionally unavailable people will often be evasive, make excuses, and avoid talking about their feelings concerning your relationship. Some can use passive-aggressive behavior, sarcasm, and anger.

Someone emotionally unavailable may have Avoidant Personality Disorder (APD). It can arise from a combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors. Childhood experiences, such as chronic rejection or ridicule from peers and/or parents, can contribute to the development of this disorder. APD is a chronic pattern of behavior, meaning it is long-term and affects various aspects of a person's life.

Chronic Or Temporary Emotional Unavailability

Temporary emotional unavailability may be due to stress and is not the same as chronic emotional availability, which may be a deep-rooted issue from a troubled childhood, trauma, or mental illness.

It may also temporarily occur after a divorce or death because they feel especially vulnerable and are attempting emotional self-protection. If it becomes chronic, it may become a problem to have future intimacy.

It should be noted that commitment to intimacy does not mean one must be monogamous if one agrees to be in an open relationship or marriage. For more about this see our Sex & Open Relationships Guide.

Addicts & Temporary Emotional Unavailability

Those with addictions, including workaholics, can be emotionally unavailable because their addiction is the priority and controls them. There are certainly signs that someone may be emotionally unavailable in a relationship early on. Still, others may seem emotionally available initially and only after you are in the relationship you find out they have these issues. It is then when you discover that they will not connect emotionally or commit.

Emotionally Unavailable Flags

Below are indications that may serve as red flags that someone is not emotionally available:

They Flirt With You 

Some people who are excessively flirtatious or flattering use their charm to get short-term intimacy but tend to pull back after a brief exchange of personal sharing. They may disappear, then come back and disappear again, making it confusing to another person.

Passive & Direct Control Over You

People who are not emotionally available will modify their time with you around their schedule and not be inconvenienced by anything you may need from them. They will disregard your feelings when it comes to your schedule, the time you have to wait on them by having to accommodate their schedule, replying to your messages, or its effect on you. However, they will feel slighted if you were to exhibit similar behavior back to them.

They Tell You Who They Are

When someone tells you that they are not good at relationships, replying to messages, or considering others' needs, believe them. This is not merely a form of vulnerability. This is an attempt to let you know what to expect, and getting you to accept such behavior.

Their Rocky Past Relationships

If someone has had difficulty with their past relationships and has not been able to have a long-term relationship, it may be because they could not form intimacy in a healthy way. Thus, the relationships they have had may end when real intimacy would typically develop. This can apply to someone who has a tumultuous long-term relationship where they break-up and get back together many times. They may also have a history of cheating in relationships but have a hypocritical disdain for cheaters.

They Are Perfection Seekers

Emotionally unavailable people may be perfectionists about those with whom they are involved. They may be highly critical and express criticism in a serious or joking manner about you or former partners. They may seek out flaws which they can use as an excuse to avoid a relationship. Their criticisms will most likely be around things that are superficial concerning attractiveness or a style of doing something.

They Have Anger Issues

There is typically difficulty managing anger when it comes to this type of person. They can be emotionally abusive and even overly possessive despite having a double standard for themselves in their own behavior.

They Are Arrogant

Someone who acts like they are doing you a favor by allowing you to be with them is overcompensating for low self-esteem. This is a form of manipulation. It takes courage and confidence to let yourself be vulnerable and have intimacy.

They Are Often Late Or Change Plans

Chronic late replies or showing up late is inconsiderate and can be a flag. The same goes for always having to reschedule things are just not showing up. It signals that your time is not as important to them as their own.

Asks But Does Not Tell

They may ask you many questions about you and stalk your social media accounts but keep things about themselves less revealing.

Leads With Sex

If they lead with sexual cues, they may be toying with you. There is a big difference between someone trying to seduce you or woo you. Someone trying to seduce you is attempting to get you to show sexual interest in them because seduction is a power-play and about a conquest. Someone trying to woo you is trying to have intimacy as well as sex and is developing a meaningful connection.

Borderline & Narcissistic 

Be aware that in some cases, someone who is emotionally unavailable may have a mental health diagnosis that may or may not be diagnosed. Both Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Narcissistic Personality Disorders can have narcissistic traits that require your time, affection, loyalty, and service without the same in return.

What Can You Do?

Avoid Relationships With Emotionally Unavailable People

If you feel you are being disappointed frequently at the beginning of a relationship and see many of these flags, understand that this will only get worse. You cannot change or fix someone, and it is their responsibility to work on their issues before they get involved with someone. If you want commitment in your life, know that you deserve intimacy, affection, loyalty, and devotion. Don't settle for less. It is much easier to end things early then go through a painful breakup and divorce.

If You Are Emotionally Unavailable

If you are emotionally unavailable, you may wish to seek help through counseling. The types of therapy that are most effective for this are those that focus on cognitive behavior and psychodynamic therapies. These therapies focus on how thoughts and beliefs can lead to actions and behaviors and target unconscious processes.

Examples of the specific types of therapy that complement this are:

  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Schema-focused therapy
  • Mentalization-based therapy (MBT)
  • Systems training for emotional predictability and problem-solving (STEPPS)
  • Transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP)

In A Relationship With Someone Who Is Emotionally Unavailable

Marriage or couples counseling can help change the dynamics of a relationship that will be more fulfilling and intimate. Seek out a qualified therapist to help you as untrained friends will not be able to provide the necessary tools that working this out will require. It may also be a good idea to have an emotionally unavailable person do individual therapy on their own as well.

What's Next?

Emotional unavailability is a defense mechanism that can be overcome with emotional work and dedication. It is not the responsibility of a partner to help someone struggling with emotional unavailability; rather, it is the person who exhibits it. If you or someone that you care about is struggling with this, seek out support. You deserve better, and you can have the intimacy that makes life extraordinary.

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