How to know if someone is emotionally unavailable

Emotionally Unavailable: Meaning, Signs, and FAQs

Emotional availability describes the ability to sustain emotional bonds in relationships. Since it’s pretty much impossible to have a healthy relationship without an emotional connection, emotionally unavailable people tend to find relationships challenging. Instead, they might prefer to date casually and maintain some distance.

Say you’ve dated someone for about 6 months. You have plenty in common, not to mention great sexual chemistry, but something seems a little off.

Maybe they shy away from conversations about emotional experiences, or talk a lot about their life and interests but never ask about your hobbies.

This apparent lack of investment can make you wonder if they even like you.

But your involvement (whether it’s a relationship or something more casual) continues, so you reason they must have feelings for you.

The good news is they probably do. The bad news is they might be emotionally unavailable.

Recognizing emotional unavailability can be tricky. Many emotionally unavailable people have a knack for making you feel great about yourself and hopeful about the future of your relationship.

But if, after an encouraging start, you never connect more intimately, they might not have the ability to maintain anything beyond casual involvement at the moment.

The signs below can help you recognize emotional unavailability in a partner.

They don’t like making plans

Emotionally unavailable people often show less inclination to make commitments, whether these commitments are minor or more significant.

Maybe you suggest getting together next week. They agree enthusiastically, so you ask what day works for them.

“Let me check and get back to you,” they say, but you never hear back.

Or maybe they say, “I’ll pencil that in.” But when the time comes, they have a great excuse for why they can’t make it.

They call the shots

When you do see each other, they tend to choose what you do — usually an activity that aligns with their typical routine.

They might put on the latest episode of their favorite Netflix show, even though you’ve never seen it. Or maybe they ask you to help them out around the house.

This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem, especially if they seem receptive when you make suggestions.

But if they never ask what you’d like to do, or seem irritated when you don’t want to go along with their plan, it may be time to consider whether the relationship is really serving your needs.

You do all the relationship work

Can’t remember the last time they sent a text that wasn’t a direct reply? Feel a little frustrated they’ve never set up a date or initiated any plans?

If you do all the calling, texting, and planning, there’s a good chance they’re emotionally unavailable. They enjoy spending time with you, certainly, when it works for them. But they don’t want to work for it, either. If you don’t make things happen, they probably won’t.

When you aren’t spending time together, you hear from them only rarely. Maybe they take days to reply to messages or ignore some messages entirely, especially meaningful ones.

They might say, “I’d rather talk about important things in person.” Which sounds great, of course — until they don’t follow up.

They avoid the word ‘relationship’

Emotional unavailability can involve commitment and intimacy fears. You might participate in relationship behaviors with someone — go on dates, spend the night together, meet each other’s friends — but they don’t want to talk about having an official relationship.

As long as you keep dating casually, things go pretty well. But when you try to swim to deeper waters, they might make a break for the safer shores of casual dating.

Use caution if someone you’re involved with:

  • says, “I’m not looking for anything serious” — unless, of course, you also want to keep things casual
  • talks a lot about a recent ex
  • talks about unrequited feelings for a friend
  • says they have a fear of commitment

It’s always possible you caught them at a time when they feel ready to work toward change. Usually, though, someone who says these things means them.

You never seem to grow closer

In the beginning of the relationship, they openly share vulnerabilities or say how much they enjoy spending time together. But things never get serious.

It’s tempting to try to make things work with someone who seems distant. You might believe they just need to find the right person. If you can reach them when no one else can, your relationship has the potential to last, right? You just have to try a little harder.

But that’s how emotional unavailability can trap you.

Unless they do some work themselves, you’ll continue investing energy into the relationship with the goal of someday getting closer. Meanwhile, they’ll keep avoiding reciprocation, so you’ll drain yourself until you’re too emotionally exhausted to continue.

They reflect your feelings instead of offering their own

Pay attention to how someone responds when you share emotions.

Do they express their feelings uniquely? Or do they mirror back what you say with, “I feel the same way”?

Not everyone likes to talk about emotions all the time, but in a relationship, it’s important to connect on an emotional level.

If your partner can’t open up, even when you initiate a conversation and ask direct questions, they may be emotionally unavailable.

They show up late or blow off plans

Not keeping commitments or consistently showing up late is a subtle way to keep someone at a distance.

Your partner might still care and even apologize with sincerity.

But they may care more about what they want and have trouble restructuring their life to include you. In other words, they’re not ready to prioritize relationship needs over their own needs.

Maybe some of the above signs resonated with you as traits you’ve noticed in yourself, or things past partners have pointed out to you.

Emotional unavailability doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. You may not fully realize how it shows up in your relationships.

Here are some signs to keep in mind.

When commitments approach, you want to back out

Last week, you made plans for a date tomorrow. You felt excited then, but now giving up your free time is the last thing you want to do.

It’s important to take enough time for yourself, absolutely. That said, if you end up canceling plans with your partner more often than not, it may help to consider why you feel the need to avoid spending too much time together.

You operate by keeping your options open

If you want a committed relationship, at some point you’ll need to focus on one partner (or, in a nonmonogamous relationship, your primary partner).

But instead of having a discussion with your current partner about relationship goals like long-term commitment or exclusivity, you continue swiping, going on dates, and generally keeping your eyes open for greener pastures.

You might not want to settle for someone who isn’t exactly right. But this mindset can limit your ability to dedicate time and energy to someone you already care for. It’s not always possible to find a “perfect” match, but you can still have a great relationship with someone who falls a little short of complete perfection.

You worry about losing yourself in a relationship

If you’re fiercely independent, you might worry getting close to a romantic partner will involve losing that independence. Maybe you like to do things your way, on your schedule, and don’t want to change your life to fit someone else’s.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can make you less available. In a healthy relationship, partners balance individual needs with their romantic commitment. It may take some time and exploration to learn how to do this in a way that feels right for you.

Trust doesn’t come easily to you

If someone betrayed your trust in the past, you might avoid exposing your vulnerabilities to anyone else. You might prefer to keep your emotions and thoughts locked down so no one can use them against you.

When a partner urges you to open up and talk about how you’re feeling, you respond by shutting down or changing the subject.

You keep ending up with emotionally unavailable people

If you have a pattern of relationships with emotionally distant partners, consider whether you’re getting back what you’re putting out.

At first, it might seem easy and fun to date people who don’t ask a lot of you emotionally. But if, deep down, you really want more from a relationship, these flings won’t fulfill you for long.

A number of factors can contribute to emotional unavailability. It’s not uncommon to find more than one cause at the heart of this issue.

Attachment issues

Childhood attachment to primary caregivers can play a significant part in emotional unavailability.

If your caregivers didn’t show interest in your feelings or offer much affection and support, you may have absorbed this as a relationship model.

As an adult, your attachment to romantic partners might follow this pattern and tend toward avoidant.

Temporary circumstances

Emotional unavailability can also happen temporarily. Many people living with mental health conditions, like depression, may have a hard time sustaining an emotional connection with their loved ones during a flare-up.

Others might want to focus on their career, a friend having difficulties, or something else unexpected.

Breakup grief

Experiencing relationship pain can make it tough to become vulnerable with a new partner.

This is especially true if you’re recovering from:

  • unpleasant breakups
  • infidelity
  • unrequited feelings
  • relationship toxicity or abuse

Any of these can contribute to feelings of low self-esteem, which can make it even more difficult to experience and share intimacy.

Emotional unavailability doesn’t have to be permanent. It’s a complex issue, though, and some underlying causes may be harder to overcome than others.

Change only happens when someone is willing to work at creating it, so you can’t make an emotionally unavailable partner more available.

But you can try these strategies:

  • Bring up concerning behaviors, like avoiding making plans or sharing feelings.
  • Point out, compassionately, how those behaviors affect your relationship.
  • Encourage them to connect with a therapist, or offer to try couples counseling with them.
  • Offer encouragement and support when they do open up.

If you’re trying to become more emotionally available yourself, the following tips can help.

Identify the cause

Exploring the root issues can give you insight on how to deal with emotional unavailability.

If you’ve gone through a nasty breakup, for example, you may just need some more time before trying to get close to someone again.

But if something more serious, like childhood neglect, affects your ability to get close to others, it’s wise to talk to a therapist. Coping with the effects of trauma or abuse generally requires professional support.

Practice opening up

It’s often helpful to get more comfortable expressing emotions on your own before trying to share them with a romantic partner.

To do this, consider these ideas:

  • Keep a journal of your feelings.
  • Use art or music to practice emotional expression.
  • Talk to trusted people, like close friends or family members, about emotions.
  • Share emotional issues or vulnerabilities via text first.

Take it slow

Once you realize you’ve been emotionally distant, you might want to begin changing that immediately.

Overnight improvement isn’t realistic, though. True vulnerability takes time, and pushing yourself to open up before you’re ready can sometimes trigger distress or discomfort.

A better approach? Small, gradual changes.

To put it another way, it never hurts to step out of your comfort zone, but you don’t need to leave it completely in the dust.

Involve your partner

As you explore factors contributing to emotional unavailability and work on becoming more available, communicate with your partner about what you learn.

You may have an easier time enlisting their support if they understand why you tend to pull away.

Explore helpful strategies together, such as:

  • sharing emotions by leaving notes for each other
  • staying connected via text when you need physical space

Spend time with people in healthy relationships

When emotional unavailability stems from attachment issues or unhealthy relationship patterns, it can help to learn more about what healthy relationships look like.

One way to study healthy relationships involves time in the field. Think of friends or family members in strong, long-term relationships, ideally people you spend a good amount of time with. Pay attention to how they interact with their partners.

This won’t give you a full picture, but it can provide some useful insight.

Talk to a therapist

Emotional unavailability isn’t always something you can work through alone, and that’s OK.

If you continue having trouble with emotional vulnerability and feel distressed about the difficulties it causes in your relationships, a therapist can offer guidance and support.

In therapy, you can work to identify potential causes and take steps to break unhelpful relationship patterns.

If you’re already in a relationship, couples counseling can go a long way to helping you and your partner address any challenges together.

Still have some pressing questions about emotional unavailability? We’ve got answers.

Can emotionally unavailable people fall in love?

Some people don’t find it easy to recognize or express key emotions, like anger or love. But that doesn’t mean they don’t experience those emotions at all.

Emotionally unavailable people can certainly fall in love. They just might have a harder time recognizing when it happens and putting their feelings into words.

Remember, emotional unavailability often stems from a deeper fear of intimacy or rejection — fears that can complicate someone’s experiences with love.

If falling in love feels scary or threatening, it’s only natural that they might want to try and avoid it entirely. When it seems like you’re getting closer, they may pull back to protect themselves.

How do emotionally unavailable people show love?

Just as emotionally unavailable people may not always find it easy to identify feelings of love, they might have a harder time demonstrating affection with words.

They might not say, “I love you” or tell you how much you mean to them. Instead, they might express their feelings through gestures or actions, like doing something nice for you or surprising you with a gift. These actions can make it clear they’re thinking of you.

Maybe they keep that hard-to-find coffee creamer you love stocked in their refrigerator, ready for the mornings after you stay over.

Or you might make an offhand comment about losing your favorite knitted hat. Two weeks later, you’re hanging out when they say, “Oh, yeah, here you go” and pass you a hat, knitted by hand in your favorite colors.

Can emotionally unavailable people miss you?

Someone may not have the emotional availability to carry on a committed relationship, but they can absolutely still care about you. And if you care about someone, you can miss them.

Maybe they won’t necessarily tell you directly, “You know, I really miss you when we’re not together.” But they might try to connect in other ways — by sharing a meme, a joke, or quote from a TV show you both love, for example.

And sure, they could miss you even if they don’t say anything, unless you reach out first. It’s important to consider, though, whether you need more communication for the relationship to work for you.

Emotional unavailability, on either side, can cause a lot of frustration and distress. But it doesn’t mean you have to give up on your relationship.

Talking to your partner, or taking time to explore your own behaviors, can help you start identifying possible issues and working through them productively.

Patience, communication, and support from a therapist can help, especially if you don’t seem to be getting anywhere on your own.

Crystal Raypole writes for Healthline and Psych Central. Her fields of interest include Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health, along with books, books, and more books. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues. She lives in Washington with her son and a lovably recalcitrant cat.

13 Signs Someone Is Emotionally Unavailable

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Published: June 13, 2022 Updated: November 9, 2022

Published: 06/13/2022 Updated: 11/09/2022

Emotional unavailability refers to a pattern of difficulty getting close to others, practicing emotional vulnerability, committing, and connecting on a deeper, more intimate level. Emotionally unavailable people tend to keep their partners and loved ones at arm’s length, rarely opening up or sharing their true emotional experience, and often leaving relationships before they get serious.

Is somone in your life emotionally unavailable? A therapist can help you build stronger and deeper connections. BetterHelp has over 20,000 licensed therapists who provide convenient and affordable online therapy. BetterHelp starts at $60 per week. Complete a brief questionnaire and get matched with the right therapist for you.

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What Is Emotional Unavailability?

Emotional availability refers to the ability to share a healthy emotional connection, experience a wide range of emotions (both wanted and unwanted), express them accurately, and respond to their partner’s emotions, and emotional unavailability is the opposite.1,2,3 It involves difficulty expressing and handling emotions, struggling to get close to others, and fear of commitment or intimacy.

Emotionally unavailable people tend to struggle sharing their goals, regrets, wishes, hopes, and desires. Sometimes under the guise of being “private,” they have difficulty holding space for others when they share about themselves. The phrase “emotionally unavailable” is referenced most often in romantic contexts; however, people can exhibit emotionally unavailable qualities or tendencies with a number of people in their lives.

While emotional availability is a key part of healthy relationships, emotional unavailability tends to be characteristic of unhealthy or even toxic relationships or patterns. After all, a critical part of forming and maintaining meaningful relationships is getting vulnerable and taking some risks with our emotions.

There are varying degrees of emotional unavailability. Some people open up to only a few people, but hold back from those who are close to them. Additionally, some people may be aware of their own emotional unavailability, while others don’t know they are emotionally unavailable.

Several signs may indicate that a partner is emotionally unavailable. They generally avoid commitment, veer away from emotional vulnerability or intimacy, and struggle to communicate effectively about their wants and needs. That said,emotionally unavailable people are different from one another, making them hard to spot at times.

Here are 13 signs that your partner might be emotionally unavailable:

1. They avoid commitment or labels

For an emotionally unavailable partner, commitment (whether to a person or plan) and labels tend to elicit anxiety and fear. They may insist they don’t want to define the relationship, suggest keeping options to see other people open, and avoid making plans, even in the near future.

2. Conversations stay surface level 

Emotionally unavailable people tend to struggle to take conversations to a deeper level and avoid ones that center on the nature of the relationship, preferring to stick to more trivial or lighthearted topics.

3. They struggle to discuss their feelings

Emotionally unavailable people expect closeness, intimacy, and emotional vulnerability to lead to getting hurt, so they often avoid getting emotional entirely. Your efforts to elicit emotions from them may lead them to pull away or redirect conversations back to you.

4. They don’t ask you about your feelings

In redirecting the conversation back to you, an emotionally unavailable partner likely won’t ask specific questions about how you’re feeling. They’re more likely to ask vague questions like, “What are you thinking?” to deflect from themselves vs. something more specific such as, “I sense something’s up — Are you feeling sad?” 

5. They struggle to empathize and respond when you share your feelings

Even though they may redirect the conversation back to you to avoid sharing their own feelings, you can expect that the more feelings you share with an emotionally unavailable partner, the more they will continue to pull away, as truly empathizing requires accessing their own emotional experience or reflecting on how what you said makes them feel.

6. They’re unclear about what they want from you/the relationship

When confronted with a conversation about their feelings toward you or the relationship in general, emotionally unavailable partners may walk on eggshells, send mixed messages (say they want a relationship some days but express hesitation others), stay vague about their intentions, or claim to want a relationship but not match their actions to this statement.

7. They say they can’t trust you

Despite not committing to a relationship with you, the emotionally unavailable partner may still express that they don’t trust you, as being emotionally unavailable often stems from a fear of getting hurt and this is their way of projecting that off of themselves and onto you.

8. They’re inconsistent

Alongside being inconsistent about what they want from you or the relationship, emotionally unavailable partners tend to be inconsistent in general. They may take hours or days to answer texts, regularly claim to be “busy,” or “ghost” altogether.

9. You do all the relationship work

Your partner may be emotionally unavailable if you find that you’re putting a disproportionate amount of effort into the relationship (for example, you’re the only one getting vulnerable or problem-solving issues in the relationship). Putting in less effort is one of the ways emotionally unavailable people protect their emotions and keep a foot out the door.

10. They get defensive

When confronted, an emotionally unavailable partner tends to respond defensively vs. expressing their true emotions. They may deflect or redirect blame to you so that they don’t have to confront whatever it is they’re really feeling.

11. They don’t have a history of serious relationships

While relationship history alone can’t determine whether a partner is emotionally unavailable, not having had a history of any serious, long-term relationships may certainly be a clue as emotionally unavailable people tend to leave relationships before they get serious.

12. They don’t introduce you to people in their lives

If you haven’t met your partner’s friends or family after a few months of dating, this may be a sign that you’re dating an emotionally unavailable person who’s keeping you at arm’s length to avoid building intimacy and vulnerability.

13. They tell you they are emotionally unavailable or aren’t ready for a serious relationship

Some emotionally unavailable people are aware that they are just that. While it’s not always the case, some will outright share (or warn) that they’re emotionally unavailable. If this happens, take their word for it.

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It’s possible for any or all partners in a relationship to be emotionally unavailable. In fact, you may be the one experiencing emotional unavailability if you tend to keep your options open, fear or avoid commitment, are exhausted or anxious by romantic relationships (or the idea of them), or have a history of struggling to trust partners.

Here are six signs you may be emotionally unavailable:

1. You keep your options open

Keeping options open or suggesting an open relationship may indicate your own emotional unavailability if you’re engaging in these behaviors to avoid developing emotional bonds or risk being hurt.

2. Relationships drain you and feel like a job

Emotionally unavailable people tend to have to work harder than their emotionally available peers to have the emotional conversations required of a healthy relationship. Emotionally unavailable people tend to feel more exhausted or burdened by this work than fulfilled.

3. You have relationship anxiety

Emotionally unavailable people tend to worry about their partners, the state of their relationship, and possible outcomes of the relationship, which are all forms of relationship anxiety that may be at the root of the emotional unavailability. These may lead to preemptively ending a relationship to avoid being hurt or staying in a relationship yet withdrawing emotionally.

4. When you’re presented with the option to commit, you back out

While you may initially say yes to a date or claim to wish you were in a serious relationship, when the opportunity finally presents itself emotionally unavailable people tend to backtrack, sometimes blaming the change of heart on not wanting to give up their independence or thinking they can “do better.”

5. You struggle to trust

If you’re emotionally unavailable, you might struggle to trust your partner regardless of whether they’ve actually done anything to suggest they can’t be trusted.

6. You worry about losing your independence in a relationship

Some people worry that getting too close to a partner emotionally means losing independence that they value or have worked hard to achieve. Emotional unavailability may look like fearing a loss of independence (e.g.,, changing your lifestyle or considering someone else’s schedule).

What Causes Emotional Unavailability?

While there is no one explanation for emotional unavailability, it can be caused by a number (or combination) of factors. These include attachment styles developed in childhood, history in relationships, trauma, mental health conditions, and one’s circumstances and priorities. Emotional unavailability can be a mix of deliberate behavior and subconscious behavior.


Often, people who are emotionally unavailable as adults struggled to get their emotional needs met as children. Some did not receive enough validation, emotional modeling, or security from their caregivers, which may have made it challenging to form secure attachment and potentially even develop an attachment disorder in adulthood.1

Without guidance from their caregivers on how to experience emotions safely, they learn to shut them down in order to protect themselves.


A child’s experience of trauma is highly predictive of their attachment in future relationships.4 Exposure to trauma (such as neglect or abuse) at a young age makes it more difficult to trust that others will acknowledge and respect emotions and boundaries, often leading to the development of emotional unavailability as an adult as a form of protection from further trauma or hurt.

Fear From Past Relationships

Emotional unavailability may also develop due to experience in past relationships. Often, those who have experienced infidelity or gaslighting are fearful or hypervigilant in future relationships, causing them to protect their emotions so they don’t get hurt again.

Emotional unavailability can develop following the dissolution of a healthy relationship, as well: breakup grief is a powerful experience that may contribute to your not being ready to be vulnerable or intimate with someone else.

Life Circumstances

Sometimes, circumstances such as a new or demanding job, loss in the family, or a medical or mental health diagnosis may make it challenging to be emotionally available. In these cases, emotional unavailability isn’t necessarily due to a lack of trust or fear of intimacy, but the prioritization of other areas of life that require more emotional attention, energy, and effort.

What to Do If Your Partner Is Emotionally Unavailable

If you think your partner is emotionally unavailable, there are several things you can do to help them feel safe emotionally and take care of your own emotional needs as well. First, bring your concerns up with them, describing their behaviors factually and reflecting how they make you feel.

Consider asking them if there’s anything they need from you or that you could do to support them in being more emotionally available. Further, it’s important to practice validating your partner (e.g., by saying “I can see how anxious you are to be vulnerable with me.”), and don’t forget to self-validate, too, as this is likely something you’re not getting from your partner at this point.

Ultimately, it may be important to evaluate (and continuously re-evaluate) whether the relationship can truly meet your needs, which may lead you to take a break from your partner or even break up for good.

How to Not Be Emotionally Unavailable

While it may feel daunting to turn emotional unavailability into emotional availability, it’s absolutely possible to do just that. Doing so involves implementing mindfulness of your emotions, exploring root causes, practicing emotional vulnerability, and, when needed, taking relationships slow.

Here are five ways to be more emotionally available:

  1. Get mindful of your emotional experience: Noticing what you’re feeling, allowing emotions to show up, and accepting their presence without judgment are important steps in becoming emotionally available. If needed, look up feelings-related words online or do some personal exploration around what certain emotions feel like for you.
  2. Identify the causes of emotional unavailability: While it’s not always possible to know the exact causes of emotional unavailability, it’s helpful if you can identify them, as this allows for self-validation, processing, and reflection, which can make you more emotionally available down the line.
  3. Practice opening up: Once you’re able to identify what you’re feeling, try sharing this with others to demonstrate to yourself that opening up isn’t necessarily dangerous. You can practice this gradually—start by sharing wanted or positive emotions and work up to the heavier, less desirable ones. Or perhaps share with a trusted family member before moving on to sharing with your partner.
  4. Talk to trusted people about emotions: Having conversations with trusted people about emotions may also help increase emotional availability, as it makes talking about emotions more comfortable. This may also allow you to hear how others express their emotions so you have a template going forward.
  5. Take it slow: Finally, taking relationships slowly is often the better alternative to abandoning them completely for people who are emotionally unavailable and have the urge to withdraw. Going slowly allows for the gradual learning that emotional vulnerability and intimacy are safe and can continue to be practiced.

How Therapy Can Help

If you’re concerned that you or your partner may be emotionally unavailable, struggle with emotional vulnerability or intimacy, or feel distressed about the effects in your relationship, you may benefit from seeing a therapist. Couples therapy can be helpful for couples who are willing and ready to look at and change these patterns together, whereas individual therapy is a valuable resource you can engage with alone.

Individual therapy may be indicated if you or your partner isn’t willing or ready to participate in couples therapy, or if you need support identifying potential causes of emotional unavailability in a private, safe environment. Most forms of therapy involve some sort of built-in attachment work, as the act of speaking with a reliable figure (a therapist) inherently requires emotional vulnerability.

Because of the potential causes listed above, many people feel safer when they are emotionally unavailable. As a start, it could help to objectively weigh the pros and cons of maintaining this shield, even by talking through with a therapist about whether it would be beneficial to change.

If you are interested in pursuing therapy, consider finding a therapist online. Check out a reliable therapist directory.

Final Thoughts

Being emotionally unavailable can impact your relationships, but with hard work and compassion (for your partner and yourself), there are ways to overcome this tendency and build a happy and fulfilling relationship where emotions are free to be explored.

Additional Resources

Education is just the first step on our path to improved mental health and emotional wellness. To help our readers take the next step in their journey, Choosing Therapy has partnered with leaders in mental health and wellness. Choosing Therapy may be compensated for referrals by the companies mentioned below.

BetterHelp Online TherapyBetterHelp has over 20,000 licensed therapists who provide convenient and affordable online therapy. BetterHelp starts at $60 per week. Complete a brief questionnaire and get matched with the right therapist for you. Get Started

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  • Biringen, Z. (2000). Emotional availability: Conceptualization and research findings. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry70(1), 104-114.

  • Biringen, Z., Derscheid, D., Vliegen, N., Closson, L., & Easterbrooks, M. A. (2014). Emotional availability (EA): Theoretical background, empirical research using the EA Scales, and clinical applications. Developmental review34(2), 114-167.

  • Saunders, H., Kraus, A., Barone, L., & Biringen, Z. (2015). Emotional availability: theory, research, and intervention. Frontiers in psychology6, 1069.

  • Lahousen, T., Unterrainer, H. F., & Kapfhammer, H. P. (2019). Psychobiology of attachment and trauma—some general remarks from a clinical perspective. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 914.

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7 signs of an emotionally unavailable partner

Let's start with the main thing: it is really difficult for an emotionally unavailable person to share his feelings and really get close to other people. As a rule, there is a crisis of trust and a fear of intimacy behind this - this causes him to be fickle and avoid relationships.

Usually the reasons for this are in a complex intricacies of personality traits and painful experiences (especially loss, rejection or abandonment). All this forms the style of behavior with others.

Such people are often called toxic or narcissistic traits are attributed to them. Sometimes this is true, but more often it is not. Early loss or the painful experience of rejection can indeed be difficult to bear. And the extreme degree of natural shyness makes a person close against his will.

It can be difficult for these people to give up their defenses, the prospect of intimacy with others scares them so much. What else makes them different?

1. They are afraid of deep conversations

It is not easy for them to plunge into the world of feelings and emotions - they are ready to listen to a partner, but only for the time being. At the moment when it becomes completely unbearable, they simply change the subject, and when they are required to make any commitments, they feel cornered.

2. Intimacy for them always coexists with fear

Love and close relationships always come with an “add-on weight” in the form of inevitable (as it seems to them) conflicts, life dramas or potential rejection - everything that happened to them before.

3. They have real trust problems

If a person has suffered a lot, it is difficult for him to enter into any relationship with an open heart - it is too scary to be vulnerable again and experience new pain.

4. They do not know how to express feelings

Often, emotionally unavailable people simply do not have the skill of expressing everything that is on their souls. This does not mean that experiences are alien to them, they just do not know how to share them.

5. Often they easily and quickly cut ties with people

Moreover, any ties, including family ones. Which, of course, brings a lot of suffering to others. But at the same time, the person himself is sure that it will be easier this way than painfully choosing words and explaining himself, risking offending another.

6. They often choose a relationship at a distance

Or they enter into a relationship with a person who is not free - it's easier to keep the distance they need and not take the “next step”.

7. They are interested in others, slowly opening up in response

Asking questions and listening to answers is easier for them than talking about themselves. And the interlocutor, as a rule, such attention and interest is extremely pleasant - until it becomes clear that he himself did not know anything about the partner.

What to do - run away?

First of all, you need to understand that not all emotionally unavailable people are toxic. Most are not to blame for the chosen style of behavior, moreover, they usually have good reasons. If you have patience and let the person begin to trust you, he can open up and become a great partner.

But the main thing is to understand how you yourself feel in these relationships. If it’s hard, if doubts gnaw and nothing changes over time, perhaps you should ask yourself the question: is it worth it? Your life and your happiness is above all.

5 signs that someone is emotionally unavailable

Last updated - June 24, 2022, last checked by an expert January 29, 2022.
  • Definition
  • Causes
  • Signs
  • Is this the same as narcissism?

It's natural to be emotionally unavailable when you have a lot to do or need your own space. But what about people who insist on doing so?

Perhaps at some point you felt that someone you care about could not be close to you emotionally. Maybe they seemed distant, unkind, or uninterested.

But what about people who often seem like this? How can you recognize an emotionally unavailable person in general?

While everyone is different and there are many reasons why someone might be emotionally withdrawn, there are a few tell-tale signs of emotional unavailability.

Learning to recognize them can help you make decisions about your relationships and protect yourself if you feel like you're investing in someone emotionally unavailable.

What is emotional unavailability?

The emotionally unavailable person has persistent difficulty expressing or processing emotions or emotional closeness with other people.

All people are different and can express emotional unavailability in their own way. However, in general, they may seem withdrawn or find it difficult to talk about their feelings. They may avoid certain topics or situations that involve emotional displays, for example.

“When we say someone is emotionally unavailable, we mean that they are uncomfortable feeling their own emotions, sharing their emotions with others, or being present and responding to others' emotions,” says Dr. Lindsey Jernigan, a licensed clinical psychologist in South Burlington, state of Vermont.

“Painful emotions, or emotions that make a person feel emotionally vulnerable, are especially difficult.”

On the other hand, an emotionally available person is comfortable sharing an emotional connection with someone else, and this includes emotional intimacy.

Emotional unavailability can affect all types of relationships, including:

  • Romantic partnerships
  • close friendships and acquaintances
  • parent-child relationships
  • business associations

Although anyone can be affected by emotional unavailability stage of life, certain cultural, family and gender influences may come into play.

“Many people, especially gender-identified men, receive culturally reinforced messages that emotional vulnerability is a “weakness,” and in response they develop patterns of emotional unavailability in an attempt to conform to cultural gender expectations,” Jernigan says.

However, it is a misconception that only men develop emotional unavailability or that all men are emotionally unavailable.

What causes emotional unavailability?

There are probably many reasons for emotional unavailability. But much of the research on the topic has focused on attachment theory and early parent-child relationships.

Children's attachment to caregivers can play a key role in emotional intimacy. When caregivers withhold affection and emotional support or chastise a child for emotional displays, children tend to repeat this pattern of behavior in their adult relationships.

Those children who do not respond adequately to their emotional needs may be more likely to develop an avoidant attachment style. This means that they will be more independent physically and emotionally, and it will be more difficult for them to enter into close relationships with other people or rely on them.

Jernigan says that “attachment wounds,” such as a history of being abandoned, neglected, or ridiculed, can also lead to emotional unavailability. These wounds may develop in childhood or later in life.

“Staying at an emotional distance in such cases serves the purpose of self-protection,” she says. “If I don’t need to feel, then I don’t need to be hurt, and if I don’t feel too close to you, then I’m not especially vulnerable to you hurting my feelings.”

Other factors, such as cultural and gender influences, may play a role in someone's tendency to be emotionally unavailable.

“That's not to say that emotional availability can't be developed if it doesn't come naturally, but some differences in comfort spectrum with emotions are likely part of natural human variability,” Jernigan says.

Emotional inaccessibility can look different depending on the situation, but the general theme is that dealing with emotions is a challenge.

Here are some signs that tell you that someone is emotionally unavailable:

They avoid intimacy.

“The discomfort of vulnerability causes some people to distance themselves from their own emotional experiences, making it almost impossible to interact with others with emotional closeness and depth,” Jernigan says.

She adds that lack of physical affection or eye contact can also be an indicator of emotional unavailability, although this is not the rule.

When your loved one avoids intimate conversations or situations, it may seem like they don't trust you. But most of the time it's not personal. They are used to relying on themselves and being self-sufficient.

You may also find yourself “hitting the wall” every time you try to get close to them.

They avoid commitment

Commitment is often difficult for an emotionally unavailable person.

For example, they may delay writing your romantic relationship label or initiating the next step, such as a marriage proposal.

In friendships, a person may be hesitant to make plans or often cancel them. He may also feel uncomfortable if you express love for him or treat him like a confidant.

Their apparent fear of commitment can make you feel insecure about your relationship with them.

They may prefer casual relationships with a few partners, or they may end relationships if things get “too serious.”

They are easily defensive

An emotionally unavailable person tends to react defensively. Or they may blame you or someone else for their problems. They find it difficult to trust others.

Although an emotionally unavailable person may react to a situation, they are usually reluctant to tell you how they really feel about it.

“Someone emotionally unavailable rarely initiates conversations that involve discussion of relationship dynamics, resentments, or requests for behavior change,” Jernigan says.

They are unavailable

If you tell them you need them, emotionally unavailable people tend to run the other way. Sometimes they are literally nowhere to be found when you want to talk.

Or they may stay close, but they will try to minimize your emotional manifestations. They may also try to change the subject or simply walk away from an emotional conversation.

Someone who is emotionally unavailable may stubbornly want to support “light” topics, even when you tell them you need to clear your head or need advice.

They may not empathize with your feelings

Because they tend to “turn off” emotions and lack discernment, emotionally unavailable people may also show low empathy—an inability to understand or share the feelings of others.

In other words, an emotionally unavailable person may not be able to relate to or consider your feelings.

It doesn't necessarily mean that they don't care, but they still behave in a certain way regardless of your feelings.

Because the emotionally unavailable person is uncomfortable exploring their own emotions, they may not be able to meet the emotional needs of others as well.

“Lack of exploration of one's own emotional landscape leads to a lack of personal insight and, ultimately, limited comfort and perception of other people's feelings,” Jernigan says.

Emotional withdrawal versus narcissistic personality

Although the features of emotional withdrawal and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) may overlap, they are not the same thing.

An emotionally unavailable person has difficulty expressing or managing emotions. However, someone with narcissistic traits may also have:

  • an exaggerated sense of self-worth
  • feelings of superiority
  • self-esteem
  • persistent need to be powerful, successful, smart, admired or loved
  • persistently low empathy


Relationships can be difficult when one of the parties is emotionally unavailable.

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