Since happy and healthy relationships are based on openness, honesty, mutual respect, and trust, it can be hard to understand and deal with emotionally unavailable people—and even harder to learn how to spot them. Often times, we'll try to rationalize a partner's behavior in a relationship, making excuses for them and having way too much hope that they'll change if we just give them time. Patience and understanding is important, but not when you're dealing with someone who will never be able to reciprocate emotionally.
What Is Emotional Unavailability?
Emotional unavailability refers to the inability to maintain emotional bonds in a relationship. It can manifest as distance, indifference, and a lack of commitment.
If you're worried that your partner might fall into this particular category, these eight key signs can help you learn if they're someone who's truly emotionally unavailable.
They Don't Open Up to You
One of the most common signs that someone is emotionally unavailable is that they don't reveal or show their actual feelings around you. And while you may encourage them to open up and be able to express their emotions, they never let their guard down around you to say what's really on their mind. For example, rather than confiding in you and talking about a bad day at the office or a disappointing night out with friends, they choose to keep their feelings bottled up inside and not express to you what they're actually thinking. And if your partner is this complicated and hard to read, it's actually not hard to see that there may be an issue with emotional unavailability and detachment.
They're Not Comfortable With Your Emotions
An emotionally unavailable person is also not receptive or supportive when you express your feelings. If your partner becomes uncomfortable, put off, frustrated, or withdrawn when you choose to open up and be vulnerable, this is an indicator that they're not good at handling emotions—both their own as well as yours. In a deep, meaningful, and long-lasting relationship, you and your partner should lend an ear, a shoulder to cry on, and a helping hand, but if your beau isn't willing or able to be there for you when you need them the most, this is a sign that you're with someone who's emotionally unavailable.
Their Past Remains a Mystery to You
This type of person is also hardly ever open, honest, and forthright with you about the happenings in their past. And while they certainly don't need to divulge every single detail about their relationship history and life story, it's important to keep in mind that having a strong relationship means that you and your partner openly share with one another and get to know each other on a deeper level. However, if they choose to keep you completely in the dark about key details of their past, this can be a sign that they are emotionally cut off since they're refusing to let you know more about their life. When a person chooses to be a closed book, it's a major warning sign.
Further, if they don't open up but you find out they've never been in a serious or committed relationship, take that as a warning sign. "They're scared of intimacy," says licensed couples therapist Brooke Sprowl.
They Often Resort to Sarcasm
Have you noticed that they brush everything off with a joke or sarcastic comment? Rather than expressing anger, fear, sadness, or disappointment, an emotionally unavailable person turns things into a joke in order to avoid dealing with raw emotions and to remain strong and unfazed in your eyes. "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," says Sherry Gaba, licensed psychotherapist.
For instance, even if your partner is upset and hurt that they were passed over for a promotion, they'll somehow turn it into a joke and laugh it off in front of you so as to not actually have to process, deal with, and talk about what they're really feeling inside. When they use sarcasm as a defense mechanism and resort to laughter over honesty, it's clear that they are cutting themselves off emotionally from you.
They Are Slow to Commit to You
An emotionally unavailable person is typically not willing or able to truly commit to you and be loyal to you. This type of person will often want to keep things casual and undefined so as to not deal with any of the emotional components that go into a long-term relationship. People who are emotionally unavailable will often jump from fling to fling because they don't have to fully invest more than what they're willing to or comfortable with. If you'd like to take your relationship with a person to the next level but they want to remain unattached, friends with benefits, or keep options open, this can be a clear sign that they are emotionally unavailable.
Communicate with your partner to find out how they feel. Efficient communication will help you avoid wasting your time on someone who doesn't want the same things as you do.
You Can Never Reach Them
If a person is emotionally unavailable, they'll likely put physical distance between you as well. If they ghost you and then reappear again out of the blue, take forever to respond to texts, or put long gaps in between dates, they might be emotionally unavailable.
They Choose Physical Intimacy Over Emotional Intimacy
It's also quite common for this type of person to want to be physical with you before an emotional connection has been established. "Beware of sexual cues given too early," says marriage and family therapist Darlene Lancer.
Emotionally unavailable partners often choose physical intimacy over emotional intimacy so as to not have to deal with the messiness, seriousness, or complications that emotions can bring into a relationship. If they tend to transition into being physical with you amidst potentially deep, emotional, and personal conversations, it's a sign that they are the type of person who's emotionally detached.
They Never Make an Effort
We all want our partners to do more, but a person who never makes an effort is a red flag. "They anticipate being let down, so they don’t make the effort," says marriage therapist Marni Feuerman. If you notice you're always the one planning dates and following up after a date, you might be dating someone emotionally unavailable.