10 Tips to Spot Emotionally Unavailable Partners

WaitingIf you’ve ever been in a relationship with someone emotionally unavailable, you know the pain of not being able to get close to the one you love. They’re evasive, make excuses, or just inept when it comes to talking about feelings or the relationship. Some use anger, criticism, or activities to create distance. You end up feeling alone, depressed, unimportant, or rejected. Usually women complain about emotionally unavailable men. Yet many aren’t aware they’re emotionally unavailable, too. Getting hooked on someone unavailable (think Mr. Big and Carrie Bradshaw) disguises your problem, keeping you in denial of your own unavailability.

There are several types of unavailability – both temporary and chronic. Some people have always been unavailable due to mental illness and/or a troubled childhood. Others temporarily make something a higher priority than a relationship, such as a family obligation, education,  project, or a health concern. People recently divorced or widowed may temporarily not be ready to get involved with someone new. In the middle, are those who are too afraid to risk falling in love because they’ve been hurt by one or more relationships, which may include being hurt by a parent when they were a child. Often these different reasons for unavailability overlap, and it’s difficult to ascertain whether the problem is chronic or will pass.

If you’re looking for a close, committed relationship, a person living in another state, or who is married or still in love with someone else is not going to be there for you. Similarly, addicts, including workaholics, are unavailable because their addiction is the priority and it controls them. Still, some people give the appearance of availability and speak openly about their feelings and their past. You don’t realize until you’re already in a relationship that they’re unable to really connect emotionally or make a commitment.

Here’s a list of more subtle red flags that may signal unavailability, especially when several add up. They apply to both genders. Following them are questions to ask yourself to find out whether you’re ready for a committed relationship.

1. Flirting with flattery. Men who are too flattering.  Like snake charmers, these wooers may also be adept listeners and communicators. Often good at short-term intimacy, some allure with self-disclosure and vulnerability, but they prefer the chase to the catch.

2. Control.  Someone who won’t be inconvenienced to modify his or her routine. Typically, commitment phobics are inflexible and loathe compromises. Relationships revolve around them.

3. Listen.  Your date may hint or even admit that he or she isn’t good at relationship or doesn’t believe in or isn’t ready for marriage. Listen to these negative facts and believe them. Ignore vulnerability, bragging, and compliments.

4. The Past.  Find out if the person has had a long-term relationship and why it ended. You may learn that prior relationships ended at the stage when intimacy normally develops.

5. Perfection Seekers.  These people look for and find a fatal flaw in the opposite sex and then move on.  The problem is that they’re scared of intimacy. When they can’t find imperfection, their anxiety rises. Given time, they will find an excuse to end the relationship.  Don’t be tempted to believe you’re better than their past partners.

6. Anger.  Notice rudeness to waiters and others, revealing pent-up rage. This type of person is demanding and probably emotionally abusive.

7. Arrogance.  Avoid someone who brags and acts cocky, signaling low self-esteem. It takes confidence to be intimate and committed.

8. Lateness.  Chronic lateness is inconsiderate, and can also indicate the person is avoiding relationship, but don’t assume that punctuality means he or she’s a catch.

9. Invasiveness or Evasiveness.  Secrecy, evasiveness, or inappropriate questions too soon about money or sex, for example, indicate a hidden agenda and unwillingness to allow a relationship to unfold. Conversely, someone may conceal his or her past due to shame, which may create an obstacle to getting close.

10. Seduction.  Beware of sexual cues given too early. Seducers avoid authenticity because they don’t believe they’re enough to keep a partner. Once the relationship gets real, they’ll sabotage it. Seduction is a power-play and about conquest.

Most people reveal their emotional availability early on. Pay attention to the facts, especially if there’s mutual attraction. Even if the person seems to be Mr. or Mrs. Right, yet is emotionally unavailable, you’re left with nothing but pain. If you overlook, deny, or rationalize to avoid short-term disappointment, you run the risk of enduring long-term misery.

Be honest with yourself about your own availability.

1. Are you angry at the opposite sex? Do you like jokes at their expense? If so, you may need to heal from past wounds before you’re comfortable getting close to someone.

2. Do you make excuses to avoid getting together?

3. Do you think you’re so independent you don’t need anyone?

4. Do you fear falling in love because you may get hurt?

5. Are you always waiting for the other shoe to drop? Although people complain about their problems, many have even more difficulty accepting the good.

6. Are you distrustful? Maybe you’ve been betrayed or lied to in the past and now look for it in everyone.

7. Do you avoid intimacy by filling quiet times with distractions?

8.  Are you uncomfortable talking about yourself and your feelings? Do you have secrets you’re ashamed of that make you feel undesirable or unlovable?

9. Do you usually like to keep your options open in case someone better comes along?

10. Do you fear a relationship may place too many expectations on you, that you’d give up your independence or lose your autonomy?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, counseling can help you heal in order to to risk getting close. If you’re involved with someone emotionally unavailable, pressuring him or her to be more intimate is counterproductive. However, marriage or couples counseling can change the relationship dynamics and help you to have a more fulfilling intimate relationship.

Copyright, Darlene Lancer 2012


24 thoughts on “10 Tips to Spot Emotionally Unavailable Partners

  1. Hi Darlene,

    Thank you for such a great straight forward post. I am in a long distance relationship, I am in New York and he is in Sweden. When I first met him, I just got out of dating someone who left me hurt and before him I was in a 10 year relationship which left me damaged. We, the Swede and I, have been “dating” for the past year and I have visited him twice and we had 2 amazing vacations together. In the beginning I thought it was okay to have someone from afar so I can focus on myself because I knew there were things I needed to work on such as my insecurities and self worth issues. As time went on, I started to get attached and after the 2nd vacation together, we wanted to be together. We spoke about me moving there and he even suggested it and I agreed but after that conversation, he became distant and I felt he was avoiding me and any conversation about the moving. The next Skype session we had, I brought it up and he told me he is scared, scared of failure and other things. He has been in 4 relationships where he has gotten hurt so he is pretty damaged. Although upset, I understood.

    I know he is emotionally unavailable .. there is lack of communication between us and there is never anything in depth to connect to him but I know he is an amazing great man. He is the best man I have ever dated and I think that is why it is hard to let him go. I don’t really know what to do now. I feel ever since the serious talk about moving in together, he has became distant. In my heart and gut I feel he wants to be with me and cares for me but there is this wall up. I know I have issues too and am emotionally unavailable in my own ways but I was willing to work together. It is a very complicated situation. =(

  2. Hi Darlene, recently I re-connected with an old flame. He has been one of my best friends pretty much my whole life, and we have dated on and off in the past. This time, seemed very different, He was closed off, emotionally cold towards me. We have been physically intimate a few times but it seems as though he keeps me at an arms length. He is an actor and has started to film a feature length movie. That monopolizes alot of his time, and I certainly understand that, but it seems to be an excuse to keep himself busy and not commit any time or work into whatever this is. He has turned into a narcissistic person when we are around other people. Hes no the man I once knew. Should I cut my losses?

  3. Hi Darlene, after reading your posting I think I dare to admit myself as someone who’s emotionally unavailable. I didn’t know this until I read your posting but I already found myself very weird everytime I started to engage in a relationship. There’s a strong feeling of wanting to run away, to avoid my partner, not to share everything openly, I’m being distrustful, panic attack, suspicion. I hate to feel. I love my brain better than my heart, because I find it hard to control my emotions, which is mostly sadness and fear. I had an almost lifetime sexual and emotional abuses that I find it hard to trust again that I scrutinize people’s kindness: people can’t be that kind.

    I’m sad don’t you think?

    But I don’t want to stop here. I want to grow. Thank you for the good posting! God bless xoxox

  4. We’ve been together for 2.5 years and have 9 month old son, he is chronic workaholic, always comes home late at night when we are long asleep. He never disclosed anything about his past in a proper manner. He is constantly busy or he will make himself occupied if there is nothing to do at work. If we decide to go anywhere it always will be his friend’s place or we take friends with us, we NEVER go anywhere without them. When he is around me he looks frustrated, uncomfortable and actually awkward, conversations take work and no matter how long we are together we are not getting closer. We don’t even fight, we spent so tiny amount time together…hard choice, we have child together and I am afraid to leave, I am afraid if I find another man he won’t love my son as much as real parents love their own child. I don’t know what to do………

  5. Thank you for your post Darlene. I have been in a relationship with a man for nine months, and he is the most emotionally stable person I’ve ever met, to the point where he has never revealed to me any emotional vulnerability whatsoever. He says he has only ever felt hurt once by a woman upon breakup, but when I ask about it he avoids answering. I feel like there is nothing holding us together because I can’t relate to him emotionally and I’m not even sure he cares about the people he dates on any real level. He also has so many rules about his schedule and particulars that he has a really hard time compromising on. I’m not sure what to do, I feel like he’s just a happy guy and I’m taking that for granted, but my inability to understand him emotionally nonetheless concerns me.

    • Not having met the man, it would be hard to guess, but he sounds as if he needs a lot of control to protect himself and is rigid in his behavior and his feelings – and I surmise boundaries. I presume he affords you a sense of safety you’re attracted to. Don’t expect him to change.

  6. I realise I’m not emotionally available as much as the guy I’m interested in at the time I meet him I never understood why he didnt want to take the next step and I felt totally ready but forgot about him. Now when we see each other its awkward we just ignore each other all time like we both dont exist yet me know each other. I still have hope that were become friends if not in a relationship because now I know Im not ready too.

  7. I just found out from reading this that I’m emotionally unavailable.
    And I guess it started with past two relationships. My boyfriend now loves me and I can tell he loves me and he’s probably the perfect guy but… Like it says here I feel like I can do everything on my own and I don’t want to be attached to someone else and that’s kinda what a relationship means. It’s horrible. Guys just leave you. I feel like people just leave you all the time so there’s no reason to even go there anymore. It’s very sad and I’m just now realizing it. Thank you for this post.

    • Rachel, thank you for your post. If your boyfriend loves you, he will allow you to go slow and gently release your fears to trust again. Good relationships start with friendship built over time.

  8. I practically have given up, on relationships. Particularly, because of some bad past relationships. More or less, my last relationship was the proverbial, “straw that broke the camel’s back”. I’ve practically been cheated on, in every relationship of the past, except my longest relationship. Therein, I am actually still friends with that ex. But there’s a snowball chance in hell, we would ever get back together, because I would not allow for it. I am the archetypal “emotionally unavailable” person, because I refuse to trust women to get close to me, beyond associative basis. I have a female friend now, who is trying her damndest to get close to me, but I constantly push her away. It even got as bad as her saying to me, that she is in love with me. I dont think so. I think that she falsely believe such, or is just infatuated, and just can’t resolve the fact that I am just not into her. Sure, in her eyes, I am whatever she thinks she wants, but in my honest opinion, she is no one I would ever imagine, being involved with, beyond friendship. I am that mid 30’s guy, that basically, gave up on relationships. I refuse to date single mothers, or divorcees. Notwithstanding, I don’t have kids, and never been married. However, I am not interested in the drama associated with another man’s kids. I really dont care how amicable the co-parenting situation is. And divorcees are seeking perfection, and inflated expectations. Therein, is why I completely avoid both situations. However, at my age, what else are there? So, the logical choice is to remain to myself, and leave things be. Only focusing on myself, and whatever else, for myself alone. Besides, it would be difficult for me to trust anyone to be too close, anyhow.

    • For lack of better terms, I practically refuse to “love” anyone. In many ways, it seems better this way, although it doesnt seem right, deep down…

      • Thank you for your honesty. It’s helpful to women who hold a torch for someone unavailable and deceive themselves with denial of the facts. For you, it is possible to heal the trauma of betrayal, and to uncover why this has happened to you and how it relates to your family history. It’s important for your health to keep your heart open, if not to romance, to yourself, to nature, God, if you’re religious, other people, animals and life in general.

        • The main issue, is that I admit: I am also the archetypal “disappointed Idealist”, and would NEVER settle for less, than ideal. Sure, I am aware, that I am not prince charming, and have some rough spots with myself. But, for all intents and purposes, I do what I need to do, or more, considering the circumstances. But, it always seem, whatever I do, isnt good enough, but for those that I have no interest in. Paradoxical.

          My life practically equates to cyclically, wake up, prayer, work, sleep, and repeat. My job is restrictive enough, that forming a social life, is difficult by itself (I drive trucks.. Temporary situation, as a means to justify an end… Planning on finishing my engineering degree). However, it does bother me, slightly… I am away from work, simply for a family reunion: However, the same family members I remember as kids, are all married, have their own families, and here I am… Old cousin Kirk, who is the only single man, of my age group. Quite depressing to think that i am not getting any younger, and remaining stagnant, while seemingly, others having productive lives.

          Being in solitude, mostly keeps my mind off, of it. Being around other people, reminds me of it.

  9. My 36 year relationship broke up two years ago because of my husband’s infidelity. It was excruciatingly painful to me but I’m doing better and actually have been dating someone for a year now. This person has helped me a lot because he’s been through divorce, and in many ways he’s helped me move forward. Anyway, he would like to get married or live together some day, but the thought of ever doing that makes me feel a bit panicked, like I could get trapped. After what I went through in my marriage I promised myself I’d never let someone else’s decisions determine the course of my life again. I don’t know if my feelings will ever change, but I’m older and not sure if I ever want to get married again. Is this normal? I’ve been through a lot of counseling and my counselor says I’m doing great. She thinks it’s good that I’m dating, and seems to think it’s a positive experience for me.

    • After being in a codependent relationship, once in recovery often people become “counterdependent” because of the fears you mention. Autonomy is an inside job, regardless of whether you’re married or not. Keep working on this in your therapy and the exercises suggested in my books. I discuss this phenomenon at length in my coming book Conquering Shame and Codependency.

  10. After reading a couple of your posts (because I realized I have characteristics that are causing problems in my relationship) I think I may be emotionally unavailable and my girlfriend may be codependent. Is this something we both need help with or can I work to resolve my unavailability which she says is causing her anxiety/insecurity/unhappiness with the relationship?

    • It’s natural that when one person withdraws emotionally, it makes the other person insecure. You both may be codependent or neither, but this is something you two can address in couples counseling. Look at my article,

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