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

 

34 thoughts on “10 Tips to Spot Emotionally Unavailable Partners

  1. Wow i just loved this. It describes my situation perfectly. I love studying people and love to make sense of their behaviours due to their past. so it’s strange that i got myself into a situation like this in the first place. i was perhaps a bit blinded by love. i was very hard on myself after we broke up and he found some silly reason to dump me. i really beat myself up. i put myself down because i felt if only i connected on a deeper level or made him connect on a deeper level or made him open up more, or maybe if i let the boundaries go and i was exactly what I knew he wanted then i would still be with the man i love unconditionally. It took me a long time to realize this was not an ideal mature relationship and this is not my fault. yes we all have faults and i know mine, but I mean he was unable to connect and be emotionally available to me. So i could be the perfect girlfriend – one i knew he wanted – but in the end i would have exhausted myself and he would still have found some silly reason to dump me. he is now in a new relationship – 3days after we slept together (how silly was I?) and almost reconciled. he said he wasn’t ready for another relationship after me and I told him i can’t trust him after what happened and viola! next moment in a relationship on facebook. i was broken and couldn’t make sense of this at all. they seem like the perfect match and I even heard they are exactly alike and a month in the relationship went on holiday together and came back even more inlove. but after reading your blog, i realized something. i shouldn’t care anymore, what happens between them is their story. point is we did not connect as a couple was suppose to and therefore i am better of without him. I can’t wait for the day I enter as a whole person (im still healing, but time is getting me there) into a mutually emotional available MATURE relationship :). when im good and ready. because that would def triumph over this one by far.

    thanks for this. i’m finally able to make sense of it and let it go. and i also now know what signs to look out for.

  2. Hi Darlene, I’ve been in counselling for along time and has really helped me in relationships.. Althought I’m still learning to keep distance from those emotionally unavailable. I dated someone who said right on his on-line dating account casual/no commitment, but he did also say he was open to exploring if the right person came along.. The first date was great, we talked for 3 hours and he said it was the first time he hadn’t looked at his watch in that long.. he followed up almost daily with texts message to see how I was.. but has time went on they slowed down.. I would wait a few days and then contact him.. he never wanted to make plans, and I was for the most part the pursuer.. When I confronted him, he said that he really enjoyed his time with me and we got along well, but felt nothing more than that. I should have listened those words the first time as I told him I was ok with that for now and let’s see where things go. I did see him a couple of times after that, but it was short and he didn’t seem as interested. I did finally confront him again this week and said that I didn’t want to chase a ghost. He told me that his heart would not let him.. not sure what that meant and I asked him.. He said he was unable to fall in love. His marriage broke up 5 years ago.. His wife had cheated on him with their close friend and neigbour and just told him one day that she was leaving and had bought a house with this new guy. He also has 3 children, which I know he is good too. I know he had a 2nd relationship about 2 years after the break with his wife that lasted 10 months.. I believe it ended badly, but not sure.. I knew I had to move and I have, learning that I need to take care of myself and to go after “available” men.

    Tracey

  3. My mistake was thinking that I was better then the men in her past. I believed her stories of how bad they were or how they did her wrong. I know now that they were not so bad. But I still miss her after 8 months apart. And wonder how something that seemed so good went so bad so fast…probably because it never really was that good to begin with. And wonder why I was so foolish to believe.

  4. Just discovering your posts Darlene, thank you, insightful, still, I am so confused. I have been in along-distance relationship with a man for half a year. He is kind, committed to me pretty quick, although we had our share of him pulling away after visiting each other and me becoming insecure. (Like you write above:”It’s natural that when one person withdraws emotionally, it makes the other person insecure.”) It’s been okay because I was able to share my feelings with him, which I have avoided in past relationships, but found then resentment builds up, so this time I wanted to be open, even if it makes me vulnerable. He always supports me sharing my feelings and is kind and we talk about it. I get the feeling he is scared to disappoint me, not being good enough, not being able to give me what I need, he has been very hurt in his last two relationships. We have been planning to move together, although we both say it’s quick, only knowing each other in person for 6 months, but we are both sick of the long distance and say we won’t know until we try. I got offered a job where he lives, but this weekend I visited him and the same feeling I get when I visit him was there- just this sadness and something in me drops. I thought about it on the drive home and started to wonder if he is emotional unavailable. He is committed, he wants to move in together, he even talks about buying a house in the future. He is kind, he has not disrespected me like my past boyfriends or puts me down or looks at me like a sexual object. These are my past experiences of relationships. I know I have been emotionally unavailable in the past too, and been working on this with my counsellor. So it’s a big step to tell him when I have a problem, e.g. that I just don’t feel that connected. I thought the whole time it is me, but now I worry it is him, and that we will not be able to become close in real like we do when we are on Skype or the phone. It costs me lots of courage to share my feelings with him, because I fear to be rejected. I have shared in the past, that something is not quite right, I wasn’t able to put my finger on it. But I think that despite his ‘I love you’s and moments when he is open and I can feel his love, there is this fear in me, that he is not able to let his wall down. I don’t even think he knows he’s got this wall. I do think I have the skills to be intimate and intimacy is very important to me in relationships. I have the feeling it’s important to him too, he talks about connection and not letting my mind rule me and enjoy the moment and not worry so much. But at the same time it feels to me like he is not in his heart, like he is closed off. It’s like the dynamic between us is that he fears to disappoint me and not be good enough for me, he closes himself off, then picks up on my sadness and gets scared. Does this make sense? I am going to have a talk to him, but right now I am just scared on how I’m going to do that, because I don’t want to be critical or like he is not good enough. Also doesn’t help that in my past relationship I had a talk about feeling disconnected and my ex said it’s my problem and not his and he nutted out at me and became abusive. I really like this man and want us to work together to grow together. Any suggestions Darlene? Thank you and I will have a look at your other articles.

    • Thank you Nadine for your clear description of your feelings with someone not open. I’ve felt it myself, and it can feel lonely. To what extent your past is being triggered or whether he can become more open I cannot say. Best bet is to do couples counseling with someone who is psychodynamic in orientation. Fabulous that you’re having the courage to be open and honest, and this is the best way to make it safe for him, if it’s possible. You can both take the quiz on my blog on attachment. Shame underlies intimacy issues, as discussed in my book Conquering Shame.

  5. I was in a relationship last April with a man who I met on a dating site. He was completely charming, I met his son on our first date, and he met my daughters. He quickly organised to come and stay with me, texting me constantly and making future plans with me. I was concerned he was rushing things a bit but at the same time enjoyed his enthusiasm. He had a lot of the traits that you “red flagged”.
    I had come from an abusive marriage and had spent 5 years working on myself so I felt I was coming from a good place. I had attempted a relationship in between that didn’t work out so I was ready for commitment and this guy was telling me he would give me commitment. Then the excuses started, and he was very sexually explicit with me very early on and it did make me uncomfortable. Things dragged on for 3 months before I told him I was not going any further. I stopped contact for a year, but re-engaged with him last month. We argued, he told me “it was all about me”, but when I reminded him how it had been he apologised and told me he was wrong suggesting we meet for dinner. I sabotaged it because I was too scared I would still be in love with him, and start up all the old feelings. I’ve continued to argue with him until he has blocked me…. it was built up anger for the way he had left me hanging. My question is how do I let it go? I have had 4 or 5 sessions of counselling to help me come to terms with it, and see reason, but I am left with the throughts going around and around in my head.

    • I would first of all reframe your self-blame to to healthy self-protection. Your fear sound warranted. Rejection actually has biological effects. Talk to your therapist about your history of rejection and disentangle your self-esteem and shame from the actions of other people. Q.T.I.P = Quit Taking It Personally! My book on shame would be helpful, too, particularly with a history of abuse. Often there are wounds that remain unconscious-likely pre-dating your marriage.

  6. hello Darlene
    Just came accross your blog, and I have to say that I can see myself in what you wrote. My experience is actually different. I realized that I am only dating unavailble women. I’ ve had a string of long distance relationships that went straight to the wall. I dated a couple of married women. I dated women that freshly broke up. I dated women that wouldn’t care to spend the day with me. Lately, I thought I had found the one. A single woman who seemed well-balanced, and ready for a relationship. I realized that she was just number 10 in your list: Seduction. All she cared about was the seduction part. Once she got what she was looking for, it doesn’t even seem like she was interested in going further.
    I am wondering why I keep reproducing the same mistake over and over again. am I attracting all the unavailable ones? Am I looking for them? I don t know what’s going on anymore. All I am looking for is an emotionally stable person, someone who wants to have serious relationship, and build something serious. I have checked your list and tried to see if I was the one unavailable. I can honestly say I have answered no to all of your questions. So what is it?

    • It’s likely driven by unconscious feelings having to do with your childhood relationships with your parents. Also, check more honestly into what are your comfort level and boundaries around intimacy and extended time together. It will probably take a significant time in therapy to reverse this trend and a willingness to be with someone healthy you aren’t wild about. Let the relationship evolve over several months of spending time together. True love doesn’t always have fireworks, but warm coals that keep glowing.

  7. 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. =(

  8. 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?

  9. 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

  10. 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………

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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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