If you are reading this article, you have probably experienced an emotionally disconnected partner who is unable to articulate feelings on a deeper level. This might feel like a lack of comprehensive connection, that something is missing, or that there is an intentional distance kept between you and your partner.
This dynamic can be both painful to manage in a relationship and difficult to spot. Sometimes it feels like emotional unavailability is just a natural part of withholding feelings as trust is developed in the relationship. Most partners who experience their partners like this feel confused, doubt themselves and their feelings, and are trying to understand what is happening. Here are six signs that you may have an emotionally unavailable partner:
Because these types of partners often have an inability to cultivate trust, your partner may keep you at arm’s length because trusting you is difficult, scary and vulnerable. This might be due to an avoidant attachment system, which is based on their earliest experiences of love and attention - in short, caregivers failed in responding to their needs in an attuned way so they gave up on trusting that others are available to do so and became self-sufficient. These walls and distance have been developed as a protective mechanism due to unresolved pain and challenges in these previous relationships, but then limit future possibility of nurturing relationship connection as well. If there is a sense of ongoing distance between you and your partner, note this as a possible indicator of emotional avoidance.
Although you might have great chemistry on paper and feel potential, you may also experience mixed messages, usually noticed in an inconsistency between their words and his/her actions. This might look like your partner keeping you from certain parts of his/her life but not others. For instance, he or she might verbally reassure you that the relationship is satisfying, yet still not introduce you to his or her closest friends. Or they talk about the future with you and then pull back and withdraw in unexpected ways. In some ways you feel close and in other ways, you feel this person is keeping you at a distance. This can be both confusing and painful as the relationship unfolds.
Past relationship patterns of disconnection
Most likely as you get to know someone, that partner will share stories of past relationship challenges and successes. Note patterns or red flags such as difficulty committing, or comments that make you wonder whether there were expectations of perfection. Another common sign is that when they talk about an ex, the painted they unfairly characterize previous partners as the “bad, “crazy,” “unhealthy,” etc. This lopsidedness can be a clue to how they can distance themselves from previous relationships without looking at their own patterns of disconnection. Sometimes the writing on the wall is the stories you hear of repeated relationship failures due to a lack of deep communication, the ex’s “issues” without fair representation of their role, or if there is a lack of significant relationship history altogether.
The need for control
Because the emotionally unavailable partner wants to avoid a certain level of intimacy, there may be an underlying need for for control. Oftentimes, this is due to a fear of commitment, and shows up as inflexible and an unwillingness to compromise. This is a way he or she limits the level of connection in the relationship and stays in control of the depth and complexity of it so there are no expectations of emotional intimacy. This is difficult to spot, especially if coming from a man who is traditionally expected in society to be more “in control” of the relationship. Ask yourself whether you continue to feel you have a say in where the relationship is going and the pace of it’s unfolding. If not, and you feel as if the relationship revolves around your partners needs and choices, you may be experiencing a controlling partner. This black-and-white thinking can challenge the long-term health of any relationship.
Responding with anger
A close cousin of withdrawal, anger can also be a distancing emotion and behavior seen in relationships. if your partner’s default emotional response is anger - such as yelling, cursing at you or others, hurtful comments, aggressive driving, slamming doors, or even throwing objects - this can be an indicator of emotional unavailability. Unresolved frustration or even rage is typical in someone who is unable to be in touch with and work through their deeper emotions. Those emotions begin to build on an unconscious level and comments might come across as demanding or critical when emotional depth is requested. This response and feeling is a coping and defensive mechanism against emotional and physical closeness.
This quality often goes hand-in-hand with the emotionally unavailable. Sometimes it manifests as giving up quickly as the emotionally unavailable person may look and find a “fatal flaw” and then quickly discard the relationship. When we see this in our practice, it usually originates from a fear of intimacy as well as an insecurity with one’s own flaws. When these flaws they are looking for aren’t evident in a new partner, they may look for other excuses to end the relationship and have an expectation of perfection. They might show qualities of perfectionism in their career, home, or hobbies even - which can help them defend against feelings of unworthiness, being flawed or unlovable themselves.
Being in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable partner can be confusing, traumatic and heartbreaking. Seek the support you need to both identify, work through overcome these types of relationships. The team at Center for Shared Insight is skilled at relationship change and is here to talk through these dynamics and provide tools and strategies to overcome them. Contact us for a free consultation.