No wonder we have problems expressing ourselves clearly. Emotions associated with love and intimacy can be particularly intense, to the point that many of us find them disorienting or anxiety-inducing.
Emotional intimacy is a key component of any healthy relationship, but it’s possible to work on it if it’s not your strong point. Do you have your walls up?
Sometimes, the walls we put up for self-protection can stop us from starting and maintaining relationships. Studies show that the number of singles is growing. “The rise is particularly evident among 18- to 29-year-olds, increasing by roughly a quarter since 2004, from 52% to 64%. But it is also evident among adults aged 30 to 39, creeping up from 15% to 19% over the same period.”
Of course, there may be a multitude of factors influencing this trend. But our emotional availability plays a key role in our willingness to commit to intimate relationships. Deep relationships require vulnerability—and it can be genuinely terrifying to be vulnerable. Plus, nowadays, social media and dating apps often have us window-shopping for the next best thing. We keep on picking new flowers, instead of watering the ones in our garden.
All things considered, committing to an intimate relationship can feel like navigating a minefield. There’s a real risk of getting hurt. While we understand the natural urge to protect yourself, learning to open up is far better for relationship growth.
So why’s everyone afraid of a deeper emotional connection? How do we grow closer in love without letting our insecurities get the better of us? We’ll explore the answers to these questions and more.
If you’re struggling with the opposite problem—wanting to connect with someone who seems emotionally closed off—we have suggestions for you too!
What Is Emotional Availability?
Have you ever sat down with a good friend and talked through a conflict—truthfully divulging your feelings about a situation? In that case, you probably practiced being open, honest and vulnerable—all of which are vital elements of communication in relationships.
Emotional availability also encompasses being open, authentic and vulnerable. At the same time, it involves making room for other people’s feelings, too.
You’re able to have meaningful conversations about your experiences, memories and ideas.
You don’t usually share your experiences, memories and ideas.
You’re able to comfort others when they’re going through an emotionally difficult time.
When other people display strong emotions, you may find it too uncomfortable to be around them.
You’re willing to discuss feelings openly and honestly.
You tend to avoid discussions about feelings.
People who are emotionally available are:
Able to have meaningful conversations about the root of their emotions
Able to comfort others during an emotionally difficult time
Willing to discuss feelings openly and honestly
Respectful of other people’s boundaries
Even if you don’t exhibit all these traits in your communication right now, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to become more emotionally available. All of the qualities listed above can be practiced and developed over time.
What does It Mean To Be Emotionally Unavailable?
Being emotionally unavailable means you struggle to have intimate conversations. In fact, you may view intimacy as a threat to your emotional security. You keep your relationships; long-term and short-term, very casual and distant. Whenever you find yourself getting too close to someone else, you back off before things get too serious.
“An emotionally unavailable person has a hard time receiving love and other deep emotions from others," says therapist Alyson Cohen, LCSW. They struggle to understand "the feelings of others because they can hardly understand their own.”
A History of Emotional Unavailability
The term “emotionally unavailable” was born out of meme culture and popularized in the 2010s. It has since stuck. Yet, of course, emotional availability existed long before that. For example, historically, men have been taught to mask their emotions. Ever heard the saying: “boys don’t cry”? It’s completely false (not to mention: toxic).
What’s the reason they’re pulling away or shutting down? Is this a pattern?
Check in about stressors like finances, work, or family.
Approach any conflicts calmly.
Find a middle ground or compromise.
What does your partner need before they can feel safe sharing their emotions? And how can you balance your desire for emotional connection with your partner’s wish for space? If you’re both honest about what you need from each other, you can find ways to meet in the middle.
When your partner does share their emotions, appreciate and encourage them. Also, balance emotionally heavy discussions with quality, “positive time.” “Positive time” is time spent together doing anything you both enjoy.
When it comes to solving relationship issues, you’re never alone. If you feel that a conversation is too sensitive or difficult to start on your own, try some of Together’s in-app conversation tools to get you both talking.
Signs of an Emotionally Unavailable Partner
Do you feel like you’re in a one-sided relationship? If your relationship doesn’t feel balanced, this may be a sign that your partner is emotionally unavailable. Here are some other signs of an emotionally unavailable partner to look out for:
They don’t share their experiences, memories and ideas.
You’re always the one carrying conversations and making plans.
They avoid quality time with you.
They have a history of short-lived romances.
6 Keys to Becoming an Emotionally Available Partner
"The emotionally unavailable person is usually terribly anxious about being hurt, fearing that they could be rejected or controlled," states counselor Stephanie Wijkstrom, Founder of the Wellness Center of Pittsburgh.
The root cause could be childhood trauma or a previous heartbreak, either of which can result in a fear of abandonment. Is there anything from your past that makes you afraid to trust someone new with your heart?
No matter what happened in your past, it’s never too late to learn the skills that will help you open up and let someone in again. If you’re ready for a change, try Together, a science-based couples therapy app. The app uses tools from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and emotion-focused therapy (EFT) to help you overcome your relationship blocks.
Address your addictions.
Sometimes, emotionally disconnected partners indulge in addictive behaviors to numb their uncomfortable feelings. Nipping addictions in the bud will allow you to think clearly, feel more deeply, and consciously address sources of emotional pain.
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” –Jack Kornfield
People with high self-compassion are able to accept their own messy emotions, and in turn, their partner’s. It’s easier to be kind to, and patient with, others when you are comfortable with your own imperfections.
How To Stop Being Attracted to Emotionally Unavailable Partners
Initially, when we meet someone new, our emotions are heightened. Everything is new and exciting, and we may have high hopes about what’s to come. But what happens when you start planning a future with someone and they start…backing away?
Relationship psychologists affirm that pursuing someone who’s just not that into you can feel destabilizing and anxiety-inducing.
If you find yourself repeatedly drawn to emotionally unavailable partners, check out these suggestions to help you break that cycle. Above all, in the dating phase, make it your habit to pay attention to warning signs. For example, emotionally unavailable people often keep others on the hook by texting about plans, but failing to follow through. If your love interest doesn’t set concrete plans; frequently cancels on you; or leaves you hanging, this may be a warning sign that they’re not ready for a relationship.
You Can Have a Secure Relationship!
Relationship anxiety is way more common than you’d think. And while relationship security may seem out of reach right now, it is achievable once you have the right skills. The good news is that these skills are learnable, and the goal of the Together app is to help you develop them!
You’re deserving, and we’re here to remind you that a healthy relationship is possible.
Notice the ways you try to avoid your feelings, as numbing our emotions often stops us from actually addressing them.
Closing Thoughts From Together
Do you find it difficult to open up? If you’d like to become a more emotionally available partner, Together has you covered. The app uses evidence-based tools to help you work towards being the partner you want to be. If you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll find that being open, honest and vulnerable can lead to incredible payoffs. We wish you all the best with creating a more emotionally intimate relationship!
Try Together - the couple coaching app
Resolve your relationship pains with Together - a couple coaching app developed by leading therapists.