Updated: Nov 29, 2021
If you’re dating someone who is emotionally unavailable, you’ll probably wind up feeling neglected and dissatisfied. Maybe they disappear for days at a time or fail to return your phone calls. Maybe they say they want a relationship, but they criticize you for trying to label it.
There are many different causes and symptoms related to being distant. You may even be surprised to know that the situation could have as much to do with you as with your partner, especially if it’s a pattern for you.
Emotional unavailability poses serious obstacles to love and commitment, but you may be able to work things out. Put your love life back on track with this guide to changing or leaving this kind of challenging relationship.
Working on Relationships with Emotionally Unavailable Partners
Emotional unavailability can be a long term or temporary condition. For example, if your potential partner was recently divorced, they may need a little time to adjust. Even if someone is a bit ambivalent by nature, they may be able to change if they really want to.
Try these strategies to connect better:
Listen closely. If your date tells you that they’re not interested in a serious relationship right now, believe them. You may prevent a great deal of frustration for both of you.
Focus on actions. What if someone tells you that you’re their soulmate, but they keep making other plans on Saturday nights? When their actions and their words contradict each other, pay more attention to what they really do.
Avoid projecting. It's easy to see the possibilities and potential in new partners, but let's get real. See them for who they are right now and then decide if you'd still choose to be with them even if nothing ever changed.
Address the issues. Are you living in denial? Being honest about your relationship is the first step towards making positive changes. You may be able to help your partner open up, but only if they want it for themselves.
Set boundaries. Honor your needs. Be assertive about how you expect others to treat you and how you will respond if they exceed your limits.
Risk vulnerability. If your partner has trouble sharing their feelings, you may be tempted to shut down too. On the other hand, if you remain vulnerable and authentic, you may be able to show them that there are healthier alternatives. And yes, you may rick getting your heart broken, but what's the alternative? To never open yourself up to the possibility of deep love?
Developing intimacy is often difficult, so you might want to remove as many obstacles as you can.
These strategies will help you to select partners who will love and accept you as you are:
Look for patterns. Examine your track record. If you often find yourself dating people who are already partnered or just way too mysterious, that may a big indicator of your own hesitancy to commit. Take some time to assess how emotionally available you have been and if the answer is uncomfortable, it may be time for you to do some work.
Pace yourself. When you’re dating someone, get to know them before you become infatuated. Time allows you to get to know them for them and to see them more clearly.
Pursue your other interests. If you find yourself in a pattern of choosing unavailable partners, you might want to take a break from dating while you revise your strategy, or, maintain balance while dating by scheduling time to sustain your interests as well. Engage in activities where you can mingle with others. You’ll enjoy yourself, and you might develop new friends and potentially cultivate romantic prospects more carefully.
Get help. Therapists and coaches can help individuals or couples with attachment and commitment issues. We can help you uncover your core fears and blocking beliefs, explore the origins of your patterns, support you in improving boundaries and communication skills, and help you re-write your relationship scripts. Ask family and friends for a referral, check on Psychology Today for therapists in your area, or reach out to me!
Be honest with yourself about whether you’re satisfied with the overall tone of your romantic relationships or if you need to change your approach to dating. Sadly, most of us learn how to date and be in relationships by just jumping out of the plane without a parachute, or by watching the romantic relationships we grew up with.... and if your parents didn't model what a functional, balanced relationship and healthy intimacy looked like, you're already starting at a disadvantage.
If you want genuine intimacy, seeking out emotionally available partners and making sure you are truly emotionally available is paramount!