When we think of healthy relationships, nothing rings as true as emotional support. Chemistry can come and go, and biology often changes—but a bond built on an emotional security blanket can weather just about any storm. However, when one partner leaves this magic ingredient out of the equation, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Rather, a relationship with an emotionally unavailable partner.
You must have heard the term ‘emotionally unavailable’ a million times—be it through pop-cultural references or unfortunate experiences of close friends. Now, if you find yourself in a similar situation and are wondering whether your partner fits the bill, then sit tight. We are decoding what makes a partner emotionally unavailable and what you should do if you’re with one.
What does it mean to be emotionally unavailable?
On the surface, understanding emotional unavailability can seem simple. But the roots of the problem go much deeper than just not talking about feelings openly. Simply put, a person who is emotionally unavailable is someone who finds it difficult to deal with emotions—be it their own or their partners.
Explains Neeta Shetty, a Mumbai-based psychotherapist and relationship expert: “In a relationship, when one partner is not available for mindful listening, talking, or sharing, it is a sign of emotional unavailability. Such a person may often walk away from situations where emotions are involved.”
It’s this lack of emotional connection and depth that then starts posing challenges because the relationship is formed based on mismatched expectations.
What causes emotional unavailability?
While it’s easy to chalk up emotional unavailability to commitment phobia and other similar constructs, the truth is that there are a lot of other reasons why your partner could be closed off emotionally.
To begin with, Shetty points out the role patriarchal families have to play in all this. “In Indian families while growing up boys are not allowed to cry or show any vulnerabilities,” she says. And after they marry and start to show affection towards their wives, they are often taunted for being henpecked—especially in joint families.
2. Marital role models
Not to mention, the way our parents behave in their marriage influences our attitudes too. “Traditionally in families, men are the providers and women are the nurturers. These are the societal roles we fill. So, if children very rarely see their fathers being emotionally expressive or being available for their mothers, they grow up to believe that’s how a healthy relationship should be,” explains Shetty.
3. Mental health
But there’s more to emotional unavailability than just gender roles and patriarchy. Certain psychological issues like anxiety or PTSD can be at play too—which, Shetty suggests, need to be evaluated by a mental health professional.
Is YOUR partner emotionally unavailable?
Wondering if your ‘reserved’ partner is truly emotionally unavailable? Well, here are some red flags to look out for according to Shetty:
- Your partner gets angry or irritable every time you start talking about your feelings.
- They never try to broach any emotional subjects on their own.
- They often procrastinate on emotional conversations, promising to resume them later, but there never seems to be a right time to have the discussion.
- Your partner always takes the practical route to situations instead of a more emotional approach—and you end up feeling as though your perspective is misunderstood or ignored.
- They rarely pay heed to days like birthdays and anniversaries that are important to you—chalking them down to just another day.
- They don’t discuss their childhood or emotional issues with you at all.
In a relationship with an emotionally unavailable partner? Here’s what to do next
Let’s get honest for a second here: It’s not easy being romantically involved with somebody who is not on the same page as you when it comes to emotions. But that doesn’t mean all is lost. You can try to salvage the situation by having a healthy discussion.
“Start by talking about what you feel, think, and expect. If you see a mismatch of expectations, suggest what you think can be done to create a more level playing field,” recommends Shetty. However, if healthy and open communication doesn’t seem to be working for you, Shetty suggests couples counselling. “Don’t allow resentment and bitterness to build up in your relationship. Seek professional help before that happens,” she adds.
That said, if there is a lack of open communication as well as resistance towards therapy, you may have to take a hard look at your relationship. “Give it your best shot and observe your partner for a while. If she or he still isn’t willing to change or meet you halfway, then you need to think about your future,” advises Shetty.
When dealing with an emotionally unavailable partner, having practical and realistic expectations is the key. But if they are not being met, it might be time to do the hard thing and part ways to look out for your emotional health, concludes Shetty.