Signs That Someone is Emotionally Unavailable
Ask questions to determine if a man has put up walls
Sometimes, women end up in relationships with emotionally unavailable men. It can become a Catch-22 for the relationship, because when a man is emotionally distant, it’s understandable to talk to him and find out what’s going on. But for an emotionally unavailable man, this can cause him to shut down even further.
Relationship experts share their insights on what to do if you suspect you’re dating someone who is emotionally unavailable.
Reasons for emotional distance
What people call emotional availability is the ability to be aware of and express one's own feelings, and be receptive to others' expression of theirs. It's an important quality to have in a healthy relationship, because your emotions, positive or negative, hint at whether underlying needs and capacities of yours are being met or exercised, and they need to be in order for a good partnership to exist, said Jim Hjort, a psychotherapist.
“There are ways to tell how emotionally available your man is. Does he volunteer his own thoughts and feelings when something goes wrong (or right) in your relationship? Or is he at least willing to express them when asked? When you express your feelings, does he seem capable of empathy? That is, if you express sadness, does he seem a bit sad himself, as though he's able to put himself in your shoes?” Hjort said.
Some or your partner's behaviors might hint that emotional availability is challenging for him, Hjort said. “For instance, does he erupt in anger when something goes wrong? Usually there is an emotion that comes before the anger that highlights the real issue, but emotionally unavailable people are usually not interested in expressing, or even acknowledging, that one. Does he tend to use ‘you always’ or ‘you never’ statements during arguments? Adopting extreme positions like these can be an indicator of unwillingness to face the murky, uncertain gray areas--which happens to be where most of life happens.”
“Except in a relatively small number of cases, everyone is capable of being in touch with and expressing one's emotions, and empathically responding to others. It just requires wanting to be so, and then practicing making the effort to be so, because it isn't always easy. If someone isn't empathic, introspective, or communicative in the way that is going to be necessary for you to have a free-flowing exchange of expressions of needs, desires, and expectations, then this is a sign that something needs to change,” Hjort said.
But this doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed. “Really, what matters in your relationship is whether the things that are important to you are being given their due consideration. If they aren't, it doesn't matter so much whether it's because the other person is unwilling or unable to do so--what matters is that it isn't happening. You aren't going to be able to force someone to give you the genuine consideration you want. You're the only one you control to that degree, so in those cases you might need to take responsibility for yourself and exercise that control by exiting the relationship and finding one that better suits you,” Hjort said.
Ask lots of questions
The main way you can learn in advance if someone is emotionally unavailable is by asking a lot of questions, said Dr. Jennifer Howard, psychotherapist and the author of Your Ultimate Life Plan: How to Deeply Transform Your Everyday Experience and Create Changes That Last.
Dr. Howard said that you need to ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you allow yourself to be curious in the beginning stage of relationships?
- How much do you know about the person you’re dating? Curiosity is a critical part of relationships. Asking questions in the beginning stages of dating helps you get to know that person and their values.
- To ask or not to ask. When you first start seeing someone, do you ask a lot of questions? Do you allow yourself to follow your inner thoughts about what’s happening? Are you curious about his work, family, his favorite foods, movies she loves or hates, what she likes to do for fun or relaxation, and even their childhood memories?
It's important to ask about his last few relationships. Does he blame her for everything? Does he know what he did that contributed to the breakup? What did he learn from it? Notice what words he uses. Are there any feeling words in what he says like sad, angry, hurt, happy, or only thoughts like 'I feel that,' or, 'she did.' What happened in his last relationships will tell you much about what might happen with the two of you, Dr. Howard said.
“We don’t want the early dates to feel like the Spanish Inquisition, but it’s very helpful to get a feel for this person. Not just the words they say but the expression behind the words,” Dr. Howard said. “Some people might feel that they are asking too much. Some might say that it feels impolite to ask such questions in the beginning of a relationship. It’s great to cut loose and have fun and it’s also great to get to know who you are spending time with.”
Another thing to consider is if they ask you questions. Are they just talking about themselves or are they also interested in you? This can tell you if he is curious and available for an emotional connection, she said.
“Questions can grow or stop a new relationship. Being openly curious can help you decide early on if the person you’re dating is someone you would like to pursue a deeper relationship with. Or you might decide to stop investing more time with that person after discovering their values, goals, and their heart are in a different place than yours,” she said.
“Pay attention to what you feel as you are with them. Are you excited, and being with them feels like being home, or is it strained? If it feels strained, are relationships usually tense for you at first or are you sensing something’s not quite right? Ask yourself questions about why that might be and how that might be connected to your past,” Dr. Howard said.