Have you ever been accused of being emotionally unavailable?
This is one of the most common issues couples face. I get a lot of messages like this:
“Hey Kyle, I read your last few articles about emotionally unavailable partners. It makes a lot of sense that you recommend others to avoid those of us with those flaws. Personally, I don’t want to be this way, but my childhood experiences, failed relationships, and lack of growth in becoming more emotionally available is downright depressing.
If other people start taking your advice to heart, what would happen to the rest of us? Many of us lack the money and emotional depth to become the emotionally open souls professional therapy promises. Can you please offer some relationship advice for us on the other side of the tracks? Maybe some tips that will help us grow to become more emotionally available? What are some ways we can open up to create happier relationships?” – Closed Off in California
That’s why I wrote this article.
Hi Closed Off,
Being emotionally unavailable is rooted in life experiences.
Here’s how it works: If deep down, I feel inadequate and fear I don’t deserve love, then my instincts tell me that eventually, you’re going to find out about me, realize that I’m not good enough, and break my heart.
So I love you from a distance. I stay aloof and disengaged. I refuse to give you much of my time because it won’t hurt as much when you tell me you’re going to leave me.
I know it’s coming. It always does.
My parents. My exes. They’ve all done it.
I know you will too.
I wear my armor and hold you at arm’s length. I’ve been flooded by rejection, sadness, and feelings of being unworthy before, and it’s not something I can handle after I get close.
At my core, I don’t feel I deserve your love.
While half-hearted love does offer safety, it will always sabotage the opportunity to create a deeply loving relationship.
But they do this for a reason. Can you guess what that reason is?
“If I anticipate you rejecting me, then I’m going to remain less emotionally invested in you.”
Yes—feelings of unworthiness cultivate insecurity.
True security in a relationship requires interdependence.
It’s the ability to depend on your partner while also being able to stand on your own two feet. To take responsibility for your part of the relationship as they do for theirs—as equals.
It’s the ability to be open to their feelings and needs while working with your partner to get your needs met.
Emotionally unavailable people don’t like hearing what their partner thinks or feels if it’s not what they want to hear.
If their partner says something they don’t like, the unavailable partner makes it emotionally costly to do so.
They emotionally beat their partner into obedience. This is why the other partner becomes needy, acts crazy, and will make massive compromises to make the relationship work, even if it is unfulfilling.
Emotionally unavailable people do this because they feel empty. They focus on their own needs and interests. They believe they don’t have the capacity to devote time and effort to their partner’s needs.
They find their partner’s needs overwhelming and burdening.
It’s clear that the emotionally unavailable partner has a lot of internal battles going on. It also explains why they struggle to be there for their partners when they need them.
You might be dealing with many of these same internal battles that lead to being emotionally unavailable. And your relationship is suffering because of them.
If that sounds like you, you won’t want to miss what I have to tell you next.
Here are six effective tips for being more emotionally available:
1) Take a hard look at the beliefs you have about yourself in your relationship.
Explore why it is that you don’t feel worthy of a close, loving relationship.
Is there a way to challenge your belief that if your partner gets to truly know you, they will reject you? Is there a way you both can explore why you are lovable and deserving of your partner’s affection?
2) Make your partner’s needs and feelings equal to yours.
Doing this requires empathy and compassion for your partner’s feelings, needs, and requests for closeness.
3) Stop the secret life.
Emotionally unavailable partners often have a secret life—a backup plan for when the relationship fails.
They may have someone on the side because rejection is inevitable. A secret life with others helps keep a safe distance in the relationship.
Your relationship cannot afford your secret life or side person. It requires you to offer complete transparency.
This may require opening up access to your computer, text records, and so on to clean up any past feelings of betrayal or mistrust.
Not keeping secrets is a vulnerable place, but it is the only place that allows you to invest in the relationship and get the returns you deeply need.
4) Make time for your partner.
Place your partner (and children) at the top of your priority list.
This is done with your actions, not your words.
Words might sound comforting to your partner, but without actionable follow-through, they are meaningless. Making time for your partner also requires you to be available and accessible, most of the time.
Often avoidants will avoid phone calls, ignore text messages, and reply only when they want.
They focus only on their needs, which makes their partner even needier.
If you give your partner the reassurance that you are there for them, they will turn their attention away from the relationship because you have given them the security that you are invested in the relationship.
This is called The Dependency Paradox of Love. You can read more about that here.
5) Work on taking responsibility for your emotions.
Take control of your temper. Stop acting in hurtful ways or saying things that cut to the core of your partner’s vulnerabilities.
As an emotionally unavailable person, you are an expert at finding someone’s weakness and exploiting it, so they give you the distance you want.
Stop threatening to leave the relationship if you don’t get your way, and stop using anger and personal attacks to bully your partner into doing things your way.
That’s not a relationship.
Even if you get your way, you are still avoiding a relationship that will change the deeply rooted beliefs you have about yourself.
A loving relationship requires two people who work together equally.
6) Commit to opening up.
Share your deepest fears.
Tell your partner what makes your spine tingle. Tell them about your life’s greatest disappointments and your biggest dreams.
Quit walling off your inner self, and allow yourself to be deeply known by your partner.
This will not be an easy task. You will feel overwhelmed. You will want to attack your partner.
When you feel like you’re suffocating from a lack of space, you’re on the right track. You are suffocating the belief that you don’t deserve love.
You’re allowing someone else into your heart as you fill its emptiness.
Your childhood and failed relationships may have been a great source of pain, but it is your responsibility to make the effort to change the undermining beliefs that destroy your relationships.
Becoming an emotionally available lover.
It’s up to you to build the emotional skills required to be an emotionally available lover, and utilizing these six steps is a great place to start.
It’s also up to you to work on becoming a better listener. To stop letting your addictions control you. Be more of a giver than a taker.
And most importantly, to stop being so judgmental and critical of both your partner and yourself.
Dedicated to emotionally connected relationships,
P.S. If you have thoughts or questions on the article, please message Kyle here.
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This article was originally published on July 17, 2016, and has been updated.