Being emotionally available isn’t as easy as it sounds.
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.
Being emotionally available or 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.
Contrary to emotionally available partners, 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 is open and vulnerable about something that the avoidant partner isn’t expecting or doesn’t want to understand, it becomes a problem.
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 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.
6 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.
What are some thoughts and feelings you have about yourself?
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.
Everyone in a relationship has needs and desires that they want to get met. For an emotionally unavailable person, they don’t recognize or want to recognize the importance of their partner’s needs and how they can meet them.
Being present and working with your partner to ensure that you understand, care for, and respect their needs is a good step toward becoming an emotionally available partner.
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.
Along with this, they might be making plans or decisions based on their needs alone, so that if the relationship falls apart, they will still be firmly planted on their own two feet, without their partner.
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, texts, and other information previously kept hidden or secret. Your partner needs to know that they can trust you and trust that you trust them too.
Not keeping secrets is a vulnerable place, but it is the only place that allows you to invest fully in the relationship so that both you and your partner are getting their needs fully met and are completely knowing one another.
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 and reassuring, but without actions to back those words up, they become meaningless. This can also harm your partner’s trust in you. Making time for your partner requires availability and accessibility.
It’s not uncommon for avoidants to neglect phone calls, ignore text messages, and reply only when they want.
They focus only on their wants and needs, which ends up making the non-avoidant partner even more anxious and needier.
If you give your partner the reassurance that you are there for them, both through words and through follow-up actions, their anxiety will decrease and they will turn their attention away from the relationship. This is because you have given them the necessary security for them to feel comfortable investing in other areas of their life. They know that you will be there.
This is called The Dependency Paradox of Love. You can read more about that here.
5) Work on taking responsibility for your emotions.
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.
Allowing your temper and other intense negative emotions run the show is a recipe for disaster in your relationship. Using your partner’s vulnerabilities as a way to strike out at them will do nothing but hurt them, hurt you in the long run, and damage your 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.
This one is very hard for emotionally unavailable lovers, but it is absolutely necessary.
Share your deepest fears.
Tell your partner what makes your spine tingle. Tell them about your life’s greatest disappointments and your biggest dreams.
All yourself to be deeply and fully known by your partner by tearing down those walls you’ve built and reinforced around your inner self.
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.
And most importantly, to stop being so judgmental and critical of both your partner and yourself. Both of you deserve to have a safe, secure, loving, and reliable relationship.
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.