How To Cope With Emotional Unavailability

Discover how to open up in relationships (or deal with others who don’t open up).​


Researchers define emotional availability as “an individual’s emotional responsiveness and attunement to another’s needs and goals” (pp. 80, Emde, 1980). Based on this, emotional availability involves not only negative emotions like anger or sadness but also positive emotions like happiness or excitement. One of the most important ingredients in a secure and healthy relationship is this ability to ‘show up’ emotionally for the other person (Saunders et al., 2015) which is why emotional unavailability can be so problematic.

Emotional availability involves:

  • Showing empathy during difficult or challenging times

  • Providing emotional support or encouragement

  • Demonstrating genuine care and affection

  • Encouraging and listening to emotional responses

  • Intimacy and commitment to the relationship

  • A sense of meaningful connection at a deeper level

When someone is emotionally unavailable, they may be unable to connect with their feelings or their partner’s feelings. This person may have trouble opening up emotionally, shy away from discussing their feelings, and fear intimacy. As a result, emotional unavailability can prevent a relationship from reaching its fullest potential. ​

Signs that you may be emotionally unavailable:

  1. You are afraid of commitment

  2. You don’t trust people easily

  3. You avoid “deep” conversations

  4. You want to keep your options “open”

  5. You are defensive

Signs that your partner may be emotionally unavailable:

  1. They minimize your feelings

  2. They are uncomfortable talking about anything emotional

  3. They get defensive easily

  4. They are inconsistent in their communication

  5. They avoid labeling the relationship

How to Be More Emotionally Available

  • Focus on strengthening your current relationships. Try opening up to the people in your most long-standing and stable relationships (e.g., an old friend or family member). People who are more familiar with you will be easier to open up to than complete strangers.

  • Take a break from new relationships to work on yourself. Put a pause on forming relationships and focus on the relationship you have with yourself. Reflect on your fears and insecurities, and what holds you back in relationships.

  • Learn how to cope with your emotions in a healthy way. If you don’t allow yourself to feel your emotions, it will be difficult for you to have an emotionally healthy relationship.

  • Seek help from an unbiased professional. It can be easy to live in your head, but sometimes you need to open up to a real person. Sometimes seeking out a therapist or coach can help you build the skills you need.

​In Sum

Being emotionally unavailable simply means that you may have to work on thought patterns and behaviors that are currently serving as a barrier to emotional intimacy. This can be an opportunity to look inward and then move forward with building more rewarding relationships.



References

  • Emde, R. N. (1980). Emotional availability: A reciprocal reward system for infants and parents with implications for prevention of psychosocial disorders. P.M. Taylor (Ed.). Parent–infant relationships. Grune & Stratton.

  • Saunders, H., Kraus, A., Barone, L., & Biringen, Z. (2015). Emotional availability: theory, research, and intervention. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1069.​​

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