Emotional availability is something that can help you and your partner connect in a real, authentic way, so if that’s something that you value in your relationship, knowing how to spot the signs that your partner might not actually be emotionally available is important.
Not everyone who’s emotionally unavailable will be ready or willing to work on things, but addressing it with them is very important, Rachel Hoffman, LCSW, couples and sex therapist, told INSIDER. If you notice some of the signs that your partner might be emotionally unavailable, suggesting counseling and gently explaining what they’re doing that you think is putting up a wall between the two of you might help.
1. They’re unable to describe how they’re feeling.
When someone is emotionally unavailable, it can be really difficult for them to describe how they’re feeling, even if you ask them directly.
“So I ask you, ‘Well, how are you feeling right now?’ and what they can’t say is, ‘I’m frustrated,’ or ‘I’m sad,’ or ‘I’m disappointed,'” or even something that’s a description of a feeling, for example, ‘I feel like everything’s piling up,'” Steven M. Sultanoff, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professional speaker and trainer, told INSIDER. “That doesn’t present an emotion, but when someone says, ‘I feel like everything is piling up,’ you can infer the emotional experience that they’re feeling- overwhelmed or overloaded or something like that.”
2. They’re not good at showing affection or receiving yours.
Showing affection can sometimes be difficult for a number of people, for a number of reasons, but having a very difficult time showing you affection can also be a sign that your partner isn’t as emotionally available as you’d like.
This also applies to them not being able to receive affection from you. “It’s not just that they forget your birthday or don’t know your shoe size,”Sara Stanizai, MA, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, told INSIDER. “But maybe that when you show appreciation for them – through a text, a gift, or taking their car to get washed – they don’t recognise that you’re showing that you love them. Not giving affection is one obvious sign. But being unable to receive affection is a less obvious but just as telling sign.”
3. They change the subject or make fun when you bring up something emotional.
If your partner is emotionally unavailable, even talking about emotions that aren’t theirs can be uncomfortable for them.
“They may belittle, mock, or ‘laugh away’ serious topics that are introduced and engage in gaslighting, a form of emotional abuse that causes the victim to question himself when, in fact, he is entitled to ask the normal questions he is asking,” Dr. Kendra Kubala, PsyD, a licensed psychologist, told INSIDER. “This can lead the person to call his victim, or others overall, ‘dramatic’ or ‘oversensitive,’ rather than discussing the topic at hand or validating the partner’s feelings and experience.”
It can be really difficult for you to feel like your partner is making fun of you for feeling the way you do or avoiding discussions about emotions that you’d like to share with them. Talking to them about what’s going on might help them understand what they’re missing – and how they’re hurting you – when they do this.
4. You don’t feel supported by them.
Hoffman said that one of the things that you should ask yourself when trying to determine how emotionally available your partner might be is if you feel supported by them. If you don’t, that can wear on you.
If, in addition to not feeling supported, you also don’t feel understood, or like they’re interested in your life, that could further indicate that your partner might be emotionally unavailable. “They might have some deeper issues that they need to connect with first before being able to commit to a relationship,” Hoffman explained.
5. They make the emotion an object instead of owning it as a feeling.
If you’re emotionally available, you can talk about your emotions as something that you’re actively feeling. If your partner is not emotionally available, that might be something with which they have some problems. “So instead of saying ‘I feel angry’ or ‘hurt’ or ‘sad,’ they talk making the emotion an object,” Sultanoff said. “For example, they say ‘my frustration’ or ‘the anger’ or ‘the disappointment I feel.'” So when someone does that, they are separating themselves from their emotional being and that makes them less able to connect with others emotionally.”
It can be a subtle difference, but pushing their own emotions away doesn’t help the bond between the two of you either.
6. They prefer to do things alone.
“The emotionally unavailable person may choose to engage in behaviour that is solitary and less challenging, such as focusing on video games, his or her cell phone, etc,” Kubala said. Those sorts of behaviours don’t require them to connect emotionally to anyone else, nor do they require them to think or talk about any of their own feelings or emotions.
7. They tell you that you shouldn’t feel a certain way.
Telling someone else that they should or shouldn’t feel a certain way doesn’t exactly make the other person feel all warm and supported inside. It makes them feel like their feelings aren’t being valued or understood.
“I say I’m upset because I didn’t get the raise and the partner says, “well, you really shouldn’t feel that way, you know, your company doesn’t give out a lot of raises,”” Sultanoff said. “And when someone discounts another’s emotional experience, they’re more disconnected emotionally.”
Although things like this can sometimes happen because the other person is trying to cheer you up or otherwise make you feel a bit better, it often still doesn’t have its intended effect.
“[I]t can be that they’re trying to make the person feel better, but in so doing, they’re actually creating distance and most people don’t feel better, they feel more disrespected or unheard or disconnected, but the attempt may be the only way I know to make you feel better is to tell you that there’s no reason to feel that way,” Sultanoff explained.
8. They think they’re expressing emotions, but they’re actually not.
“[T]his is very common with everyday language and a lot of people do this so – and this may or may not indicate emotional unavailability, but it’s likely to – and an example of this would be when someone says “I feel that…something.” “I feel that you are overreacting.” Well, that’s not an expression of feeling, it’s an expression of belief,” Sultanoff said. “It’s my perspective. “I feel that.” And that’s pretty common that people do that in everyday language.
They say, “I feel that” or “I feel like you were being unfair,” “I feel like I should have gotten a raise,” but that doesn’t express any emotion. So people who have that style are also more emotionally unavailable.”
Of course, you can say something like that on occasion without being emotionally unavailable, but if this is the way that your partner consistently speaks, it could, in fact, be an indication that they might not be as emotionally available as you may have previously thought.
9. They don’t talk about things that are important to you.
If your partner seems to try to avoid topics of conversation that are important to you, that’s another potential sign that they might not be emotionally available.
“When the questioning partner introduces important and/or sensitive topics, the emotionally unavailable person is likely to avoid by no providing direct eye contact, delayed return texts, or engaging in body language that confirms he or she is bored with the conversation (slumped posture, eye rolling),” Kubala said. “There is a general inconsistency among those who are emotionally unavailable, as they may be highly engaged within their job or able to engage with their partner physically, but they fall short of emotional attachment or intimacy. Much of an emotionally unavailable person’s relationships will be surface and one-sided, often leading to few friendships and an overall avoidance of emotional interaction.”
When your partner ignores or passively avoids participating in conversations that matter to you, it can be difficult for you to deal with, but pointing out to your partner that they tend to do these things, can potentially help them recognise it as well, Kubala explained.
10. They’re always telling you that you should look on the bright side.
When you’re upset about something, that isn’t always the time to be reminded that there is a bright side. If your partner does this anyway, it could potentially be a sign that they’re emotionally unavailable.
“So one person says, “I’m disappointed that I didn’t get the raise at work,” and the partner says, ‘Oh, you have so much to feel good about. You have a job that you enjoy and you like your coworkers.’ So what they’re doing is they’re hearing the distress and they’re trying to be helpful by presenting an uplifting emotional side,” Sultanoff explained.
If you think that your partner might exhibit signs that they could be emotionally unavailable, there are a few things that you can do to try to help. One is to explain to them, kindly, what’s going on, focusing on what they’re missing out on. “For people who don’t tolerate emotion well, feeling put-upon by their partner is going to shut them down even more,” Stanizai said. “Ask what are some of the ways they know you appreciate them? Is there a way you can build on that?”
You can also recommend couples counseling to help the both of you better connect. “It’s more about attuning to each other, and therapy is a great place to start,” Stanizai explained. Your partner might benefit from therapy as well. “Everyone deserves to be with a partner who is emotionally available,” Hoffman said. “There is also nothing wrong with being emotionally unavailable. Admitting that there is work to be done is a strength. If you work through your issues and figure out the root of the problem, you can be even more present in your next relationship.”
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