21 Signs You're Emotionally Unavailable Even Though You're In A Long-Term Relationship
Perhaps it’s happened to you or you’re guilty of it yourself — being emotionally unavailable. And, as much as you may want to be available or think you are, deep down, you’re not. There are many reasons for this, from still being emotionally tied to your ex to not being in the right space to share your life with someone else — emotionally, physically, mentally, financially, career-wise, and so on. In fact, you can also be emotionally unavailable while in a long-term relationship. For example, your ex may still take up a lot of your mental space, so you cannot give your current partner as much emotional attention as you’d like.
Award-winning relationship, marriage and family therapist, Dr. Carolina Castaños, Ph.D., and the founder of Moving On, an interactive program designed to help people overcome heartbreak, says this happens to people in relationships for several reasons. “Being in a long-term relationship does not mean that we are connected emotionally — many are not,” she tells Bustle. “Couples are still together for reasons such as fear of being alone, for fear of it affecting the children, and/or for fear of financial loss or strain.”
But it's important to figure out why you're distant. “If you are emotionally unavailable, it is crucial to determine if this is because you are scared of closeness, or if you are simply out of the relationship,” Dr. Castaños says. “You can work on the first one. However, the latter is difficult unless there is a conscious awareness and desire to rekindle your love and connection.”
All that said, here are signs you’re emotionally unavailable even though you’re in a long-term relationship. The sooner you become aware of how emotionally available you are, the sooner you can take the necessary steps to increase emotional intimacy toward your partner — or end the relationship.
1. You’re Still Emotionally Attached To An Ex
It’s difficult to give your all to your partner when you still spend a lot of time thinking about an ex, either it’s your most current one or “the one who got away.” So, it goes without saying that the time you spend thinking about them is time *not* spent thinking about your current partner.
“You may still be angry at your ex for leaving you, and you’re scared that your current partner will leave you, too,” Sandy Weiner, dating and love coach at LastFirstDate.com, tells Bustle. Or, you may think about your ex a lot, and even be thinking about getting back together with them, she says.
2. You Avoid Deep Conversations
If you avoid having in-depth conversations with your significant other — the kind where you can talk about things you wouldn’t readily tell someone else — it’s another sign you’re likely not too emotionally invested. “You will avoid any type of deep conversation, serious topic, or anything that may lead to connection on that deeper level,” Jenna Ponaman, CPC, ELI-MP, relationship coach and expert, tells Bustle.
Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors, CBS TV, and co-star on Sex Box, WE tv, agrees. “When you pull away without explanation, or if you’re incapable or unwilling to communicate about the rough stuff — you’ll only engage with your partner to enjoy the pleasures in your relationship — you are only half a partner,” she says. “You’re there, but not really there — you’re physically there, but emotionally not present.”
3. You Confide In Someone Else, Emotionally, More So Than Your Partner
Many people say their significant other is their best friend — they can tell each other anything, and do. However, if you *don’t* feel you can tell your partner anything, and confide in someone else instead, it may mean you are not as emotionally available as you may think. “If you are more comfortable talking to a close friend about things that you should also be able to talk to a significant other about, you need to ask yourself why,” Stef Safran, matchmaking and dating expert, tells Bustle.
4. You’re Vague About The Future With Your Partner
You may be happy with your partner, but if talk about the future together makes you anxious, it may be a clue that you’re not as emotionally linked to them after all. “If you’re avoiding talking about your collective future and have the philosophy of taking one day at a time, you’re likely emotionally unavailable,” Holly Zink, relationship expert and writer for Grapevine, tells Bustle.
5. You’re Controlling
Sometimes, people who are controlling don’t even realize it. But if you *do* realize it, it’s yet another way you’re not giving your partner your emotions all. “People who try to control the relationship try to force things through their logic so they don’t have to feel,” Ponaman says. “By being in control, they receive validation of their partner’s devotion to them; therefore, it’s their security that they can never be hurt.”
6. You’re Not There When Your Partner Needs Your Emotional Support
Everyone has bad days sometimes, but when your partner has one, are you there for them, emotionally speaking? “If your partner has a hard day and wants your support, do you try and give them support,” Safran says. “Or, if you already have plans, can you make yourself available to them?”
Weiner, too, thinks this is a sign. “You don’t show emotion or empathize with your partner,” she says. “When they share their passions or frustrating experiences, you don’t react or respond. You seem to live more in your head than your heart — discussing ideas and thoughts — but you’re uncomfortable hearing about or discussing feelings or needs.”
Dr. Castaños also says that when you are not available emotionally, you cannot connect with your partner’s emotions and do not have a drive to comfort or soothe them. “You are cold and distant, such as when your partner expresses emotions and you cannot relate to them and do not seem to be moved by them,” she says. “Or, when you cannot be with your partner in moments when they need some support/encouragement — for example, when they are going to a job interview, to the doctor for a pain they’ve been having, or any moments that are important to them.”
7. You Make Your Partner An Option More Than A Priority
No one likes to feel more like an option than a priority, but you may be treating your significant other this way if you’re not completely emotionally available. “You may invite your partner to a concert a few hours beforehand, because your friend canceled,” Weiner says. “Or you don’t call your partner all week, but Friday night, you want to see them.”
Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford, PhD, MFT,CRS, CMFSW, founder & CEO of Family Matters Counseling Group, PLLC, says there can be other reasons, too. “You may have competing obligations and relationships.”
8. You Say Loving Words, But Your Actions Don’t Match Them
“Actions speak louder than words” is a popular catchphrase for a reason — it’s true more often than not. If you’re not emotionally available, you may be mostly talk versus actions when it comes to how you feel about your partner. “You may tell them that they’re beautiful, amazing, and you’ve never met someone quite like them,” Weiner says. “But, you don’t call when you say you will, weeks go by between dates, and/or you’re always checking out other people when you’re together.”
9. You Have Difficulty Expressing How You Feel
Although some people say loving things, other emotionally unavailable people have the opposite problem — they have trouble communicating their thoughts and feelings. As you probably know, however, communication is everything in a relationship, or should be. “You have difficulty expressing how you feel and, instead, you tell your partner your interpretation of the facts of a situation — you think and don’t feel,” Dr. Castaños says.
GinaMarie Guarino, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, thinks you may also shut down. “You’re difficult to have a conversation with,” she tells Bustle. In addition, if you’re emotionally unavailable, you may be the master of throwing emotional curveballs, Dr. Bates-Duford says. “You may hint at the possibility of connecting on a deeper level and professing love, but then withdrawing.”
10. You Don’t Hold Yourself Accountable
Amie Leadingham, Amie the Dating Coach, Master Certified Relationship Coach, feels that a lack of accountability and vulnerability are signs that you are not emotionally available. “You are not willing to share your true feelings,” she tells Bustle. “Instead, as a self-defense mechanism, you deflect by blaming your partner.”
Similarly, you also get defensive easily. “An example of this is when you get irritated by your partner’s feelings or any expression of their need to connect with you,” Dr. Castaños says.
11. You Don’t Accept Your Partner’s Caring Behaviors
When you have trouble accepting your partner’s loving and caring behaviors, it could be because you’re emotionally unavailable, Dr. Castaños says. “For example, if you feel sick and they offer tea or medicine, you reject them, saying you will do it on your own.”
12. You’re Not Escalating The Relationship
While avoiding talk about you and your partner’s future may be one sign of emotional unavailability, so, too, is not escalating the relationship. “In a healthy relationship, there’s forward movement and momentum,” Weiner says. “First dates lead to second dates, which lead to weekly dates, frequent texts/calls and, eventually, exclusivity.” However, when someone is not emotionally available, they remain in the early stage of dating. “You’ll throw a few crumbs here and there to keep someone hooked, but you’ll never move into anything resembling a relationship.”
13. You Make Issues All About You, Not Them
Emotionally unavailable people tend to make situations about themselves, not their partners, Dr. Castaños says. “If they were to share a feeling, it becomes about you and your feelings or experience — you cannot see your partner’s feelings or experience.”
Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, agrees. “It’s OK for you to think about yourself, and it is even OK for you to put yourself first sometimes — but if you are in a long-term relationship, you need to start making room for your partner,” he says. “Emotions can be the determining factor in whether you both sink or swim, and being emotionally self-centered causes you to miss out on a lot of what makes a couple what it is — a couple.”
14. You Threaten To Flee When Conflicts Come Up
If you prefer “flight” to “fight” when relationship issues come up, you may not be emotionally available. “You threaten to break up every time a conflict arises,” Dr. Bates-Duford says. “Similarly, you do not communicate well, often perceiving a difference of opinion as a fight or conflict.”
15. You Avoid Attending Emotionally-Charged Situations With Your Partner
When you share your life with another person, you attend a lot of events together. However, if you’re not emotionally available, you tend to avoid those events, or at least want to avoid them. “If you’re withdrawn from your partner, you dread emotionally fueled situations, like holidays, family gatherings, etc.,” Guarino says.
16. You Say You’re Not Good At Relationships
Just like your actions may show that you’re not emotionally available, your words may show it, too. “You may give it away during the early dating stages by saying things such as, ‘I’m not very good at dating,’ or, ‘I don’t believe in marriage,’” Ponaman says.
Safran agrees. “Do you tell your partner that none of your past relationships were ‘The One,’ but you don’t reveal any clear-cut reasons why they didn’t move forward?”
Backe agrees. “Many people have a fear of intimacy and a fear of commitment,” he tells Bustle. “But repeating the same words and phrases, combined with an unwillingness to consider an alternative or work on getting over your fears — that is tantamount to emotional unavailability.”
17. You Cannot Follow Through On Commitments
When you’re in a relationship, your life usually gets intertwined with your partner’s, such as attending each other’s events with friends, family, and coworkers. However, if you’re not emotionally available, you may not be as available for such events. “If you are emotionally unavailable, you will often not follow through on commitments,” Safran says. “Also, you may not include your partner in important events or consider how they feel when it’s not convenient for you. For example, do you promise to spend New Year’s Eve with your partner, but then say you have to be with your parents?”
Ponaman agrees. “You’re unreliable — you may cancel on your partner at the last minute, or tell them you’ll do something for them, then forget or change your mind,” she says. “Unwillingness to support them is the unwillingness to be connected on that emotional level.”
18. You Focus More On Your Sexual Relationship Than Your Emotional One
Another sign you’re emotionally unavailable is if you make your sex life with your partner a bigger priority than your emotional one. For instance, do you often initiate sex when you should be having an important conversation with your partner instead? “If you are focusing on sex more than sharing feelings and needs, it’s another indicator that you may be emotionally unavailable,” Weiner says.
19. You *Don’t* Focus On Sex
As much as you may use sex to replace emotional intimacy, you may also let sex fall by the wayside if you’re not emotionally available. “When you stop wanting sex, you can be sure there’s trouble in paradise,” Dr. Walfish tells Bustle. “The first thing to go in a relationship is talking communication, and the second sure sign of distress is a decrease or disappearance of sex.”
20. You’re Disengaged From Your Partner
Overall, when you’re not emotionally invested in your partner, your actions will prove it. “You’ll spend a long time away from your partner, work long hours, keep secrets, avoid difficult conversations, drink too much, etc.,” Weiner says.
21. Your Partner May Be Emotionally Unavailable
You may realize that you tend to attract the same types of partners again and again, and there’s a reason for it. “If you are emotionally unavailable, that is a sign that you may also be dating someone emotionally unavailable,” Ponaman says. “As we say in coaching, ‘like energy attracts like energy’ — we attract relationships that reflect what is going on within us, at our core.”
As you can see, there are several signs you may be emotionally unavailable — even if you’re in a long-term relationship. But, recognizing that you are is key, and then you can decide how to proceed from there, whether you decide to see a therapist to help you get to the root of your emotional unavailability, end your relationship, or both.