Intimacy and connection are important for maintaining a long-lasting relationship. Without it, your relationship may feel cold and distant. If those are the words you'd use to describe your relationship, experts say, you may be with an
emotionally absent partner.
"Being with an
emotionally unavailable or absent partner can be exquisitely painful, almost like physical pain," Marilee Feldman, licensed clinical professional counselor and founder of Life Counseling Institute, tells Bustle. "On the surface, everything about your relationship can seem great. Your partner may be a really nice person. But they just don't know how to speak the language of emotion or allow it in themselves or others."
That's a pretty big problem, especially when you're in a relationship. In a healthy and truly connected relationship, you should
feel emotionally safe. You should be able to turn to your partner for love and support whenever you need it, and you'll also feel like you can tell them anything without fear of being judged. But when you're with someone who's emotionally absent, you won't always get that.
"Often people who are emotionally unavailable admit they're '
not good in relationships,' aren't ready for a commitment and/or don't stay in relationships long-term," Dr. Catherine Jackson, licensed clinical psychologist and board certified neurotherapist, tells Bustle. "Really listen and hear what the person says before you get too emotionally invested. They will never admit to this directly, but they give huge signs. All you have to do is read between the lines."
So here are some signs you're with an emotionally absent partner, according to experts.
They Don’t Allow Themselves To Be Vulnerable Around You
If your partner never allows themselves to display any vulnerability or need, they may be emotionally absent. According to Christine Scott-Hudson, licensed psychotherapist and owner of
Create Your Life Studio, this type of behavior may stem from past hurt and disappointment. "Perfectionism and isolation may have been their coping skills in order to defend against having any needs that others may not meet," Scott-Hudson says. "Perfectionism can mask needs for closeness and intimacy and help guard against any vulnerability." For them, vulnerability is seen as a weakness. Unfortunately, you need vulnerability in order to have intimacy and form an emotional attachment. A partner who can't be vulnerable around you is also a partner who can't show you their true self.
They Use Humor Or Storytelling To Deflect
"When something requires a heartfelt response, they'll often use humor or story-telling to deflect the seriousness of what’s happening,"
psychotherapist Michelle Farris, tells Bustle. They don't react this way because they're insensitive or bad people. According to Farris, they do this because they usually aren't connected to themselves emotionally. "As a result, it’s difficult for them to acknowledge their own pain," she says. "In a relationship, they don’t recognize other people’s pain and that makes them appear less supportive." It's easier to laugh off a serious topic than deal with the heaviness of it. However, it can make you feel like what you have to say doesn't really matter.
They Shut Down When You Need Emotional Support
When you're with an emotionally absent partner, they won't know how to be there for you when you need them to. "The classic example would be a person who shuts down and becomes less verbal when their partner is experiencing upset feelings," Feldman says. "They might go silent or [...] deny that there's much of a problem, or use logic or reason to get the other to calm down." Of course, whenever you tell someone to "calm down," it usually makes things much worse. It's not that your partner doesn't want to be there for you. They may not know how. So the easiest thing to do for them is to shut down.
When you're in the dating stages, your partner may come on really strong and then pull all the way back right when things are going great. They may tell you they're really into you and can see a future with you, but they just can't commit to anything serious right now. "Most people get caught up in the first part of these messages and gloss over the 'but' part thinking that with enough time and affection this person will want to commit," licensed clinical psychologist,
Dr. Roxy Zarrabi, Psy.D., tells Bustle. But when you're dealing with someone who's emotionally absent, commitment rarely ever happens. Instead, you'll likely be dealing with someone who leaves you hanging a lot.
They're Evasive And Lack Responsibility
Emotionally unavailable people can be really evasive. "It’s hard to get a clear read on them and they're only available when it's convenient for them," Dr. Jackson says. You can text them and ask to see them a million times. But you'll only get a response when and if they're in the mood to talk to you. Basically, they may only acknowledge you when they want to. If you ever call them out on it, they likely won't apologize. According to Dr. Jackson, anything that goes wrong is always someone else's fault. "They never blame themselves or take responsibility for anything that goes wrong including in past relationship," she says.
When you're with someone who can't deal with their emotions in the right way, they can be very hot and cold with you. When they go cold,
Anna Morgenstern, dating and relationship coach, tells Bustle, you may feel like they've checked out of the relationship completely. "They won't want to make future plans and don't seem excited about existing plans," she says. "They will most likely find ways to spend their time without you and will give little information on what they're doing." You'll likely have a feeling that they just don't care about the relationship or you anymore. But just wait. They'll usually turn back up again and repeat the same cycle.
You Always Feel Like You're Chasing After Them
"When a person is emotionally unavailable, you end up chasing them for love rather than experiencing it," Farris says. Nine out of 10 times it will be you initiating conversations and dates. The relationship will feel like a lot of work because you're
the only one putting in any effort. "Keep in mind that people show up as who they are from the start," Farris says. "You just have to be willing to see it."
If you're dealing with an emotionally absent partner, it's important to have realistic expectations. "Being emotionally absent is not a quick fix," Farris says. "Embracing emotions and the related issues often require years of therapy and a willingness to be uncomfortable."
In short, expecting them to change for you isn't realistic. But you can help them meet your needs. For instance, if you want emotional support, Farris suggests being very specific. Let them know that they don't need someone to fix your problems. You just want someone to listen and validate your feelings. Be patient and compassionate, and they may learn over time.
Overall, the important thing to remember here is you can't push someone to open up or be more emotionally available. That's something they need to do on their own. Sometimes being really patient and understanding will pay off, and sometimes it won't. At the end of the day, you just need to be honest with yourself about whether this is the kind of partner and relationship you actually want.