Do you feel like you’re constantly banging your head against the wall trying to get your man to pay attention to you, show his emotions, or acknowledge that you even exist?
Who are these emotionally unavailable men?
Are they really as bad as they’re made out to be?
What are the signs of an emotionally unavailable man?
And what should you do if you are struggling with a partner who is emotionally unavailable?
In this post, you’ll get concrete advice on where emotionally unavailability comes from, the signs of an emotionally unavailable man, and why you seem to continually attract partners who are emotionally unavailable.
Discover how to make your relationship work if your partner struggles with emotional unavailability and understand how to create a relationship that is truly secure so you can get on with the rest of your life!
For over 12 years, I’ve been a Licensed Professional Counselor and relationship expert in private practice. My practice is grounded in the science of what makes relationships work.
If you’re with an emotionally unavailable man, it’s time to get the tools you need to create the contact and closeness you crave. Understand the way your man’s brain is wired and how to break through emotional unavailability using simple but powerful techniques that will get your man to turn toward you instead of away.
You’ll get a specific action plan that you can put into practice today to connect with your emotionally unavailable man and learn what it means to be truly emotionally available.
- Emotional Unavailability Causes Pain and Loneliness in Relationships
- Emotional Availability and Felt Security
- Being Available To Each Other Makes You More Independent
- Emotional Availability and Unavailability: What’s the Difference?
- Childhood Stress Leads to Emotional Unavailability in Adulthood
- What Does It Take To Be Emotionally Available?
- How To Talk To An Emotionally-Unavailable Partner
- What If Your Partner Isn’t Interested In Becoming Emotionally Available?
- Why Do I Keep Attracting Emotionally-Unavailable Men?
- He Didn’t Used To Be Emotionally Unavailable. What Happened?
- Relationship Blueprints
- Why Does My Relationship Feel Like a Roller Coaster?
- Why Does My Partner Keep Me At Arm’s Length?
- Real Love Is Not a Roller-Coaster
- What a Secure Relationship Feels Like
- Break the Cycle of Worry and Frustration
- How To Work with An Emotionally-Unavailable Man
- How Emotionally-Unavailable Men Are Wired
- Auto-Regulation and The Need for Personal Space
- The Early Childhood Roots of Alone Time
- Shifting From Aloneness to Togetherness Can Be Hard For Your Man
- Re-Connect With Your Emotionally-Unavailable Man
- Reverse the Pursuer-Distancer Dynamic
- Cue Your Partner
- Give Your Man Time to Transition From Aloneness to Togetherness
- Restore Emotional Connection
Emotional Unavailability Causes Pain and Loneliness in Relationships
Emotional unavailability in a partner can wreak havoc in a long-term committed intimate relationship. Although emotional unavailability can affect both men and women, having a male partner who is emotionally unavailable is one of the most common complaints of female partners.
If your husband is emotionally unavailable, you might be feeling like the two of you handle the logistical aspects of your life just fine: You’re nice to each other; You can manage your money, parent your kids, and maintain a home.
But deep down you personally may be feeling lonely and neglected.
You and your partner just don’t seem to connect on anything deeper than the surface level of life. You may be feeling like you’re single even though you share a house and a bed with this person.
On the other hand, maybe you’ve been in relationships with men who are emotionally unavailable and you want to make sure that you avoid attracting an emotionally-unavailable man in the future.
Regardless of your unique circumstances, it’s important that you understand something about the exact nature of emotional unavailability so you can recognize what you might be dealing with.
Emotional Availability and Felt Security
According to research on what makes marriages successful, in order for relationships to be satisfying and enduring, they must be based on a sense of what is termed felt security. To create this felt sense of security both partners need to feel that their partner is emotionally available to them.
This means that each partner is sensitive and responsive to the emotional needs of the other. It means that each partner is there when either one is feeling insecure, lonely, in pain, or demoralized.
In a secure relationship, both partners accept that the other partner is dependent on them.
You rely on each other for support, warmth, and affection. Partners in this type of relationship take an active position with each other which means they practice the following:
- Checking in with each other.
- Tracking what’s going on with each other’s moods.
- Paying attention to how the other person is feeling and what they’re thinking about.
These partners don’t wait for the other partner to come to them and tell them when they’re in pain or they have some kind of a problem. They are checking in with each other all the time. Partners in secure relationships provide comfort to each other when things aren’t going the other person’s way. They respond to each other with sensitivity when they’re in distress.
Being Available To Each Other Makes You More Independent
What else does it mean to be emotionally available to your partner?
It means that you are available to each other 24/7 when one of you is in need.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “24/7?! You mean my partner can just bug me at any time of day or night?! Whoa, wait a minute! That sounds like way too much. What about when I’m at work or I’m asleep?”
Well, think about that for a second. I’m not talking about interrupting each other all day long for any reason at all. I’m talking about when one of you really needs something.
You both need to feel that you can go to each other anytime. The gist of it is that if you get into trouble, you need to know that your partner is there for you and vice versa! When you know that your partner is there for you whenever you need them, it allows you to weather the storms of life. You know you can go to them for reassurance, warmth, and support anytime.
Here’s the amazing thing:
Studies show that knowing that you can reach out to your partner whenever you really need them has the paradoxical effect of making you feel calmer, more resourced, and more able to function on your own.
In short, knowing that you and your partner can rely on each other whenever you need to makes both of you feel much more independent and able to cope with the stresses of life.
Emotional Availability and Unavailability: What’s the Difference?
What’s the difference between partners behaving in an emotionally available way versus being emotionally unavailable? There are three key differences:
- Distance vs Closeness: Emotionally-unavailable partners like to maintain a certain amount of distance between you and them, both physically and emotionally. Emotionally available partners on the other hand, are not bothered by being alone, but they much prefer to be in your company and connected to you.
- Keeping the Relationship Status Unclear: Emotionally-unavailable partners like to leave your relationship status up in the air. Are they committed to only you? Are they wanting to continue dating other people? Are they comfortable dating for years and years…and never committing to marriage? If you are still unsure about your partner’s answers to all of these questions, they may be keeping your relationship status intentionally unclear.
- Blaming You For Having Emotional Needs: Emotionally-unavailable partners may devalue you, attacking you and do or say hurtful things. They may also have the attitude that it isn’t really their responsibility to understand you, your moods, or to be there to help you. They don’t seem to pick up on your signals of distress or your bids for contact and attention. And they don’t tend to make very many of those bids for connection themselves.
As we will see, all of these destructive behaviors are actually ways of preventing you from getting too close to them, since real intimacy is what they fear the most.
Now let’s take a look at how emotional unavailability gets started. Having this understanding can help you deal with it better when you encounter it.
Childhood Stress Leads to Emotional Unavailability in Adulthood
Remember in some of my earlier posts, I talked about insecure family systems?
These are families in which parents behave toward their children in ways that are unfair and insensitive. Parents tend to put their own needs ahead of those of their kids. These parents prioritize other things over their relationships with their children. The lack of parental availability, responsiveness and sensitivity can help account for why children growing up in such a family are likely to develop emotional unavailability. In fact, emotional unavailability is a good strategy to adopt when you grow up in a family like that.
When parents are themselves emotionally unavailable to their children, this makes children feel that no one is there for them when they really need affection and emotional support. These children need to find ways of protecting themselves from the pain this causes them.
In insecure families, parents can often be manipulative. They know how to get what they want without taking care of the needs of anybody but themselves. Alternately, parents might have often emotionally overwhelmed and unable to attend to the needs of their children.
But the most common kind of insecure family that produces emotional unavailability is a low-contact family. These are families in which children don’t get a lot of close contact with a parent or primary caregiver. They may have been neglected or left alone a lot and been expected to take care of themselves much earlier than would have been developmentally appropriate.
In these types of families, there’s very little direct face-to-face, eye-to-eye contact and touch from a parent. These close interactions between parent and child are what develop the child’s right brain, the part of the brain that’s responsible for the ability to be emotionally available.
What Does It Take To Be Emotionally Available?
The term emotional availability is actually a catch-all term that includes a lot of different capacities.
- The ability to feel your feelings.
- The ability to feel your body because that’s where you experience feelings.
- The ability to read another person’s feelings and respond to their emotional signals.
What’s the connection between being able to feel your own feelings and being able to feel the feelings of someone else?
An emotionally available partner can perceive distress on their partner’s face and in their body language. When an emotionally available partner picks up on this, something stirs in them that doesn’t feel good. It’s as though their body is resonating with their partner’s distress.
Those bodily sensations tell that person “You need to do something about that. That person’s in trouble. If I were feeling like that, I’d want somebody to be nice to me.”
The emotionally available partner can feel what their distressed partner is feeling in their own body.
By contrast, the emotionally-unavailable partner is often shut off from their feelings and body sensations, which can make it difficult to pick up their partner’s distress signals.
I’m describing the process that evokes empathy, concern, and compassion for another person’s pain. It’s important to recognize that emotionally-unavailable adults almost always grew up in families in which their empathy, concern, and compassion were not given a chance to develop. The only way you develop these qualities is because an important adult early in your development treated you with empathy, concern, and compassion. If you’ve never had an experience of someone treating you that way, it’s not going to be easy for you to develop those qualities yourself.
How To Talk To An Emotionally-Unavailable Partner
What if you’re in a relationship with a man who lacks the emotional availability that I’ve been describing?
The first order of business is for you and your partner to sit down and have a conversation about the kind of relationship that you both want to have.
Here are some questions you can ask yourselves (together):
- Do you think that you should be emotionally available to each other whenever one of you needs the other one?
- Should you share everything of importance with each other?
- Should you be sensitive and responsive to each other?
- Should you do what feels sensitive and responsive to your partner even if it’s different from what would feel sensitive and responsive to you?
- Is it your job as partners to respond to each other’s distress?
Maybe one or both of you answer “no” to one or more of these questions. Maybe one of you believes that it’s everyone for themselves. If the two of you answer these questions differently, then you have a big problem!
What If Your Partner Isn’t Interested In Becoming Emotionally Available?
If you and your partner answer the above questions differently, this may be the elephant on the dining room table of your relationship! Realize that you and your partner are looking for two fundamentally different kinds of relationship. And the only way that your relationship can possibly work is if one of you is willing to cave-which is never a good idea.
You might be in a relationship with an emotionally-unavailable man who’s been that way their whole life. They may not think that there’s any problem with that. They’re just not willing to change and they’re not going to give you what you want and need.
What does this mean for you? If you intend to stay in a relationship like that, understand that it’s not going to provide you with the same sense of safety and security that you would get in a relationship where both people are on the same page about being emotionally available to each other.
This is a difficult situation. But ultimately, it’s important that you are clear on the kind of relationship you want. Be willing to stand firm even if that means the end of your relationship.
Talking about the kind of relationship you want to have isn’t only necessary for partners who are well into their relationship. It’s also important that you have a conversation up front with potential partners about the kind of relationship that you’re looking for. That way you can weed out the men who are not interested in the same thing you are.
Why Do I Keep Attracting Emotionally-Unavailable Men?
We’ve talked about how emotional unavailability gets started in early childhood. We’ve also talked about a strategy that you can use to decide if your relationship with an emotionally-unavailable man has the possibility of working out or not. Now, we’re going to talk about why you continue to attract emotionally unavailable men and how to avoid getting into relationships with them- if that’s not something you want to do.
What I hear from a lot of women is, “Why do I continue to be attracted to emotionally-unavailable men? I love contact. I’m a person who loves being in relationships. I’m a big hugger. I’m super-expressive. I love talking about my thoughts and feelings and hearing about the thoughts and feelings of others. So, why do I keep attracting people who seem to not want much contact- and not even be capable of being emotionally available?”
He Didn’t Used To Be Emotionally Unavailable. What Happened?
You might not really be able to tell very easily when you first get into a relationship with someone how emotionally available they really are. That’s because in the beginning of a relationship, everything is fresh, new and exciting. Your typical patterns of relating don’t tend to reveal themselves until later on in the relationship.
You just don’t know each other well enough yet.
In the early stages of a relationship, people who are emotionally unavailable can relate in ways that are actually very warm and engaging.
They can seem very interested in you: They’re good listeners and even seem good at sharing about their own lives. In the beginning of a relationship, all of us can do things that are often much more difficult to do at later stages of the relationship once the relationship deepens.
Emotionally-unavailable men can come across as very powerful, strong, and confident in the beginning. They can have a lot of magnetism and allure which can make women feel very attracted to them.
In earlier posts, I’ve talked a lot about attachment theory, which explains how human beings are hard-wired to bond with other human beings in order to survive. Children will organize their behavior into predictable patterns in order to maximize the availability and responsivity of their parent. These behavior patterns are called attachment styles. An attachment style can be either secure or insecure.
With secure attachment, the child learns that they can go to a parent when they are in need and be nurtured with warmth and distress relief. This attuned response from the parent creates a safe, trusting relationship for that child.
With insecure attachment, the child’s needs for security and affection go unmet, creating a relationship based on distrust and uncertainty. You carry these early relationship blueprints into adulthood and they inform how you behave in your intimate relationships.
I’ve previously discussed the two main styles of insecure attachment: the avoidant attachment style and the anxious or ambivalent attachment style.
Why Does My Relationship Feel Like a Roller Coaster?
Emotional unavailability is primarily associated with avoidant attachment.
If you’re the partner of an avoidant, you might find that you get very confusing messages from your partner. They may not call for many days, or perhaps they drop hints that they’re still dating other people. At other times, they’re affectionate and sweet with you. So you really don’t know what to expect. It’s that kind of unpredictability that perpetuates the experience of an emotional roller coaster.
You may be wondering why you seem to continually end up on relationship roller coasters.
Women who are attracted to avoidant men often have an ambivalent attachment style. Children who develop ambivalent attachment experience inconsistent caregiving early in life. This means that sometimes a parent was there for them- and sometimes they weren’t. The parent may have been emotionally overwhelmed or preoccupied with their own problems. Inconsistent parenting created insecurity in the child who feels that they cannot rely on anyone to have their back.
Children with ambivalent attachment are often used to experiencing a roller coaster of emotions: Sometimes they feel very close to a parent but when the parent withdraws their affection or gets angry with the child, the child feels like the rug is being pulled out from under them. This leaves them feeling abandoned and alone.
This emotional roller coaster that ambivalents are accustomed to explains why they tend to be attracted to avoidants, who are often emotionally unavailable.
It’s easy for an ambivalently attached person to get drawn into a relationship in which they sometimes feel like they’re the center of attention of their partner, and other times, they don’t hear from their partner for days.
Remember that we pick our partner based on familiarity, meaning based on what our brain recognizes from our early experiences with our caregivers when we were very little.
Why Does My Partner Keep Me At Arm’s Length?
When your partner won’t commit, won’t say “I love you,” and prefers to keep your relationship status kind of foggy, all of these things keep you focused on being afraid that the relationship is going to end. And that prevents you from really being clear with what it is that you need in order to be happy.
All of those behaviors make you afraid that the relationship is going to end. All of your energy goes into doing whatever it is that you think you need to do in order to keep your partner’s attention. This constant struggle for your partner’s attention prevents you from settling and moving into deeper stages of commitment.
For instance, maybe you notice that your partner really doesn’t want to stay in contact in between dates and you just go along with that because you don’t want to bother them.
Maybe you’re afraid that you’re going to come across as too needy or too demanding so you act less interested in them than you really are. After all, they’re giving you the message that they’re sort of on the fence about whether they really want a relationship or not, so you don’t want to force the issue.
You find yourself essentially playing by their rules because, deep down, you’re afraid that if you assert what you want in the relationship — it’s just going to drive them away.
They’re already pretty emotionally unavailable.
You might be thinking that if you can just lay off and not be too much for them, they’re going to come around. They’re going to realize that you really do care for them, and they’re going to want to be with you.
Real Love Is Not a Roller-Coaster
But I have news for you: Quality relationships just don’t work that way.
If you teach your partner right from the beginning that the relationship should be based on what they feel comfortable with, you’re never going to get the kind of relationship that you really want.
Ambivalently-attached children learn very early that they have to take care of the feelings of at least one parent or primary caregiver. That early history is what accounts for this tendency that you may have to hang on every word of your partner or want to meet their every need.
As a child, in order to maintain a relationship with your parent, you had to be very good at taking care of what your parent wanted from you.
Here’s what you need to realize:
You’re mixing up the experience of being in love with the anxious attachment you had with your parent…where you don’t know if you’re going to be close to the person or feel totally cut off.
After all, being in love and being anxiously attached are kind of similar feelings in a certain way.
In the beginning of a relationship, you are pining for the person, you can’t wait for the next time you’re going to see them, you want to please them and come off as an attractive partner to them. While that might be normal in the beginning of a relationship, it’s not sustainable in in the long term.
If you’re feeling insecure, preoccupied, and worried about this person, and you only sometimes feel happy with them; If you only occasionally feel like you experience their affection, warmth, and connection, this is not the stuff of a long-term relationship!
It’s a sign that your attachment system is over-activated.
You’re simply reliving the same kind of anxiety over the fear of loss of connection that you experienced when you were a child.
This could be a very difficult realization for you. You might not have heard what I’m talking about before, but I’m trying to give you some straight-up relationship advice:
If this sounds like you, it’s time to realize that being in a secure relationship feels nothing like this.
What a Secure Relationship Feels Like
Secure relationships feel much calmer and devoid of anxious thinking, like:
- “Does he want me?”
- “Does he not want me?”
- “Am I too much for him?”
- “Am I overwhelming him?”
All of those questions fall by the wayside when you’re with someone who understands you and is willing to move toward you to help you feel safe and secure with them.
Emotional availability, as we talked about earlier in this post, means that both partners respond to each other with sensitivity. They understand what helps the other person feel safe and relaxed, and they do those things for each other every day.
Ambivalently-attached people often don’t recognize when they’re with a secure partner because the relationship feels kind of boring to them.
Because they’re used to the push/pull and the up and down.
Ambivalently attached partners might describe their relationships thus: “We’re together…and then we have passionate arguments and great sex…and then we drop each other…and we break up…and we get back together again…and start the cycle all over again.”
You’re so used to associating love with this kind of radical emotionality and instability, that when you actually connect with a secure partner, it kind of feels boring.
But understand that being in that sort of roller coaster of emotion over time is completely untenable. The roller coaster activates your stress response system and it’s going to burn you out your immune, endocrine and nervous systems. You’re not going to be able to sustain that kind of intensity and distress!
Break the Cycle of Worry and Frustration
As you mature and you start to think about your long-term direction, your career, and your family, you have to realize that you need a certain level of stability, reliability and trustworthiness that you can build the rest of your life on. That means that you shouldn’t have to worry-even for one second of one day-about whether you and your partner are going to stay together or not.
Just think of all of the energy and resources you would save if you didn’t have to worry about that anymore. You could be devoting all of that energy to so many worthwhile pursuits and realizing your full potential.
The emotionally available man is someone who is curious and interested in you, who pays attention to what’s happening with you, and who follows up on things that you’ve talked to them about.
He notices when you’re in distress and actually does something to help you feel better.
Those types of behaviors are actually visible in a relationship right from the very beginning. When you start to feel that kind of moment-to-moment responsiveness, your nervous system can relax. This relaxation may be an unfamiliar experience to you if you’re used to feeling so hyper-activated all the time.
Once you let yourself settle into it, you can actually start to experience a much more enduring kind of love that is the kind of love that you can build a future on.
In order to break this cycle, you need to ask yourself some tough questions:
- Do you recognize yourself getting caught up in relationships where you can’t rely on the other person to really step in completely with you?
- Do you see this happening with your friends?
- If you tend to end up in these types of unstable relationships, what would it be like if you made stability, dependability, and emotional availability your top priorities in creating a relationship that lasts?
How To Work with An Emotionally-Unavailable Man
Some of you may already be in relationships with emotionally-unavailable me and wondering if it’s possible to make it work.
Let’s dig in and talk about how to work with your emotionally-unavailable man to help him become more emotionally available. I’m going to give you some concrete strategies you can use that can turn the tide for the better.
I’ve already covered what the signs of emotional unavailability are and why it’s a problem in relationships- and where it all gets started. I’ve also explained why you might find yourself attracted to emotionally-unavailable men and the signs you can look for that tell you if someone’s emotionally unavailable.
Now, we’re going to talk about how you and your partner can work together to create more emotional availability. If these techniques are going to work, you need to make sure that you have one thing straight:
Your emotionally-unavailable partner needs to understand that this is a problem — and they need to want to work on it.
If they understand that this is distressing you but they have no interest in working on it, that’s a deal-breaker for your relationship.
It’s essentially the same thing as saying, “Honey, I know you’re in distress about this but I really don’t care.”
So long as that’s your man’s attitude, your relationship can’t change, because contrary to popular belief, relationships take two to tango.
But if your partner understands that their behavior is a problem and they’re self-aware enough to know, “Yes, this is something that I do. I’m emotionally unavailable and it’s creating problems in my marriage and that’s my responsibility to do something about it,” then it’s possible for the two of you to work it out.
How Emotionally-Unavailable Men Are Wired
In order to understand how to work with emotional unavailability, we need to take a quick look at the human nervous system. This is going to give you tons of insight into your emotionally-unavailable man and understand exactly what you need to do to make this situation better. The material in this portion of the post is adapted from two books by Dr. Stan Tatkin, Wired for Love and We Do.
Your nervous system’s energy moves up and down throughout the day.
You experience exciting energetic states, like if you’re going for a job interview or making a big presentation, as well as calmer, more relaxing states, like if you’re lying in the bathtub or have just finished a big meal.
In order for you to stay in balance, you need to have ways of managing that flow of energy through your nervous system. If you get too excited for too long, that could be a problem. But if you get too flat or devoid of energy, that can also be a problem.
Without even thinking about it, you have strategies for trying to keep your energy in a range that allows you to function optimally.
Some people tend to use their relationships more to balance their energy. We all know people who love to be around other people all the time and they thrive on interpersonal connection. If they’re feeling a little bit glum, they reach out to a friend and have a conversation which lifts them up.
Other people turn inside to manage their energy, instead of to the outside world or to their relationships. These people absolutely need their alone time. They tend to engage in solo activities like surfing the web, going for a bike ride, listening to music, or reading a book. Any kind of activity that’s done alone.
People who turn inward to manage their energy might say they have a preference for alone time but, really, it’s much more than that.
The truth is that people who prefer alone time really need alone time in order to be able to manage their energy. They actually experience quite a lot of stress in interpersonal relationships. Relating is not a way that they calm down.
On the contrary, they actually feel like relationships use up a lot of their energy.
In fact, interpersonal relationships do use more energy than doing things by yourself because it actually takes a lot of your brain’s resources in order to engage in an interaction with another person.
Auto-Regulation and The Need for Personal Space
There’s a certain kind of nervous system state that those who need their alone time like to hang out in.
It’s called “auto-regulation.”
Auto-regulation is what accounts for the tendency of certain people to self-soothe and self-stimulate. It means relying on yourself to boost yourself up or calming yourself down instead of relying on another individual for these functions.
Auto-regulators report a strong need for “personal space” and they are very sensitive to this personal space being invaded.
So here is the key thing you ned to know:
Most emotionally-unavailable men make use of auto-regulation as their primary strategy for managing their energy.
That means that when they’re under stress, when they’re feeling imbalanced, when they’re too hyper or they’re too low, they’re not likely to reach out to another person in order to create a sense of peace and balance. They’re likely to turn away from other people and go inside. And because of their nervous system’s reliance on auto-regulation as an energy management strategy, it can make them very unavailable.
The Early Childhood Roots of Alone Time
If you’re in relationship with an auto-regulator, it can be extremely frustrating, especially if you’re the kind of person who naturally moves toward others when you’re under stress.
But you need to understand that auto-regulation is not something they do on purpose. It is something your emotionally-unavailable man learned in early childhood. Auto-regulation is a strategy that children have to develop when they spend a lot of time alone.
As children, our nervous systems are meant to develop in relation to another person. We learn how to interact, how to use another person in order to calm down. This occurs when we are either held by a parent, or when they say kind words to us, touch us, or gaze into our eyes in a warm and loving way.
All of these experiences teach us how to relate to another person in an interactive way in order to balance our energy. But when children spend too much time alone and do not receive sufficient contact from their parents, they don’t learn how to calm down or how to get excited in relation to another person.
They have to perform those functions for themselves-far too early in life.
On a certain level, your emotionally-unavailable man isn’t thinking, “How can I withhold all of my affection from my partner?” It’s just that their nervous system was hardwired as early as 18 months old to manage their energy in a particular way. It’s just what they learned to do.
They find their balance alone and this is what feels normal to them. It makes a lot of sense that they don’t understand your need for interpersonal regulation because that’s not a need they experience themselves. It’s very difficult for them to understand why you would feel the need for so much contact.
Auto-regulation isn’t a state that somebody decides they’re going to do. It’s not like they say, “I’m going to auto-regulate now. I’m going to go into my little bubble and start pumping myself up or relaxing myself.”
It’s more like a state that people just naturally fall into when they’re alone.
Shifting From Aloneness to Togetherness Can Be Hard For Your Man
With your emotionally-unavailable man, you might find that when you leave them on the computer for even a few minutes at a time, it’s very difficult for you to re-establish contact with them.
They’ve gone into their personal bubble, and now you want to talk to them. It’s very hard for them to make that transition out of their alone state and back into an interactive state with you.
In fact, a lot of emotionally-unavailable men have so much difficulty going from being alone to being with their partner that they just don’t do it. It’s very difficult for partners of emotionally-unavailable men to get them to engage at all because it’s such a hard transition. Going from being in their personal space to being in an interactive space with you represents a huge nervous system transition for them.
Women in relationship with emotionally-unavailable men often quickly learn that it’s just not worth disrupting their partners because it creates so much heartache. These women don’t end up getting the kind of contact that they want anyway.
So, if you’re one of these women, what do you do? What if you really love this guy?
There really are wonderful moments to the relationship and more contact would make all the difference to you.
Re-Connect With Your Emotionally-Unavailable Man
First of all, it’s important to understand that many people who have a tendency to fall into auto-regulation can become extremely engaged, extremely interactive, sensitive, and responsive when they manage to get over that hump of going from being alone to being with another person.
You might have noticed that your emotionally-unavailable man comes home from work and seems like he’s in his own world. But, gradually, as the two of you get closer over the course of the evening, something starts to change. He starts to soften, open up, and seem much more present and available.
Obviously, you’d like this to happen more quickly and more predictably.
So, here’s what you need to do: First, talk about it.
Have a conversation with your partner and make sure they understand that their emotional unavailability is a problem for you. Confirm that they are willing to do something about it.
Make sure that they understand that they need to take responsibility for making a concerted effort to reach out to you. Reassure them that you will help them with this in a loving way. Help them understand that the more power they have to create the connection that feels good to them, the easier it’s going to be to prevent them from feeling intruded upon, or like they just aren’t doing it right.
Reverse the Pursuer-Distancer Dynamic
The precise thing that will make this transition from aloneness to togetherness better for your partner is if they are the one who walks over to you, who hugs you, who kisses you, who rubs you.
All of these things give your emotionally-unavailable partner a sense of power in the relationship. These actions will give them a sense of taking the bull by the horns and being the active partner.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that that’s not usually the way it goes. You’re the one who’s usually running after them. This is the classic pursuer-distancer dynamic: The woman really feels the need for emotional connection and is pursuing the man…and the man withdraws.
Reverse this dynamic and encourage your partner to move toward you.
Reversing the pursuer-distancer dynamic will give them a sense of agency and control in the relationship. They’re used to feeling that they’re always being pursued. They lack any sense of power in the relationship.
It’s time to start cueing your partner to interact with you in a way that feels good to them. It all boils down to this: When they’re in their auto-regulatory state and you come to them and want contact, it feels like an intrusion to them.
From their perspective, they’re enjoying their trance-like state just being alone when suddenly, you are interrupting them with your wants and needs. That’s going to make them freeze and feel very resentful.
So, rather than do that, get them to move toward you.
They have to be the mover and the shaker. That means they’re the ones who need to start actively moving toward you. This will allow them to engage with you in a way that feels good to them.
Cue Your Partner
It’s important that you start cueing your emotionally-unavailable man to get him to do the things that are going to create the interaction that you want.
That means saying things like:
- “Come here, sweetheart.”
- “Put your arms around me.”
- “Kiss me.”
- “Tell me you love me.”
Give them some short, non-critical directives that tell them exactly what to do.
Here is the great thing about this approach: They will be very, very grateful for this.
Contrary to what you might believe, getting short directives from you is going to feel good to them. It’s going to relieve them of the feeling that they’re not sure how they’re supposed to be acting in their relationship with you.
What you probably don’t know is that your emotionally-unavailable man may often feel clueless about how they’re supposed to be with you. Remember that they came from a family that was not very affectionate. They didn’t see people sharing feelings or creating moments of emotional connection.
Your direction is going to feel very clarifying to them.
You’re telling them to do a finite action, like, “Kiss me,” or, “Hug me.” It’s a discrete action that has a beginning, middle, and end. And that’s going to give them a sense that the interaction isn’t going to last forever. That way, they will not worry about being smothered or invaded.
Remember that the fear of invasion began before they even met you.
Give Your Man Time to Transition From Aloneness to Togetherness
It’s important that you and your partner are both consciously aware of the fact that going from being alone to being together is difficult for your man who struggles with emotional unavailability.
Don’t let that create a problem or an obstacle to the two of you being close.
Make sure that you’re giving your man transition time between being on their own to being with you.
Let’s say, they’re in their home office on the computer and you want to talk to them in the kitchen about something to do with the house. Don’t come into their office and say, “I need to talk to you right now about the house, so please get up and come in here. I need to talk to you.”
That’s going to feel like an invasion of their personal space. What works much better is to say, “Hey, honey, can you come into the kitchen in about 5 or 10 minutes so I can talk to you about the house? Would that work for you?”
Make sure they agree to that and then just walk away. Let them come to you.
That gives them some transition time, some time to prepare for moving out of personal space and into an interactive space. And it allows them to be the moving partner.
The more your emotionally-unavailable man has a sense of power over their own actions-and specifically their own actions in relation to you-the more collaborative they’re going to be.
They’re going to start to feel like their needs matter, too.
Maybe they’re watching the game and you come up to them and say, “You know, Honey, when the game’s over, just come and find me. I’d love to see you.” It could be that simple.
In all of these strategies, we’re trying to avoid producing an experience of intrusion or making your emotionally-unavailable partner feel a sense of shame for their actions. Avoid any kind of criticism or putting them on the spot. When you open up a space for them to move toward you, it allows them to relax and engage with you in an interactive and intimate kind of way, in a way that doesn’t feel too jarring to their nervous system.
Restore Emotional Connection
When your partner feels a sense of power and control over their ability to move towards you and engage interactively with you in a loving way, that’s going to lay the foundation for emotional availability on a more ongoing basis. This consistency will give you and your partner more emotional stability and a sense of ongoing connection in your relationship.
The more you experience a sense of emotional depth and connection with each other, the easier it will become for you to engage on that level. Your nervous systems will actually build their capacity for interaction. If your man is open to the steps described in this post, there’s a really good chance it’s going to work.
Now, I’d like to hear from you.
If you’re currently in a relationship with an emotionally-unavailable man, what’s the first step you can take to turn the tide on emotional unavailability? Here are the action steps we talked about in this post:
- Broach the subject: Have a conversation with your partner and express your feelings about their emotional unavailability. What kind of relationship do the two of you want to have? If you both agree that you should be emotionally available to each other, your partner should take your concerns seriously and be willing to practice moving toward you. If they don’t agree to this kind of relationship, you’ve got a serious problem on your hands. It might be time to end it.
- Cue Your Partner: Give your partner short directives like, “Kiss me,” or “Hug me,” that tell them exactly what to do to create a sense of emotional connection with you.
- Provide transition time from being alone to being together: When you want to interact with your partner, approach them and let them know that you’d like to talk to them. Then walk away and let them come to you. Giving them some transition time will provide a sense of power and control over their actions in the relationship.
If you are not currently in a relationship, but have struggled in relationships with emotionally-unavailable men in the past, what would your life be like if you were in relationship with a partner who was truly emotionally available?
Are you willing to stand your ground in the dating process to make sure you get what you deserve?
If you like the relationship tips and marriage advice you’re learning here, please, make sure to watch the videos that go with this post on my YouTube channel. Please like the videos and share them. And you can check out my book The Power Couple Formula for lots more information about how to build an amazing relationship
I look forward to reading your comments and to seeing you in the next videos!
This is the most helpful article I’ve read regarding emotional unavailability. It really goes into the core of the problem, with a focus on the struggle that someone feels when they have an emotionally unavailable partner. Thanks, a lot!
You are welcome! Your feedback is very meaningful to me.
Second that! Written beautifully and with a great description of actions to be taken from both partners. Thanks so much.
This is such an informative and great article about how to deal with an emotional unavailable man. I now understand well the reason why emotionally unavailable men are terrible at making a plan. I have a question regarding “Cue Your Partner. Give your partner short directives like, “Kiss me,” or “Hug me,” that tell them exactly what to do to create a sense of emotional connection with you.” What is the best way to make a plan with an emotional unavailable man while giving him a short directive?
Great question! To make a plan for emotional availability, it’s important to first sit down with your partner and have a conversation about the kind of relationship you want to have. Should you be emotionally available to each other anytime of day or night? The research suggests that couples who experience consistent emotional availability from one another experience satisfying enduring intimate relationships. The two of you can make a plan for what to do when you are feeling emotionally disconnected, such as using the cueing technique I spoke of in this post. That way it will not feel like you are coming out of left field when you cue your partner, because you will have already discussed and agreed to it!
I’m really grateful for this article! It gave me the exact information I was looking for.
I have 2 questions:
My boyfriend (27 yrs) and I broke up for the 2nd time. I’m his first partner ever and every time he breaks up I let him go but he keeps coming back. In our (4 yrs) relationship I did almost all your advises in your article but he never opened up. It came to a point where I demanded that he took responsibility for his actions. That’s when he breaks up with me.
This time that he’s back. I stood my ground and told him what I wanted in order for us to get back together and if he’s not capable of empathy and responsibility, he can leave and find someone else who can put up with it. He started to open up and it seems like he’s willing to change.
My question is why does he still come back and now that he’s started to open up, how do I tell that he’s not emotionally manipulating me?
I am really glad that this article was helpful to you! In order to create a new kind of relationship with your boyfriend, the two of you would need to realize that the relationship you created in the past was emotionally unsafe. You will need to agree to create a different kind of relationship now if you are to succeed. Couples do best when they base their relationship on safety and security. Part of doing that, especially when you have hurt each other in the past, is to agree as a couple that you can seek reassurance from each other-anytime of the day or night-that you have each other’s back and you are not going to manipulate each other or treat each other badly as you have in the past. If your boyfriend is not open to you seeking this reassurance from him whenever you need it, then he does not understand the scope of the insecurity he has created and is not demonstrating responsibility for his part of the problem. In which case it may be time for you to end the relationship rather than waiting for him to do it!
Thank you for this article it really hits spots on!
What I wanted to ask regarding the “Cue” strategy is how to we approach him and what to say if he doesn’t want to do it?
In order for a relationship to work, both partners need to take responsibility for the ways that they create problems in the relationship. If your partner tends to distance themselves from you physically and emotionally and this is upsetting to you; if they do not see their behavior as a problem and welcome your help to fix it, then you may have a real deal-breaker here! This could signal that the two of you are not looking for the same kind of relationship.
Wonderful article. I am definitely aware of my tendency to be attracted to emotionally unavailable men and that I get bored from “normal” relationships, but I recently dated a man that I thought might also not be able to connect. He has been diagnosed with adult ADHD but I also see that it is difficult for him to connect. He doesn’t really spend with any friends and works constantly. He has horses and enjoys riding on his days off. He can be very sweet and his very intelligent and successful. His childhood was not as unaffectionate as most emotionally unavailable me. His mother is very doting upon him but not his father. His father was abusive towards his mother and they divorced when he was a teenager. Sometimes I get the feeling he has an inability to connect. We also dated 20 years prior when we were in our late 20’s. He is now 52 and never married or had children. We only dated briefly this time (5 months) I cut it off after seeing the same rollercoaster as when we were younger. I just wonder if there is an additional issue with him not connecting.
Many mental health issues, including attachment disorders, can masquerade as ADHD. The connection between attachment difficulties and ADHD is receiving more attention now than ever before. Many scholars suggest that helping people improve their ability to connect with others can reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
I hate to disagree but if you have been late diagnosed with ADHD, your ability to change depends upon getting treatment for ADHD. My partner has ADHD but was never diagnosed. He instead coped by using marijuana and now has an even bigger problem. Treat the ADHD first and then work on the emotional connection. I do not think it is possible for these types of brains to work on this without ADHD treatment. How do I know and feel so passionately about this? I also was diagnosed late and developed very unhealthy coping mechanisms to get me through life. Now that I am treated it has been like putting on glasses when I was living as a blind person.
Your article was the first one I’ve read that did not simplify this challenge of being in this type of relationship by identifying that the choices are to stay and not expect change, or to leave the relationship. Your article is genuinely THE most helpful for someone who like me wants to believe that my partner IS capable of change AND how I can help support him through this process. I genuinely feel that your article is the first I’ve seen that rather than dismissing someone based on their attachment style and being emotionally unavailable, you show logistical and research based methods to challenge these behaviors while supporting the relationship. So, Thank you so much!
You’re welcome! Emotionally-unavailable people can still learn to love, as long as they realize that their emotional unavailability is a problem and are willing to work hard to make sure it doesn’t get in the way of creating a warm, secure relationship. You can support your partner through the process but they’ve also got to be willing to put in the work on their end, otherwise it’s a no-go.
Really honest and insightful article which has helped me understand an on/off relationship. I feel that as well as loving someone who is emotionally unavailable, I may also be guilty of being a little that way myself, and no idea how to go forward with my currently absent partner, but this has given me a lot to consider — thank you.
You’re welcome, Suzie! I am glad my article was thought-provoking for you. I think it’s great to consider the ways in which we ourselves may be emotionally unavailable. It’s always easier to see it in our partner!
This was the best article I’ve red on emotional unavailability and really dug in further than what we’ve discussed in counseling. I struggle to believe my emotionally unavailable partner when they say they want to be with me, because they’ve talked about marriage in the past then flipped the tables on me. It’s certainly created insecurity and trust issues for me. How can I tell if an emotionally unavailable partner truly means what they say or is not being in touch with their true feelings?
Thank you for making such a digestible post! I have an addition of 3 questions while awaiting for an answer to Sarah’s. I wonder about 1, How long can it be on average a transition period from Aloneness to Togetherness. 2, If the transition is successful, will the effects be permanent in best case? Finally, 3, is there a probability that the partner can genuinely feel the value of the cues and gestures as benefiting him too, and eventually become fluent in emotional availability? Thank you so much, again!
Thank you for your questions. Here are my answers:
1. It sounds like you are currently in a relationship and wondering how long it will take for you to start feeling emotionally connected to your partner once the two of you implement the strategies outlined in my post, correct?. If so, you should start feeling a positive change in your relationship right away.
2. Couples need to create positive energy in their relationship every day in order to maintain a sense of closeness. Your relationship is like a garden that needs regular care.
3. Yes, it’s likely your partner will also feel the benefits of you cueing him to move toward you. He should also do his part to move toward you proactively without always waiting for you to signal him!
This is the best article I’ve read so far.
Thank you so much for the positive feedback!
Thank you for the advice you have explained everything very clearly.
Do you think it is a good idea to send 1 and 2 to my BF who is emotionally unavailable? I don’t know how will he take this he might take it as he is the problem. I am so confused how to talk to him.
Thank you so much for this article. It is truly amazing. You simplified the cause of emotional unavailability so seamlessly. I appreciate you for this. I also have a question; Would it be okay to send this post to an emotional unavailable partner, after we’ve had discussions and he’s willing to put in the work? Also, what other things can we read and learn from to improve our emotional interactions?
Of course! Please feel free to share any of my posts with others whom you think could benefit. For a whole lot more ideas on working with emotional unavailability, I refer you to my book which is soon to be released: The Power Couple Formula. You can sign up to be notified when it’s available here: https://thepowercoupleformula.com
I can’t express how you answered every single one of my questions, in order! Thank you for this!
I’m so glad my post was helpful to you!
Very helpful. Thank you, this gives a new perspective of my relationship and makes me feel a lot better. I’d consider this the best I’ve read on the topic.