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  • Matthew Frank
    Matthew Frank

    What are some strategies for dealing with a partner who is emotionally unavailable?

    Sometimes partners in a relationship have difficulty showing their emotions or expressing themselves fully, leaving the other partner feeling alone or even unloved. Without proper communication or an effort to understand each other's needs, these difficulties can make it tough for a couple to stay connected. But becoming aware of the common signs of an emotionally unavailable partner and learning effective strategies to address them is one key to transforming your relationship.

    If you suspect your partner may be emotionally unavailable, start paying extra attention to how they’re holding back from engaging in conversations with you. It may be hard to name the signs, but keep a lookout for behaviors such as not returning calls, isolating themselves in separate rooms, avoiding contact with ease and comfort, or displaying short tempers with little or no explanation.

    Initiating an honest conversation about what you’re both feeling and the way it’s hurting the relationship is key to making progress. Initiating the conversation rather than asking questions can create an environment in which both of you feel heard and safe. Plus, having a dialogue without fear of judgment or criticism can open up healthy space for deeper connection. During this talk, acknowledge that they might not know how to open up at first and recognize that it will take patience and trust to build the emotional safety needed to do so.

    You should also strive to create a safe place. A couple can’t move forward if the focus is solely on the other person’s behavior and lack of emotion. Ask your partner pointed questions that challenge their fear of going deep and create a sense of openness and comfort. Moments of vulnerability like these are more easily achieved when both partners are active in setting up boundaries and respect each other’s worries, rather than trying to erase these worries with declarations of love.

    One way to work toward a safer space for dialogue is to practice active listening. This helps show your commitment to the conversation and shows that you value their experience. Encouraging them to speak can create a dialogical bridge, allowing both of you to form a better understanding of each other’s ideas and feelings, regardless of the topic.

    When feeling the tension of an emotionally unavailable partner, it can be hard to avoid internalizing their behavior. You may feel invalidated, unheard, or insignificant, but know that those feelings aren’t a reflection of your worth. It could be valuable to engage in self-care practices like journaling, establishing friendships, attending therapy, and engaging in a spiritual practice; all will help bring balance and presence to your mind, body and soul.

    Another helpful technique is reflective thinking. Reflective thinking is an intentional process that allows you to pause and consider what you’re feeling before engaging in a fight or flight response. Pause, think, breathe and reflect after any heated exchange. This will give you the physical, emotional, and mental space necessary to respond optimally instead of emotionally or reactively.

    No matter how much you try, not everyone will be willing or able to take off their emotional mask. Respect their decision and don’t demand more from your partner than they can give. If emotional unavailability is too big a concern in the relationship, it could be time to seek support from a therapist or end the relationship and pursue a connection elsewhere.

    It takes both partners suffering from an emotionally unavailable partner to decide what their future will hold. It might be easier to stay somewhat comfortable in an emotionally unfulfilling status quo, but if one or both partners are looking for more meaningful connection, they may want to start doing the work to get there. With understanding and patience, both parties can start loosening the mask and connecting to each other once again.

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