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10 signs your partner is emotionally unavailable — and what to do about it

Do they avoid deep conversations? Or lack empathy? Experts explain what this really means for your relationship.

Relationships are a two-way street.

Some days one person gives more than the other, but there needs to be regular give and take for a healthy relationship to thrive. Yet, there are situations in which you may find yourself to be the sole emotional provider in your relationship for quite some time. This pattern may indicate you’re with someone emotionally unavailable. 

So, what does that mean exactly?

An emotionally unavailable person may present as “stoic, reserved, detached, or even cold, but what it really means is that they lack emotional awareness,” Naomi Torres-Mackie, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in couple’s therapy at Lenox Hill Hospital and the head of research at The Mental Health Coalition, tells

Meet the experts

  • Naomi Torres-Mackie, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in couple’s therapy at Lenox Hill Hospital and the head of research at The Mental Health Coalition
  • Rachael Farina, ADS, a licensed marriage and family therapist
  • Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC, the owner and founder of Take Root Therapy .

This is not an issue solely reserved for romantic relationships. Emotional unavailability can impact connections with friends and family, too. “Although the concept of commitment might look different when comparing platonic and romantic relationships, there’s still a certain level of emotional investment necessary to create and maintain these relationships in a healthy manner,” Rachael Farina, ADS, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells

Although it can be used as a form of manipulation and control, it often unintentional, according to Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC, the owner and founder of Take Root Therapy.

As Torres-Mackie puts it, childhood trauma, the emphasis on certain emotions being "bad" or "weak," and growing up in an emotionally invalidating environment can be to blame.

Signs someone is emotionally unavailable

As in the case with any personality trait or condition, the characteristic of an emotionally unavailable person may vary from person to person — and thus, relationship to relationship.

"Within a relationship, tuning in to how you feel when you are around your partner can give you a sense of if they are emotionally unavailable," Torres-Mackie says. However, there are some telltale signs to look out for.

You feel a distance between you and your partner

Do you feel like your partner is a million miles away even though they're right beside you? “When you are with someone who is emotionally unavailable, you will likely feel like there is distance between the two of you,” Torres-Mackie says. 

Expressing emotion — both good and bad — is needed to deepen a connection. If they're unable to do so, things may stay at the surface, causing you to feel like you barely know your partner and vice versa.

You feel alone in your relationship

It may sound obvious, but being in a relationship implies that you're not walking through life alone. If a partner cannot express their feelings or understand yours, then you may be left feeling like you’re in a two-person relationship by yourself, explains Torres-Mackie.

They don’t support you

Do you feel seen, heard and supported? All are necessary in a healthy relationship. According to Torres-Mackie, if you’re in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable person, it can leave you feeling unseen and unsupported.

They lack communication skills

According to Farina, an emotionally unavailable person may have unhealthy communication and conflict-resolution skills. This can make it more challenging to navigate common relationship issues — both big and small. 

They struggle to display emotions

And no, this doesn’t mean your partner needs to scream from the rooftops how much they love you or constantly engage in public displays of affection. But it does mean that they'll willingly show you — and perhaps, others — just how much they care about you. If this isn’t the case, Lurie says it may be another sign of emotional unavailability. 

They struggle to empathize with people close to them

Ask yourself: How did your partner react the last time you were having a hard time with something? If they were unable — or rather, unwilling — to understand and feel your emotions, then it might an indicator that they struggle showing empathy.

They have difficulty connecting with others

Like a lack of empathy, an emotionally unavailable person may find it hard to get deeper with those around them. Ultimately, this can make it harder to form a worthwhile connection, according to Torres-Mackie. All relationships experience hardships and conflict of some kind, which means things will only get more difficult if both parties are unable to talk about it.

They have a fear of intimacy

Toxic relationships and past trauma can cause a discomfort or straight-up aversion to intimacy, according to Lurie and Torres-Mackie. Physical touch, sex and deep conversations are all forms of intimacy, so it's possible your partner only struggles with the physical or emotional aspects (but they may struggle with both).

They make no effort to further the relationship

Relationships are a journey, not a final destination. Although growth can be slow and steady, it's important that both people make an active effort to move things forward. But you feel all of the heavy lifting has fallen on you, Farina warns this may be a sign that your partner isn’t emotionally available. 

They lack enthusiasm

Sure, enthusiasm may wane amid the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but generally speaking, there should be shared excitement for one another. Really, this begs the question: If you’re not excited to be in a relationship, then why are you in it?

Perhaps your partner isn't able to express their excitement. Or maybe their excitement levels simply don't match yours. Either way, Farina says this might be a sign that they're emotionally unavailable (or at the very least, that you're not a good match at this moment in time).

What to do if someone is emotionally unavailable

Sometime people change. Sometimes people stay the same. That means it’s up to you to decide how much work you're willing (and able) to put into your relationship with an emotionally unavailable person.

“Maintaining relationships — whether platonic or romantic — requires a certain level of emotional investment and availability,” Farina says. “Therefore, it might be difficult to maintain any sort of relationship when emotional unavailability is present in one or both [people].” 

While this can be challenging, Lurie stresses the importance of not taking the other person's actions (or lack thereof) personally. “The way they express and process emotions isn’t something they can easily change about themselves, but that doesn’t mean they cannot have strong feelings for those closest to them,” she says. 

Be honest with yourself and the other person about how their emotional unavailability impacts you. “If you are willing to put in some emotional labor, you might share with the person how it feels to be with them while they are emotionally detached,” Torres-Mackie says. She suggests approaching this conversation with empathy and balancing your concerns with what you appreciate about them and your relationship. 

Then take time to think about what you can and can’t control in this situation. “If [opening up] doesn’t change their behavior — and it likely won’t, at least not right away, then you can decide how you want to engage in the relationship and be honest with yourself about what you can expect from the relationship,” Lurie says.

In the meantime, Torres-Mackie recommends leaning on other relationships for support. If you’re comfortable doing so, speak with friends, family and other trusted individuals about your concerns and challenges. From there, you can sort through your feelings and decide how you want to proceed. 

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