I recently recorded a podcast with Dr. Mari about emotionally unavailable people. These type of people weren’t born this way. Emotionally unavailable (EU) people have likely experienced early childhood trauma, emotional abuse, and/or sexual abuse. Relationships with EUs can be very confusing. Being attracted to an emotionally unavailable, commitment-phobic person typically manifests in an emotional and sexual chemistry that is off the charts. You may find yourself making concessions for these people just to get a “taste” of that chemistry. You tolerate things that you would never tolerate with other people. The intensity in a relationship with an EU is mistaken for intimacy because it is so electric – but it is also very toxic.

If you don’t pay attention, you will find yourself making compromises that you typically would not make for others. This will set you up for some toxic blowback. If you are cancelling outings with friends, preoccupied with what the other person is doing, stalking their social media, waiting for a text, call or email, you need to stop and take a serious look at yourself. Sober up from the emotional electricity that is coursing through your veins. Know that the way that you have interacted in your usual relationships is not going to work in a relationship with an EU person.

What Makes People Emotionally Unavailable?

In the podcast, Dr. Mari and I discuss what can cause people to be emotionally unavailable. The typical catalysts that can cause someone to become emotionally available include sexual abuse and/or emotional and physical trauma that was experienced at an early age. Children do not know how to process trauma and abuse. Their conscious minds are still developing. They do not have the emotional experience or understanding to handle a situation, as they are still learning about life. They are easily influenced and in the very tender subconscious state. They take the world in as if it is all about them, internalizing everything. Sexual abuse can be particularly confusing because, on the one hand, it feels good, and on the other hand, a child does not know what to do with these feelings. As a child does not have sexual hormones engaged before puberty, they have nothing with which to associate this experience.

Dr. Mari explains that emotionally unavailable people do not choose to be this way. Their unconscious defenses are firmly in place. The trauma or emotional wounding of the past causes them to automatically shut down, but they are completely unaware of this. They want to love and they desperately want to be loved as well. But if you smother them with your love, they will retreat further because they do not know what to do with those feelings. They are afraid of clingy people who smother them, as their childhood experiences with their abusive parent (or other adult who abused them) felt controlling and smothering.

Without proper guidance, EU people stuff the abusive events into a box. If the adults in their lives are operating from trauma and their own abuse and acting those situations out, they are passing those experiences and feelings on to their children. Alcoholism, drugs, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse are very often the culprits of the emotionally unavailable person.

Many EU people have relationships that are only about sex because that is comfortable and familiar to them. They don’t want anyone controlling them. Men who prefer strictly sexual relationships over love come off as very masculine or macho and view women as needy and clingy. Women who prefer sexual relationships over love are typically viewed as being very sexy, and seductresses. They prefer to keep their distance and keep the relationship shallow because they did not experience intimate love from their parents.

How Can I Tell if Someone is Emotionally Unavailable?

So how do you determine if someone is emotionally available or unavailable?

Remember, during the first few dates, or even months, in a relationship with an EU, you will find them to be attentive, passionate, consistent and caring. You will see what you want to see and miss many red flags. Asking a partner about their past relationship history, and truly listeningto what they tell you, will reveal a lot. How they speak about their exes and what they tell you about their own behavior can be quite eye-opening. Beware of rationalizing, telling yourself that you are not their ex so it doesn’t matter. Take note if the person plays the victim or takes responsibility for their past. We all play a role in our past relationships. People need to earn your trust by showing you through their behavior who they are. Be smart. When someone tells you that they are selfish and an asshole, believe them.

For a relationship to work, the relationship must go both ways. Being in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable person takes a lot of work and, in the end, you may just walk away. If you find yourself bending over backwards because of the intense “feelings” between the two of you, know that the EU person does not know how to process those feelings. When they experienced their childhood trauma, they had to find a coping mechanism Their minds needed to put the experience safely away in their “mind cubby.” If the person can’t or won’t reciprocate, you must accept this. You will need to be patient and you will need to understand it from their perspective, not yours. An emotionally unavailable person cannot and will not be pushed. They must be coaxed and coached, gently. You must always see the person for who they are, not who you want them to be. Otherwise, the relationship will be a dead end.

If the person of interest is married or in another relationship, that’s a pretty clear sign that they are EU. That is probably also a pretty good indication that you are EU. Do some inner soul searching to find out why you are seeking a relationship with someone who is currently involved with another person.

If the person you are interested in fears commitment or has had commitment phobia in the past, pay attention. A person who is a commitment-phobe will often:

  • Be emotionally distant after an intense encounter
  • Be emotionally distant after an intense encounter
  • Shut down
  • Resist conflict
  • Act seductively and be interested in sex more than connecting emotionally and spiritually
  • Manifest some form of addiction: Alcohol, drugs or sex
  • Will not introduce you to their family
  • Will send mixed messages that you are constantly trying to read into and de-code
  • You may feel enticed and as though the person you are interested in is throwing you emotional crumbs. They will hint at the potential to have a relationship with you, and will even act warm and loving toward you, then withdraw.

    This leaves you craving more of the “feel-good” energy that you have exchanged with the EU person. You think, if I could just get them to see how great we are together. Your self-esteem plunges when the other person pulls back, and you begin the spiral downwards.

    What If I’m Already in a Relationship with an Emotionally Unavailable Person?

    If you have examined your relationship and have determined that your partner is an EU, you may still think that this feels like love. You must look more closely at your own emotional unavailability. Often when I am working with a client in this type of relationship, we discover that they are as emotionally unavailable as their partner. The EU person is holding a reflective mirror to your own unavailability.

    The first step in dealing with a partner who is EU is to take your power back by setting clear boundaries with yourself about what you will and will not accept. Until you master these steps, you will be emotionally reactive and needy and will constantly repeat the same cycles with the EU person.

  • Let go of what you think you know. Understanding an EU person means understanding yourself. This requires empathy and self-inquiry.
  • Do not demand them to be what they are not.
  • Stay emotionally calm and centered as you develop your boundaries.
  • Do not be confrontational.
  • Decide what you want and ask yourself if you believe that you can have that.
  • Decide what you will accept in and integrate it with what you want.
  • Be patient and kind with yourself and the EU person (remember, the EU person responds to gentleness, not confrontation).
  • Keep your options open to other relationships.
  • The last step is the most important: Be the BEST version of yourself because these relationships can cause you to lose who you are.
  • After mastering these steps, you may realize that you are not up for a relationship with an EU person. If so, wish them well and move on. Your heart knows when a relationship is over. Trust it.

    These relationships are tricky, and you must have an easygoing flow to make them work. They can take years to cultivate, and a good dose of patience is required.

    I have walked several clients through these types of relationships, and today, they are in successful, happy relationships with the EU person. These people were very aware of their significant others’ unavailability, but saw attempting a relationship with them as being worthwhile. Love that is destined can never be stopped.

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