Definition of emotionally unavailable

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The term "emotionally unavailable" usually refers to those who create barriers between themselves and others in an effort to avoid emotional intimacy. Relationships with emotionally unavailable people are often depressing and distressing, as their partners end up feeling neglected, unloved and unwanted.

Emotionally unavailable people will actually seek out relationships with others, but the problems begin when they are unable to commit fully to their relationships. Because emotionally unavailable people often behave as if they want to be in a relationship, it’s important to be able to recognise the signs that a person is emotionally unavailable.

Physically Unavailable

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Emotionally unavailable people are difficult to nail down. Call them and get voice mail. Leave a message, and they wait for weeks to return call--or don’t return them at all. Or, they don’t give out any contact information.

Emotionally unavailable people are also unwilling to make plans or state their availability. And if they do make plans, they may forget and leave their partners hanging.

No relationship is perfect, and even emotionally available people have jobs and obligations that interfere with their time with loved ones. Furthermore, in any healthy relationship two people should not be joined at the hip, and a little autonomy is good. But the difference is that emotionally available people make time and, more importantly, they make themselves physically available to the people in their lives. Emotionally unavailable people do not.


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People in relationships with the emotionally unavailable are often ignorant of large parts of their partners’ lives. An emotionally unavailable person may never hear about a partner's family or friends. He may not even know where his partner lives or what she does for a living. For that matter, he may realise that his partner doesn't know anything about him either. In the first few days of a relationship, it’s normal not to lay all the cards on the table. People need time to get to know one another before they give out personal information. But, if after a couple of months, simple, mundane details of the person’s life are still a mystery, that’s a big red flag.

Emotionally available people will let their partners get to know them, and they want to know their partners. The emotionally unavailable oftentimes do not.

Otherwise Engaged

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They’re married or recently separated. Maybe they’re dating someone else--or they want to. Perhaps they just got out of a relationship. Whatever the case, someone who is already involved with someone is not likely to be emotionally available to another person.

For that matter, they’re probably not emotionally available to the person they’re with either.

There are also those people who actively seek out multiple relationships in order to avoid emotional intimacy with any one person.

There are exceptions, and many polyamorous people will claim that they are emotionally committed to all their partners, but they are rare. In general, if another person is or was recently in the picture, it’s likely that emotional availability is not.


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The nature of addiction makes addicts emotionally unavailable because the addiction takes precedence over everything else. Even in recovery, the addict is emotionally unavailable because she needs to focus all her energy on overcoming the addiction. As a matter of fact, most rehabs have a strict policy about non-fraternisation, specifically for that reason. Relationships interfere with recovery, and recovery interferes with relationships.

In some instances, people involved with addicts become addicts themselves or develop codependent behaviours in order to create a false sense of intimacy with the addict. This can make relationships with addicts not only painful, but many times dangerous.

Gender and Emotional Availability

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There are several references on the Web geared toward women recognising and dealing with men who are emotionally unavailable. In truth, emotional unavailability is not gender-specific.

The issue of emotional availability and intimacy is one of trust, which affects both genders. Emotional availability is also not a matter of gender roles or behaviours. It's not about "getting in touch with one's feminine side" or "sharing feelings." It's about being emotionally and physically present for the other person. It's about both parties knowing that their partner is there for them and has their back. In relationships with emotionally unavailable people, that sense of security and trust does not exist.