11 Steps to Deal with an Emotionally Unavailable Man

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Dating and falling in love with a guy is an exciting experience. You're eager to spend all of your free time together while you plan for the future. It's also an adventure of uncovering each other's unique traits and the mysteries of your lives. Eventually, you begin to realize you fell for an emotionally unavailable man.

I've been in that situation before, and it sucks! There's a deep sense of disappointment because he isn't truly able or willing to meet your emotional needs.

During the honeymoon phase, we tend to view our partner through rose-colored glasses. It's difficult to spot emotional unavailability and other red flags through those lenses. I suppose you're already invested in the relationship and want to know how to deal with an emotionally unavailable man?

You're in the right place to get insights on how to address and cope with the situation. Even though you may want the relationship to work, I'll explain how emotional unavailability affects you and when to walk away.

What Does It Mean to Be Emotionally Unavailable? 

Emotional unavailability means, “not having the capacity to share or express emotions with another person as well as hold emotional space for someone.” That is how clinical psychologist, Dr. Melissa Robinson-Brown, Ph.D., defines it.

The inability to connect on a deeper level could be a learned behavior, self-protection mechanism, or situational. Regardless, there's a lack of capacity to bond on an emotional level and an underlying cause is a fear of being vulnerable.

Avoiding vulnerability may stem from a fear of getting hurt in love. In some cases, emotional detachment might be linked to these other factors:

  • Growing up with emotionally unavailable caregivers (nurture)
  • Being told real men don't show emotions/aren't emotional (taught/nurture)
  • Loss of trust in early childhood due to trauma, e.g., childhood abandonment (protective)
  • Mental health conditions, e.g., anxiety, borderline personality disorder, or narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) (situational)
  • Having an insecure attachment style, e.g., avoidant, anxious, or dismissive (nurture)

Whatever the cause, it's tough for you to establish a loving and meaningful relationship with a partner who struggles with being vulnerable.

How to Spot Emotional Detachment in Men

Identifying this red flag isn't always easy from the beginning. The signs of an emotionally unavailable man were likely there, but you missed them being caught up in the honeymoon phase of the relationship. Upon closer scrutiny, you may notice these key signs on a frequent basis:

  • Lack of affection
  • Indifference or ambivalence
  • Avoiding deep conversations or emotional intimacy
  • Shutting down to avoid conflicts
  • Appearing emotionally distant, closed-off, or detached
  • Difficulty expressing or handling emotions
  • Prefer a lot of space or alone time
  • Appearing uncomfortable when you express feelings or emotions
  • Defensiveness regarding discussions on commitment

Now that you're aware of the signs, you may need to ask yourself whether you're going to continue investing in someone who's unwilling or incapable of responding to your emotional needs. At best, this is and will likely continue to be an emotionally one-sided relationship.

Why are Some Women Attracted to Emotionally Unavailable Men? 

Repetition compulsion? The term, coined by Sigmund Freud, also called trauma reenactment, refers to a psychological phenomenon where an individual keeps repeating physically or emotionally painful situations they experienced in the past.

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Emotional unavailability means, “not having the capacity to share or express emotions with another person as well as hold emotional space for someone.”

To put it in context, some women are drawn to emotionally closed-off men because their childhood role models, e.g., their fathers, were not emotionally present in their lives.

They're, in essence, unconsciously reenacting a relationship that caused emotional pain and suffering. It's also preferring the familiar experience of being with a man who's emotionally disengaged.

Other possible reasons include:

  • You're emotionally unavailable yourself.
  • You believe you don't deserve love and attach to men that validate that belief.
  • You enjoy the challenge of loving hard-to-love men.

In a Psychology Today article, Why Women Love & Lust After Unavailable Men: Traumatic Love, licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Seth Meyers, Psy.D., attributes these women's behavior to “profound insecurities and self-esteem issues.” They derive their self-worth from trying to get emotionally unavailable men to commit.

This, of course, often backfires and causes the same emotional pain over and over again. Dr. Meyes went into more depth in his book, Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.

Effects of Loving an Emotionally Unavailable Man

There is a laundry list of negative emotions from loving someone who won't love you back or satisfy other necessary emotional needs. Chances are you're already experiencing frustration, dissatisfaction, loneliness, or lowered self-esteem.

These symptoms, coupled with feelings of rejection and invalidation, can lead to sorrow, anxiety, mood changes, or depression.

11 Steps for Addressing Emotional Unavailability in Your Relationship

Getting information out of your emotionally detached man can be like pulling teeth. On top of that, you're never really sure where you stand. If you seek answers, he may get defensive, deflect from the issue, or accuse you of neediness.

By now, I hope you're aware that your partner's inability to open up to you isn't your fault. It's also not your responsibility to fix him. However, learning how to deal with an emotionally unavailable man can help if the sum of his value in the relationship makes him worth fighting for. That said, you're welcome to consider the following practical ways of handling the situation.

#1. Familiarize yourself with the signs of emotional unavailability

Men, particularly narcissists, are capable of disguising their true selves, making it harder for you to pick them out. You can still sense that something is off and may doubt or blame yourself if the relationship isn't flourishing the way you expect.

Recognizing emotional distance in your partner and how it affects your relationship is the first step to begin effectively addressing the issue. Earlier on, you were given some key signs, but there are others.

Does he regularly ghost you, avoid communication on important matters, doesn't prioritize your needs, or have difficulty empathizing with your feelings? Those are telltale signs.

#2. Discuss emotional detachment with your partner

Don't tell him he's emotionally guarded and you want to know why. He might get defensive or avoidant or shut down if he feels attacked.

Gently and lovingly approach the topic in a way that makes him feel safe to open up and talk about his feelings. You can hint at certain behavioral signs that caused you to broach the subject.

Allow him to explain without drilling him. Be emotionally supportive when your guy starts sharing experiences that cause him to detach. This will encourage him to express more of his feelings about you and the relationship.

#3. Try getting to the root of the problem

You're already familiar with the signs of emotional unavailability, but what's causing it? The best person to get answers from is your guy, as speculating might only lead to the wrong conclusion.

Perhaps you can ask about his early childhood experiences and whether he thinks there's something there that's responsible for his fear of emotional intimacy.

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Men, particularly narcissists, are capable of disguising their true selves, making it harder for you to pick them out.

Providing he remains open to talking, ask about rejection or hurt in past relationships. Also, explore personal insecurities, self-esteem, or mental health issues that cause him to shut down and detach.

Give little prompts and allow your partner to do most of the talking. Remain non-judgmental and empathetic throughout the conversation.

#4. Explain how emotional unavailability affects you

Loving a man who persistently “pushes you away” out of fear of getting hurt will take its toll eventually. You're human and there's only so much you can bear, particularly if you're a secure and emotionally available woman.

Let your partner know that you feel rejected, emotionally exhausted, uncertain, and lonely in the relationship. Explain the overall impact on your happiness and well-being.

You may indicate your unwillingness to remain in the relationship if nothing changes. Reassure him this isn't an ultimatum but that it's not fair to you. You're also communicating that you know your self-worth and are willing to set boundaries.

#5. Assess whether he wants emotional closeness

Now that the issue and your feelings are in the open, assess how your partner handles it. Does he acknowledge emotional unavailability as a problem or is nonchalant about it?

Admitting there's a problem is key to taking steps to remedy the situation. If he admits there's a problem and wants to make a conscious effort to establish a greater emotional connection with you, then great!

Otherwise, let him be. Don't beg for attention. You'll only keep hitting a brick wall and hurting yourself. You can't change him nor should you force him to meet your emotional needs. Surely, you can offer support. However, he'll need to work through the underlying issues on his own or with the help of a therapist.

#6. Determine if you're emotionally available

Your boyfriend may refuse to draw close or commit if he thinks you lack boundaries or haven't clearly expressed your relationship needs and expectations.

I think it's fair for him to protect his emotions if he's getting mixed signals from you. If you throw up emotional walls and lock him out, he's going to withdraw emotionally.

Is it possible that you gravitate to emotionally unavailable men because they mirror your repetition compulsion behavior? Doing a self-check can bring awareness to any contribution you're making to the problem. Following the self-assessment, you can work on becoming emotionally open to your partner. He may start reciprocating once he feels it's safe to do so.

#7. Give him space to come around

Constantly trying to connect with your partner will only make him push you away even more. It's counterintuitive and isn't on the list of strategies on how to deal with an emotionally unavailable man. Instead, give him a long leash and let him run.

He needs time and space to reflect and sort himself out. If he truly values you and the relationship, he'll willingly make an effort to change without you having to nudge him.

Alternatively, he might continue guarding his emotions if he isn't ready to commit and wasn't honest about it in the beginning. In the end, you may wind up feeling you've wasted your time.

#8. Evaluate the relationship

The time will come for you to thoroughly examine the relationship to determine if it's worth the physical and emotional investment. Ask yourself tough questions like, “Am I truly happy?” ‘Am I willing to forego my needs to be with this guy?” Be honest with yourself. Are you?

We teach people how to treat us based on the standards and expectations we set for ourselves. Staying after your partner knows you're in distress and does nothing will make him think you lack self-worth. He won't feel a need to improve his behavior to promote a healthier, happier relationship.

#9. Consider couples therapy

In addition to receiving individual therapy, your partner can join you for couple's therapy. The goal is to get insights from a therapist on the root cause of the problem and how it impacts developing healthy, loving relationships.

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The time will come for you to thoroughly examine the relationship to determine if it's worth the physical and emotional investment.

The therapy environment is also a safe place for both of you to openly share emotions without judgment. Your therapist can help you develop the communication and coping skills necessary for navigating the relationship.

Remember, therapy doesn't fix relationships. Your partner has to be open to doing the work required for change.

#10. Accept that he's incapable of meeting your emotional needs

Acceptance is meant for you to let go of the idea that you can change this guy. Don't be his therapist or try and pull him emotionally closer. Don't try to make him see the loving beautiful person you are, love you, or validate you. It's not gonna happen.

In fact, he may start highlighting your flaws to push you further away and in an attempt to sabotage the relationship. Accept the things you cannot change. Change the things you can. More importantly, know when to move on.

#11. Shift the focus to yourself

You've spent enough time focusing energy on a man who has essentially buried his emotions–for whatever reasons. It's time to regroup and rebalance to avoid losing yourself in this situation.

Redirect that time and energy toward satisfying your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Create a daily self-care routine that involves taking leisure walks, exercising, meditation, and getting enough sleep. How about repeating self-love affirmations, journaling, or meditation? Self-love through self-care is an alternative way to rebalance your energy.

Having a self-care routine has been clinically proven to reduce or eliminate stress, anger, anxiety, and depression, boost energy, and increase happiness.

Final Thoughts on How to Deal with an Emotionally Unavailable Man

It's probably time to end the relationship if your efforts are futile or your mental health begins to suffer. I understand it won't be easy, especially if you've invested a lot of time and resources in the relationship.

It's your choice to stay or leave this relationship that lacks love, affection, and emotional connection. As you ponder, ask yourself if it makes sense to waste more time and emotional energy over a man who's bent on pushing you away. Your self-worth and well-being are at stake. Remind yourself that you're beautiful and deserving of love.

Be that woman who has high dating standards and who prefers a high-quality, emotionally secure man. Speaking of which, have you read 11 Qualities of a Good Man You Should Look For? Ironically, emotional availability is the #1 quality!

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