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Emotionally Unavailable Partners

Growing up in a household of neglect or abuse can impact our relationships even in adulthood. Former trauma can lead to decisions in accepting emotionally unavailable partners. Emotionally unavailable partners include people who are unable to understand or empathize with your emotions. We do this because it may be all that we've known. It might even seem normal in relationships. We may also not have an idea of how we would like to be loved, so we fall into the pattern of ending up with these individuals.

At the beginning of a relationship, it may be hard to recognize the signs that a person is emotionally unavailable. This is because our excitement and optimism can cause us to dismiss or avoid the present red flags. However, there are certain signals to look out for to determine if you may be getting into a relationship with an emotionally unavailable person or if you already are.

Signs To Look Out For:

1. Avoidance of conflict - If your partner avoids conflict or shuts down the possibility of talking about the things that bother you, this may be a sign you are with an emotionally unavailable partner. Conflict is a natural, normal part of any relationship. An emotionally unavailable partner will be unable to handle the overwhelm of conflict and thus shut down. This leads to the possibility of you feeling unheard, unseen, and abandoned.

2. Inability to empathize - Empathy is the skill of being able to see things from the other person's perspective. If your partner is unable to provide support for you in the way you need, they might be emotionally unavailable. Empathy requires a person to shift perspective and be available in feeling what your partner feels. Someone who struggles with emotional availability might not have this capacity.

3. Low emotional intelligence - Being aware of what emotions feel like for yourself and others can help a person know how to be emotionally available. However, if a person has never learned the basics of emotions they might have low emotional intelligence. If you are with a person who cannot identify or talk about their emotions, this might be a sign they have low emotional intelligence and thus may struggle with being there for yours.

4. Emotional volatility - On the opposite spectrum of avoidance is emotional volatility. This includes a person who gets so overwhelmed by their emotions that they cannot cope with them. This person then lashes out, giving you no space to feel things yourself. Thus, this person is emotionally unavailable as they cannot manage their own emotions let alone yours.

5. Relationship with parents/caregivers - A key sign of how someone will respond to your emotions is how their parents responded to theirs. If you're with someone whose caregivers were absent or unsupportive, they might continue this pattern with you. The same goes for people in households where emotions weren't expressed or were expressed violently. A person continues patterns of learned behavior from childhood unless a lot of emotional work is done to heal and change.

What To Do If You See Signs:

1. Knowing what you need - The first step in being able to ask for more emotional availability is knowing what you need. Chances are your partner doesn't know, so it's up to you to understand your core needs in the relationship and how to communicate them effectively.

2. Boundaries - Once your needs are known, communicating them in the form of boundaries is next. Being able to ask for what you need and follow through on these expectations can help your partner to understand how to be more emotionally available for you. If you feel your partner cannot be emotionally available, have the boundary of supporting them in doing their own emotional work to heal.

3. Diversifying support - Our partners cannot be everything to us. It's important that if we feel our partners are not providing for us emotionally 100%, we find outside supports who can make up the difference. This is not to say that you should ignore your partner's emotional unavailability, but it's to help yourself feel supported while they work out ways to be more emotionally available to you.


Feelings Forward Wellness provides holistic treatment for trauma that supports the healing of mind, body, spirit, and community. Through offerings of trauma psychotherapy, psychedelic-assisted therapy, and somatic healing, FFW aims to provide effective and culturally-responsive mental health treatment for those continuing to struggle with the after-effects of trauma and PTSD.

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