Signs your partner is emotionally unavailable

6 December, 2022 / words by IALH Editorial Team

Written by Kelle Salle

Image by @ellesechar

We tend to think of red flags as something that is associated with dating but they can pop up in a relationship too. Merriam-Webster defines a red flag as ‘to identify or draw attention to (a problem or issue to be dealt with). A red flag alerts you to something that needs your attention and something else to keep in mind is that they can appear in the space of a few weeks, months or even years. It’s easy to justify or ignore red flags because they can take you by surprise, especially if you are in the early stages of a relationship. One of the biggest red flags to look out for in a relationship is emotional unavailability. When someone is emotionally unavailable, they are not comfortable feeling their own emotions, sharing emotions with others, or being present and responsive to someone else’s emotions. 

What does emotional unavailability look like in a relationship? Here are a few signs:

They are in a relationship with someone else

While this is probably the biggest sign of emotional unavailability, it isn’t talked about much. If someone who is in a relationship with someone else happens to develop an interest in you, they are emotionally unavailable. It doesn’t matter how much time they give you or how much they tell you they want to be with you – they aren’t an available partner. One of my favourite podcasters, Natalie Lue (Baggage Reclaim) describes emotional unavailability as a barrier, which hits the nail on the head. If there is something that’s stopping your relationship going to the next level, then your partner might be emotionally unavailable. 

Their words and actions don’t match

Nobody wants to experience mixed signals in a relationship but if you notice that your partner’s words and actions don’t match, something’s up. A relationship should be a safe space, you should be able to rely on your partner without second guessing things. Uncertainty in a relationship can be frustrating. If you notice that your partner’s words and actions haven’t matched on more than one occasion, then you definitely need to have a chat with your partner and take some time to reflect. Think about the issue and determine whether it’s something that can be worked on.

They avoid deeper conversations

A few months into the first lockdown, I was getting to know someone and I noticed that whenever our conversations got a little deeper, his attention was elsewhere or he’d end the call. The first time it happened, I brushed it off but when it happened again, I knew it was a red flag. I know I’ve shared a dating story but this can happen in relationships as well. Communication is such an important part of a relationship but it can be daunting for some people. It takes a lot to let your guard down and be vulnerable but if you really want to connect with your partner on a deeper level, you’ve got to be vulnerable. If your partner avoids any interactions that can bring you closer together and strengthen your relationship, they might be emotionally unavailable. 

They avoid labels

If someone tells you that they don’t want a serious relationship, believe them. A big relationship red flag is acting like you’re single when you’re not. Someone who truly wants to be with you won’t struggle with labels. If you’ve made things official with your partner and they aren’t openly talking about where they would like the relationship to go in the future while still wanting everything you bring to the table, they’re not emotionally unavailable. If you’ve discovered that your partner is afraid of commitment, it’s easy to empathise with them, especially if you’ve been together for a while but what you shouldn’t do is compromise and settle for less than you deserve. You deserve to be with someone who isn’t afraid to claim you.

They want perfection

You should always feel like you can be yourself in a relationship. If you can’t be yourself or you find that you walk on eggshells whenever you’re with your partner, then that’s definitely a cause for concern. Emotionally unavailable people are always on the lookout for something negative, so there’s nothing you can say or do that will make them feel better about things. They will always use your flaws to justify ending things or not getting serious with you. This can have an impact on your confidence and self-esteem so it’s worth addressing the issue with your partner and acting accordingly if things don’t get better.

They blow hot and cold

Consistency is important in the early stages of a relationship. Both partners need to make an effort in order for the relationship to progress. When someone blows hot and cold, this can feel uncomfortable due to the unpredictability of their behaviour – things can be fine one minute and all over the place the next. In a relationship like this, it can be easy to focus on the good things, but this can play with your emotions in the long term. 

You do all the work

A relationship should always be mutually fulfilling. You shouldn’t feel like you are the only person making an effort to keep things going. If you are, then remind yourself of what it is you are looking for in a partner. Think about the things that are important to you. Observe their behaviour and have a clear idea of what’s going on, for example, do they take days to respond to your texts or do they seem quick to end calls? Once you’ve figured out what the issue is, talk to your partner and see how they respond – this will determine whether you’re able to move forward or whether it’s time to end the relationship.


IALH Editorial Team


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