Ep 77: How to Deal with an Emotionally Unavailable Partner
When you have the experience of your partner being emotionally unavailable, you’re probably feeling that you’re not being “met”, that you’re not being heard, that you can’t get your messages across, or that he/she is always trying to fix you when you try to share something. You might find your partner aloof, stonewalling, or defensive. Or any combination of these.
It’s natural that you want to be more connected, more in communion, with your partner.
It’s important to understand that there are inherent differences between men and women, between personality types, and between … just people! We all have a different way of feeling, accessing and expressing our emotions.
For instance, we worked with a couple where the woman was vivacious, talkative, charismatic, and the man was stoic, unmoving, and only talked sparingly. She loved asking him questions, and he hated being asked questions. It’s easy to assume that she’s emotionally available and he’s not. But it’s not that simple. When we took the time to create the right space, he too shared profound insights and emotions.
Some people cry at movies, some don’t, but remember “emotionally unavailable” doesn’t (necessarily) mean they don’t feel or have emotions.
If you have the experience of someone being emotionally unavailable, and they feel judged by you, all that’s going to produce is have them clam up even more.
For starters, what you can do is accept differences and get curious about what those differences might be. Ask questions in a mood of curiosity. Ask you partner, “What happens for you when you watch that movie?” or “What happens for you when so-and-so happens in our family …?”
Some people have much quicker access to how they feel. Like Sonika and me, for instance. it seems to me she’s always in touch with how she feels at any given moment, but I often have to stop and “think” about how I feel; I have to tune in in order to know how I feel. From her point of view, it might seem as if I’m not feeling anything, but I just need time to access my feelings.
A great tip is when you ask a question, let the person explore for a little bit, give them some time.
On the flip side, if you’re the “unavailable” one, add a little more detail than you normally would. Instead of just answering, “Great!” when she asks how my day was, I can elaborate a bit and add, “I did have an interesting experience with John at work …”. This breeds emotional connection.
Ask yourself, if there isn’t a lot of talking, do you assume it’s disconnection? Another way to think about this, is to join your partner in the silence, and to enjoy the connection inside silence. That’s a different kind of emotional availability, beyond words.
When you’re with an emotionally unavailable partner, it’s easy to have all of your attention is on what your partner is not
doing, what they’re not saying. You try to get your partner to be more vulnerable and available.
Instead, try turning it around and ask yourself, How can I be more vulnerable? How can I be more emotionally available? Because often, when you’re busy trying to get your partner to be more available and in touch with their feelings, you’re not in touch with yours.
When you can get more in touch with your own emotions, and share that with your partner from an open, vulnerable place, you invite your partner into your world, which invites your partner to share more deeply.
Granted, there are different degrees of emotional unavailability. Most often, the tools and tips we’re sharing here can help, but if your partner (or you) are completely stonewalling, refusing to engage, you might need a different level of intervention. You can reach out to us for private coaching or talk to a local coach/therapist.
In relationship, we have a tendency to talk more “about” our problems, or “about” our emotions, but the more we talk “about” it, the further we get away from the connection we’re longing for.
Instead of talking “about”, turn it around to explore what am I feeling? How can I be more vulnerable here? How can I be more curious about you? That creates a space for us to “drop in” to, a place of connection and feeling, the place we’re wanting in the first place.
Finally, look for any place where your partner does reach out, where they do share, and where they do connect. Then, once you see those places, appreciate your partner for it. Thank them for where they DO connect with you. That way, you find some small pieces of what you want, and you make them bigger.
If you want to improve you and your partner’s emotional connection, here’s a great opportunity to practice:
We created a 90-min mini-workshop for couples to deal with stress and disagreements, How To Be More Understanding During Disagreements. In this workshop-from-your-couch, we are going to help you:
* Find understanding
* Relieve tension and stress
* Discover common ground between each other
* Get on the same page
* Learn techniques to de-escalate during conflict
* Get back to connection
We have helped thousands of couples navigate crisis and stressful times, and we’d be honored to help you, too.