- Communication is the bedrock of healthy relationships.
- A desperate need for love or a fear of loss can drive us to rationalize a partner’s noncommunicative behavior.
- Early relationships with caregivers may play a key role in defining how one seeks intimacy in adulthood.
Many people come to therapy after dwelling in a state of confusion because of the mixed signals they’ve received from their partners. They say things like the following:
- “I appreciate that my partner does not keep talking about his ex when we are together, but why won’t he tell me about his past relationships when I ask him?”
- “My partner is a man of few words. He does not like to share too much, but it’s getting to the point where it’s seriously affecting our emotional intimacy.”
- “My partner seems to be a lover of ‘undefined love,’ but I don’t think that’s going to fly with me in the long run.”
If you can relate to any of these statements, you may be in a similar situation. Perhaps you’re attracted to someone who is emotionally unavailable, and you feel like your relationship is constantly "hanging by a thread." You may still harbor hope for your relationship, but reality suggests otherwise.
A desperate need for love, or a paralyzing fear of loss, can drive you to rationalize a partner’s wishy-washy behavior in a relationship. You might start defending their behaviors while hoping that they’ll change if you just give them time. Patience, understanding, and empathy—all of these traits are praiseworthy, but not at the cost of your own emotional needs.
There are many causes of emotional unavailability in relationships. For one, early relationships with primary caregivers during childhood play a key role in defining how one seeks (or avoids) emotional intimacy and availability in adult relationships, as evidenced by a study published in Frontiers in Psychology.
Research, for instance, suggests that emotionally available adults exhibit the following three "healthy" dimensions of attachment: sensitivity, nonintrusiveness, and nonhostility. It’s worth taking stock of how much you and your partner incorporate these behavioral patterns into your relationship, and whether your partner might have difficulty being emotionally available due to a troubled upbringing.
Here are two ways to determine whether your relationship is likely to crumble under the weight of emotional distance:
1. Your partner never opens up to you. You will know that someone is emotionally unavailable when they seal themselves off beyond what is considered normal. Despite your constant efforts to provide them with a safe space to open up, they never let their guard down, and they rarely tell you what’s really on their mind. When they do, it may come as a shock because you’ve been kept in the dark for so long.
For example, rather than sharing with you how their day was, they choose to bottle up their emotions and, instead, take their frustration out on you when you nudge them to cope with it in a healthy manner.
Because they tend to "turn off" emotions, they rarely make an effort to understand you, and they struggle to relate to you and your problems. This may become a significant cause of frustration as it makes you feel like your needs are not getting honored.
2. Your partner prefers to stay hush-hush about their past. An emotionally unavailable person can be very secretive about their previous relationships.
While there is no need to divulge every single detail about one’s relationship history, being open, honest, and forthright about one’s life is a necessity. This not only builds trust, but it also deepens the bond between two people. If your partner chooses to keep you completely in the dark and is uncomfortable about the idea of sharing details of their past, especially when asked, this may indicate that they are evading an emotional bond.
Communication is the bedrock of all good relationships. As such, people who are "closed books" are showing you their red flag and must be approached with caution.
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