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If You Subconsciously Do These 5 Things, You're Emotionally Unavailable

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If You Subconsciously Do These 5 Things, You're Emotionally Unavailable
Love, Self

Here's how to tell.

By Alicia Muñoz

‘Emotional availability’ is one of those vague terms that’s easy to misunderstand or misconstrue. Similar to concepts like “love,” or “kindness” or “intimacy,” we have a tendency to think about emotional availability in the abstract, as a fixed trait someone else—or we ourselves—ought to have. If we don’t naturally have it, then we need to get it. Pronto.

“Is she (or he) emotionally available?” a protective friend might ask when you meet someone new, as a way of assessing whether the relationship has promise. When we give someone else’s “lack of emotional availability” as the rationale for why we’ve decided to end a relationship, or why we’re seeing a divorce lawyer, it’s met with a heartfelt look and rarely questioned.

The word on the street seems to point toward emotional availability as the invisible leprosy of love. It’s icky; possibly incurable. If our love interest has it, we need to change them fast. If we can’t, we need to get away.

What Is “Emotional Availability?”

RELATED: 12 Signs He's Emotionally Unavailable (And Will Disappoint You)

Is emotional availability the degree to which a person can outwardly exhibit their emotions or be present to another person’s emotional sharing? Is it a person’s willingness to connect to their own and another’s emotions? Is it their willingness to understand why they struggle with being willing, or why they struggle with connecting? Is it a character trait, something we’re genetically predisposed to, or is it a dynamic that emerges in a relationship, or in different relational situations?

Here are three scenarios with three different couples. Who’s “emotionally unavailable?”

Johann, recently retired, lies on the living room couch reading. Edward comes home from work, takes off his coat, and stares at his partner. When Johann finally looks up from his book, Edward says, “You can’t even greet me when I come home.”

Miriam and Frank are out on a date night. When their drinks arrive, Frank gazes down at his cell-phone and reads a text from a friend. A moment later, when he tries to start a conversation with Miriam, she stares out the window and ignores him.

Betty and Janelle are visiting Betty’s mom, who still refers to Janelle as Betty’s “friend” and asks Betty when she’s going to find a good man. On the drive home, Janelle sobs quietly in the front seat. Betty doesn’t ask her what’s wrong, and Janelle doesn’t share.

A Co-Created Channel

Emotional unavailability isn’t the easiest thing to pinpoint. There are many variables involved. It’s not just about one person wanting to connect emotionally and one person wanting to disconnect or avoid emotional connection. All partners have different needs for space and distance and different “intimacy tolerance levels” (you can read more about this in my recently released book No More Fighting).

We all carry unconscious stories and narratives about the dangers of certain feelings — or of feeling in general. This influences how safe it is to open up to our own or our partner’s emotional experience.

After working with hundreds of couples for over a decade, I’ve come to see emotional availability as a co-created channel. Each partner influences what this channel picks up on, the clarity of the transmission, and how much static interferes with deeper connection.

RELATED: Men With These 5 Personality Traits Are The Most Likely To Be Emotionally Unavailable

Myths and Signs

Sometimes, emotional availability means toggling between multiple “channels” rather than just getting stuck on one. A person can tune in to themselves, their relationship, and a given relational situation and use the information they pick up on to decide what they want to prioritize. Their own needs? The relationship’s needs? Their partner’s needs?

Just as you might want to turn a dial on a radio back and forth between three different broadcasts to understand different takes on a single event, it helps to be curious rather than absolutist. Emotional availability often depends on the lens through which it’s viewed.

Here are common misconceptions about emotional availability:

  • Men are less naturally emotionally available than women
  • Emotional availability means you cry more, or exhibit more “visible emotionality”
  • When I’m sad, lonely, frustrated or scared, this means I’m emotionally available
  • When you aren’t willing to comfort me in my sadness, loneliness, frustration or fear, this means you’re not emotionally available

Here are signs that you may, in fact, be emotionally unavailable:

  • You find yourself with partners who you consistently view as “emotionally unavailable”
  • You crave intimacy, closeness, and connection, but zone out, get distracted or find a way to change the subject when someone is tender, loving or vulnerable with you
  • You have a hard time receiving compliments and dismiss or belittle them
  • You are put-off or repelled by other people’s vulnerability or neediness
  • You cultivate your own vulnerability or neediness to attract helpers into your life

RELATED: People Who Have These 10 Confusing Personality Traits Are Emotionally Unavailable

Alicia Muñoz is a Licensed Professional Counselor and author of No More Fighting: 20 Minutes a Week to a Stronger Relationship. For tips on keeping your relationship hot and healthy sign up for her newsletter

This article was originally published at Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.