The High Price of Loving an Emotionally Unavailable Partner

By Rhoberta Shaler, PhD.

Are you feeling lonely in your relationship, even though you’re with a partner? If so, it may be because they are emotionally unavailable, and you have become a little too dependent on them for your happiness and well-being.

Are you in a hokey-pokey relationship? That’s what I call it, in my book Kaizen for Couples, when one partner seems to have one foot out the door, no matter how hard you try to make it work. Emotionally unavailable people also aren’t crazy about commitment or intimacy. If you’re seeking those things from your partner or parent, and constantly trying to “be enough” or “do enough” for them, there’s a good chance you’ve become codependent.

Do your attempts at nurturing love and connection feel like they’re often unappreciated or disregarded? If you find yourself over-giving and struggling to get anything close to reciprocity from your partner, then codependency may be at play. While loving someone deeply can offer its own rewards, there’s also a high price of emotionally investing in an emotionally unavailable or distant partner. Caring too much about someone dedicated to keeping their cards close to their chest can be draining both mentally and physically. 

Codependency is valuing approval from others more than valuing your own opinion of yourself, along with difficulty identifying your own feelings separate from another person. That can be a disaster if you find yourself in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable partner. You’ll always be chasing something they are dedicated to not giving you. 

The good news is that you can change this. The first step is to recognize codependency for what it is and look for ways to start valuing yourself more. You don’t have to remain stuck in a one-sided relationship. With self-awareness and support, you can start to navigate interactions from a healthier place. 

So what are the signs of someone being emotionally unavailable? 

1. They communicate erratically and inconsistently. 

Do you and your partner talk about meaningful things one day, and then go days or weeks without talking about much besides the weather? While you may expect consistent emotional check-ins or updates, they might be nowhere to be found—leaving you feeling confused, frustrated, and lonely.

2. They avoid talking about emotions. 

Does your person shut down when you start to talk about feelings…especially yours? Do they complain that you’re too emotional or sensitive? Folks who are uncomfortable connecting on an emotional level can’t be there for you when you need them. And, they don’t want to be. It’s too much for them. (You’re not too much for them, the emotions are.)

3. They opt out of making plans.

Are you the social director in the relationship? Do you find yourself making all the plans for your relationship because your partner won’t commit to even doing something, for sure, next week? Are they always pushing off talking about your future? Or, do they remain vague and general about possibilities, unwilling to nail anything down? Emotionally unavailable people keep things fluid so they can be in charge. It’s crazy-making.

4. They don’t show genuine affection and empathy. 

Is your partner unable—or unwilling—to be affectionate or empathetic? Are they dismissive of your needs? Do they avoid acknowledging your feelings? Or worse, disregard them entirely? These are glaring signs that they are not going to get emotionally involved with you… and leave you feeling unseen, unheard, and… alone.

5. They may not show up when you need them most. 

Does your partner often check out when you’re dealing with uncomfortable emotions or a difficult situation? Maybe, they don’t have the ability or interest to emotionally support you. That leaves you feeling alone and wondering if you actually have a partner. Or, sadly, it could be that they simply don’t care that much. Both are good reasons to start an exit plan.

6. They can be overly critical of you and others.  

Is your partner constantly criticizing or judging you, your friends, your family? Do they seem to have difficulty letting go of old grudges? And hold on to negative feelings? Emotionally unavailable people use criticism to keep themselves separate and distant, right or superior. Believing what they say about you, without examination, is a sure sign of codependency. It may be time to consider creating your own distance from them and shoring up your self-esteem.

Although it can be difficult to accept, it’s important to recognize the signs of an emotionally unavailable partner and take steps to understand and address your codependent behavior. With awareness and support, you’ll be more able to create meaningful connections with people capable of creating equality. People who can show up as true partners.

Codependency can have serious repercussions on both partners in the relationship. It creates an unhealthy reliance on one another, leaving both parties feeling trapped, resentful, and unsatisfied… for very different reasons!

If you recognize that you are in a codependent relationship, it is important to seek therapy or support from a qualified professional. You can break free from negative patterns of behavior and learn to create healthier, more equal relationships. Ready to start?

Host of the Save Your Sanity podcast, Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, helps clients worldwide to recognize, release, and recover from toxic relationships and emotional abuse. She is the author of Escaping the Hijackal Trap and Kaizen for Couples. Learn more about her work and join in her community here:

1 Response

  1. Maraea Gazzard says:

    Thank You Rhoberta for your insights and sharing. You don’t know what you don’t know. The Codependency/Narcissistic Dynamic is rife through my family ie. Me, my daughter, my grand daughters relationships – now I know, that makes me sad. Fortunately, we can change that.
    Warm Regards
    Maraea Gazzard

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