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Dealing With Emotionally Unavailable Men: Dos and Don’ts

By Lyndsay Wilson


This may be an unpopular opinion, but when it comes to “emotionally unavailable” people and dating them, the bottom line is: don’t.

Here’s what you can do though if your emotional gestures are not being reciprocated, if your partner seems stunted in the EQ department or if you feel like getting affection from them is harder than getting blood from a stone.


Be realistic

Many women (this article will talk about women, but obviously anyone can have an emotionally unavailable partner) would not hesitate to cut from their lives someone who didn’t measure up in crucial ways. We all have our deal-breakers. But somehow, not expressing affection and being emotionally immature are seen as exceptions.


Think about it: would you manage with someone who was physically unavailable? Intellectually unavailable? What about legally unavailable? While people can see what a bad idea it is to become romantically involved with someone who is in another country, very much less intelligent than they are or, to put it bluntly, married, the same is not true with emotional unavailability.


But practically speaking, being emotionally unavailable is not much different. The key word is “unavailable”. Be realistic with yourself – whatever the reason, if someone is not available to you, then they are not available. Period.


Avoid making excuses on their behalf

Did you read the previous paragraph and have a knee-jerk reaction to defend your partner? Did you have an internal argument, something along the lines of, “well that’s true, but he’s different. He’s been hurt in the past. It isn’t his fault. He’s been through so much. He was raised that way. He does care about me, it’s just complicated right now… “?


You may be making excuses to explain away your partner’s negligent behaviour. While you may see it as compassionate and understanding, what you may be doing is enabling and condoning a behaviour you don’t ultimately agree with. Unfortunately, many cultures have the image of a woman “saving” a man emotionally – how many movies show a dry, cynical hero totally falling in love with charming and childlike women? Although he’s ambivalent, instead of moving on to a more emotionally available man, she stays to teach him how to feel, and of course, to love her back. It’s naive to think that a woman can draw an emotionally reluctant man out of his shell, that she can convince him to open up to her with love alone and sheer willpower.


If you are justifying your partner’s behaviour, ask yourself why. Perhaps, even though you can’t stand how distant he is, you are unconsciously buying into the role where you coax some affection out of him. Women who tolerate emotional coldness from their partners may be trying to undo that pattern from their childhoods – without understanding why, they are drawn to “difficult” men and the promise that they could finally earn their love.


Take an honest look at the relationship

Do an honest appraisal of the amount of affection and openness you currently share with your partner, and how it compares to what you need. Resist “counting” affection that isn’t actually real – i.e. don’t fool yourself into thinking that love that isn’t expressed counts. If you feel like there is a well of unexpressed love and affection hidden in your partner, but he is too afraid/stressed/confused to let it out, be careful. At the end of the day, what counts is actual behaviour. 


It doesn’t matter what your partner is promising in the future, or what they say they intend but cannot actually deliver – what only matters is their actual behaviour, right now. It may be that things will change, that you’ll win their hearts, that everything will be OK. It could also be that you lose them anyway and will have to look back and wonder how you stayed in a situation where, realistically speaking, you were doing all the legwork.


It is not only one person’s responsibility to do all the emotional work in a relationship. In fact, if you have found this article, you may have landed here because you were attempting to do your partner’s emotional work. While they may have a legitimate issue with affection or commitment, it’s ultimately something that they need to figure out for themselves.


Is your partner also searching online for information about how to be more emotionally available to you?


When you are able to realistically appraise your relationship as well as be assertive enough in what you need to be happy in one, you may decide to move on or you may not. Ultimately, keep in mind that a healthy relationship is balanced – where feelings aren’t reciprocated, resentment will eventually build. What it boils down to is this: you are offering love and affection to your partner, and you shouldn’t settle for a situation where you are not given the same in ret