9 phrases emotionally unavailable people tend to use, according to psychology

We’ve all encountered people who seem distant, hesitant to open up, or quick to shut down genuine emotional connection.

Emotional unavailability is a defense mechanism that can manifest subtly or overtly, and language is often a key indicator. 

Psychology can help us understand the hidden meanings behind the phrases emotionally unavailable people tend to use.

Here are 9 phrases to watch out for.

They might indicate that your partner (or even you!) could benefit from developing greater emotional availability:

1) “I’m just not ready for a relationship right now”

You’ve been dating this nice new fellow for a few months, and things seemed to indicate that it’s going well.

But whenever you try to gently broach the subject of defining your relationship, even potentially taking it to the next level, he pulls back with this line.

You’re great and all, but he’s just not ready—too many work commitments, bad time in his gym programming, etc. (Yawn.)

This phrase often masks a fear of intimacy and vulnerability, and newsflash: it does not mean you have to challenge yourself to try and change their mind!

Someone who readily announces that they’re not ready for a relationship might have unresolved wounds from past relationships or an underlying fear of rejection.

By stating that they don’t want anything serious, this could also be a way to maintain control and avoid the potential discomfort of true emotional commitment.

And no matter how great your date is, keep your guard up if they state something along these lines. If they’re clearly communicating their emotional unavailability, listen to them!

2) “I don’t like labels”

A slightly more cryptic version of the above, beware of any date/potential partner who quickly slides in to tell you about their aversion to labels.

They’re too cool to adhere to the usual boyfriend/girlfriend/partner jargon.

This way, they also have the perfect excuse to continue dating others. If you do end up calling them out…well, you were never official anyway! 

Such an aversion to labels can signify an unwillingness to be accountable or a desire to keep options open.

It might stem from a belief that labels limit freedom or create societal expectations the person isn’t prepared to uphold.

All in all, don’t jump the gun in trying to label a new relationship, but be careful of those who, after an appropriate period of time, still refuse to seal the deal.

3) “You’re too sensitive”

Say you catch your date texting someone else (maybe owing to their aversion to labeling you two as anything serious).

Maybe they just told a really unfunny, insensitive joke.

Whenever you try to express hurt over their dismissive behavior, they suddenly accuse you of being “too sensitive.” 

After being called overly sensitive one too many times, you begin to question your own emotional reactions.

A classic invalidation tactic, labeling someone as overly sensitive enables the emotionally unavailable person to minimize the other’s feelings and shut down any excessive show of emotion. 

A rather cruel deflection, this one means they can easily shirk responsibility and paints the emotionally expressive person as irrational or difficult.

4) “I need my space”

Another classic for the avoidants out there, this phrase tends to pop up as soon as thing start to get a lil’ more serious.

While needing space is healthy in any relationship, using it as a constant excuse to avoid closeness hints at emotional unavailability. 

So if you notice your partner regularly using this one (and you’re not currently joined at the hip and wholly codependent), it could signal a fear of deeper emotional exploration.

5) “Why do you have to make everything so complicated?”

phrases men with low emotional intelligence use in relationships 9 phrases emotionally unavailable people tend to use, according to psychology

Move over, Avril Lavigne! Emotionally unavailable people have stolen your lyrics.

Maybe you’ve tried the “What are we?” a few times, and your emotionally unavailable partner is over it.

So next time you try bring up the status of your…situationship, they shut you down – even harder.

By accusing you of making things unnecessarily complicated, they minimize your attempts at reaching out and solidifying your emotions. 

This phrase belittles anyone trying to initiate genuine emotional dialogue, and is a form of emotional abuse

It can suggest that the person is uncomfortable addressing complex emotions or finds vulnerability too messy and prefers to maintain a superficial level of connection.

6) “Can we just talk about something else?”

You’re trying desperately to connect with your partner, bidding for their attention (think Gottman’s studies on emotional bids, which prove very important for lasting relationships).

Maybe you’re trying to sort through some disagreements between you two, or even broach the big, scary topic of the future. 

Either way, every time you try to initiate conversations about your hopes and fears for the relationship with your partner, they would consistently deflect with this question.

They swoop in and change the subject to less emotionally charged topics. 

Such frequent diversion of emotionally significant conversations indicates an avoidance of emotional depth.

It unfortunately indicates someone who is incredibly uncomfortable with getting emotionally vulnerable, and can be used as a defense mechanism to protect oneself from potential discomfort.

7) “I’m fine”

Are you though, really?!

After a visible disagreement, an emotionally unavailable person might withdraw rather than hang around for uncomfortable conversations (which are very much necessary to resolve conflict and avoid resentment.)

When asked what was wrong, they simply bristle and repeat, “I’m fine,” with a tone suggesting the conversation was very much over.  

This dismissive response shuts down further communication and prevents genuine connection. 

And whilst taking a step back from a heated conversation to check your feelings isn’t all bad, consistently away running from difficult topics can stem from a difficulty in identifying and expressing one’s emotions.

8) “It’s not you, it’s me”

Inspired by cheesy highschool romcoms, emotionally unavailable individuals pull this one out just as things start to get good in their relationships.

They often suffer from an avoidant attachment style, often leading them to panic just as things are getting serious using this classic breakup line. 

Whilst sometimes true (and holding yourself accountable for your part in the wrongdoing is never a bad thing), this phrase can be a way to avoid the uncomfortable reality of potentially risking getting hurt in a relationship.

9) “I’m not good at this whole feelings thing”

Mysterious. Fortunately, we all feel feelings. Expressing them is sometimes a little more difficult…

A partner who rarely opens up about their emotions and pushes back when their partner tries to probe deeper may brush it off with this line. 

This statement suggests a level of emotional repression or lack of vocabulary for emotional expression.

It could stem from a  background where emotions weren’t openly discussed or where vulnerability was discouraged. 

Unfortunately, this sort of phrase can leave partners feeling frustrated and like they can never fully understand the person.

That being said, if your partner does tend to say phrases like this, have a little empathy and patience.

With time, people can typically learn how to express themselves in a more candid manner.

Final thoughts

Don’t be discouraged if you hear these phrases.  

While they might reveal a lack of immediate emotional availability, they don’t have to be the end of the story.

Open a conversation and explore the emotions behind the words. 

Remember, emotional availability is a skill that can be learned and developed over time. 

If, however, you find yourself on too many dates where these phrases are the norm, it might be time for a change in those dating app preferences! 

Protect your heart and remember, you deserve a partner who is fully available for a genuine connection.

Picture of Liv Walde

Liv Walde

London-based writer with big thoughts, big dreams, and a passion for helping others.

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