9 subtle signs your partner might be emotionally unavailable

We all know about the clear signs that your partner might not be into you. 

Like if they’re taking a week to text you back. Or visibly flinch when you try to go in for a cute cheek smooch.

But what about the less obvious signs?

Because I know my friends especially love getting a bit delusional when it comes to emotionally unavailable partners. If you’ve ever watched ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’, you’ll know what I mean.

So to escape the delulu-era, here are 9 not so obvious signs that someone isn’t quite ready for emotional commitment.

The sooner you’re both on the same page and not playing any mind games, the better.

1) They struggle with empathy 

You’ve had a tough day at work, and you come home seeking comfort and understanding. 

Okay sure, the struggles were minor. Your soup burned your tongue and the receptionist was mean and your socks got soggy on the journey home.

Still, you pour your heart out to your partner, and you’re met with a blank stare and silence.

Maybe an “I don’t get why you’re upset” if you’re lucky.

It’s like speaking a different emotional language and you feel so belittled, so trivialized for having spoken up altogether.

Your partner’s inability to empathize with you leaves you feeling like you’re unable to connect and is a pretty clear sign of someone who is either unable to meet your emotional needs, or just not interested in doing so.

2) They avoid deep conversations 

Pillow-talk or stargazing: both great opportunities to get thoroughly acquainted with one another’s deepest, darkest fears!

But imagine you turn to your partner and ask, “What’s your biggest fear?” 

Or you start trying to probe what they think lies in the afterlife. Or whether they believe in soulmates.

Yet again, you’re met with dead silence.

Or they switch topics and start listing off the groceries they need to get tomorrow.

This avoidance of deep conversations and emotional connection is again highly indicative of someone who just can’t dive to the level you want to go to, and would rather paddle on the surface of emotions.

3) They are overly independent 

Independence is crucial, but when taken to the extreme, it can leave couples feeling extremely disconnected and distraught.

Or at least one-half of said couple.

The hyper-independent individual likely insists on handling everything alone.

From assembling IKEA furniture to choosing whether to get pizza or noodles, to making big life choices that truly affect you both.

And fine, you’ll admit you’re awful at assembling furniture, but they don’t even allow you to sit by and ‘assist’ by handing them the screws!

What is supposed to be a partnership turns into a solo journey, with you straggling behind someone who seems very capable and willing to navigate their life without your support or involvement. 

This determination to remain self-reliant creates an emotional distance, making you question your place in their world (which seems to be non-existent.)

4) They are inconsistent 

The love-bombing to silence cycle is often the most heartbreaking, as it can make the emotionally unavailable seem like the sweetest, most adoring of lovers.

Before they turn off the love tap and you’re left craving more, absolutely crestfallen as to why they’re no longer acting as loving and caring as before.

If you’re going from good morning texts and flower bouquets to being left on read and begrudgingly hugged, it’s a sign that this person isn’t in it for the long haul.

They’ve proven they can be loving. 

But if they don’t maintain a steady level of love (and that doesn’t have to be honeymoons and fancy dinners 24/7), they’re likely playing with you.

Cat and mouse style; tempt out the mouse to play, then strutting off with indifference when they get bored.

5) They avoid future planning

sneaky ways narcissists chip away at your self esteem 9 subtle signs your partner might be emotionally unavailable

Future talk is great if you’re both on the same page.

Baby names!

Vacation house locations!

What pet you’ll first get!

But when you try to discuss these cutesy ideas with your partner, they change the subject or dismiss your ideas altogether. Or they shudder with disgust.

Yes, most of this future talk is unrealistic and fantastical, but it’s part of the shared connection we build with loved ones. 

Someone who is completely unwilling to discuss the future with you doesn’t envision you in their future.

6) They rarely express their feelings 

Beyond talking about how pleasant the weather is, or how interesting the most recent episode of whatever you’re watching together was, do you ever dig deeper?

An extension of the unwillingness to dive deep into emotions, someone who also refuses to share any feelings with you whatsoever is likely emotionally unavailable.

They keep their feelings locked away, leaving you puzzling over what every microscopic expression or change of tone means.

And that is in parts addictive – this mystery keeps you coming back for more, even though they’re so emotionless and unresponsive.

So be cautious about those who seem never to voice any emotional response whatsoever. 

Naturally, some individuals struggle to do so by nature.

But, if this person is completely shut off when it comes to anything related to feelings or emotions, how can you possibly maintain a long-lasting connection?

7) They have a hard time saying “I love you” 

Okay, it’s not easy for me. I’m a writer, not a speaker, so vocalizing love is hard.

But knowing my partner’s love language is words of affirmation, I have worked against my setbacks and learned how to incorporate those three big words.

So do be kind to those who struggle to verbalize love – they might love you with all their heart, but just have a hard time saying it because of past issues or out of fear you’ll not say it back.

But if you’ve been together long enough and the words never come, do tread with care.

Someone completely unable to express love, who doesn’t even make up for it in other ways (think thoughtful gifts or acts of service), likely doesn’t feel the same way you do.

8) They have unresolved past issues 

By no means am I saying that you should stamp on those with baggage and say you should shun anyone who has any form of even slightly traumatic past.

But, be aware of those who have experienced trauma, and have no desire to move past it.

They open it up repeatedly, rehashing old stories and wounds, but they never make an effort to unpack and move forward. 

Maybe it’s an ex. Or their childhood. Or an addiction.

Whatever, the poison, their fixation on past issues hinders your emotional growth together.

9) They are quick to end arguments 

Disagreements are a natural part of any relationship, but your partner avoids them by retreating (quite literally – watch them scurry off to the next room), or by changing topics, this isn’t a great sign.

Shutting down arguments before they can truly be resolved leaves both sides feeling like you’re carrying unfinished business and resentment. 

By avoiding conflict altogether, they’re avoiding the opportunity for emotional growth and conflict resolution skill learning, leaving your relationship in a perpetual state of limbo.

You end up walking on eggshells, repressing your own feelings as you know they’ll avoid any disagreements.

All in all, extreme conflict avoidance suggests someone who has no interest in putting in the effort to navigate disagreements with you, or someone who lacks the emotional intelligence to do so.

What to do if you think your partner is emotionally unavailable?

Knowing when to leave a relationship with an emotionally unavailable partner is a challenging decision.

Ask yourself: are you even in a relationship at all? 

How realistic are you being about how this person sees you? 

Is this a one-sided relationship?

Are you committed to one another, or are you chasing after someone who considers you more a…friends with benefits situation?

Now, if your efforts to bridge the emotional gap repeatedly prove unsuccessful, it may be an indication that the relationship isn’t meeting your emotional needs. 

In such cases, prioritizing your emotional well-being is important, and ending the relationship may be the right choice.

And if these signs have made you realize that you’re the guilty party and the emotionally unavailable one, self-awareness is the first step. 

Seek support, such as counseling or therapy, to work on addressing the emotional barriers that are affecting your relationships. 

Either way, making the active decision to work on personal growth – whether with your partner or alone – is the best step you can take in creating healthier emotional connections.

Picture of Liv Walde

Liv Walde

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

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