Emotional Availability in Relationships, and Why It’s Crucial for True Closeness.
What does it mean to be emotionally available?
Why do some struggle with this more so than other people?
Why, with certain people, do we feel braver and safer than with others?
Is emotional availability something that can wax and wane? Depending on with whom we are relating?
Is emotional availability something that we can choose consciously to turn on or off? Or is it an automatic reaction, instead determined by past experiences and inner temperament?
Different people bring out and activate varying traits and alternate sides of each of us. As in, with one partner or friend, we might be one way. While with another different partner or friend, we may find whole other parts of ourselves emerging into the spotlight, to even our own surprise.
Every love, connection, and reaction between two people is different. Layered with varying nuances, complexity, and feeling.
All human beings have moments of emotional unavailability. This is human.
We each have periods of being distracted by other things in our lives, during which we might not be emotionally open or available to someone whom we may care for and be close to. We might be wrestling with a situation within our own life so that when someone we love comes to us in emotional need, we aren’t able to see it fully or be completely receptive to such in that particular moment or phase in our own life.
Much like the skill of being a good listener, no one can be emotionally available (nor a good listener) 100% of the time. It just isn’t possible, despite even our best intentions.
With that said though, people do tend towards falling into one of two camps, meaning that generally people are either emotionally available, or they aren’t.
Small, distracted, temporary moments of emotional unavailability aside, people tend towards being either one temperament or the other in this regard.
So, what does it mean to be emotionally unavailable?
Basically, being emotionally unavailable means that someone deeply struggles emotionally (and this is almost always related to fear) with love, with trusting in others, allowing themselves to be known on a deeper, soul level, and with exchanging complex emotions.
Can this vary, depending on the person with whom we are connecting?
Absolutely. It isn’t an across-the-board given response (though of course, it can be). Often times, we may find ourselves opening up more easily with some, feeling safer, braver with certain people, and then finding ourselves more hesitant with others.
Emotional availability is about sharing yourself with someone over time, to develop that connection in an authentic way.
Being emotionally available means being reachable.
It’s both the ability to feel deeply, as well as to communicate those deep feelings to others.
Emotional availability is being able to sit with difficult, upsetting, or challenging emotions, both in yourself and in others, and to not run away from, dismiss, or attempt to minimize them.
It means being able to be with someone who is in pain and not trying to fix it. Instead, just being a loving, brave, mindful presence with that person.
Emotional availability means being open to, comfortable with, and courageous in the face of all human emotions and experiences (not just the easy, light, or positive ones). Being able to face both the beautiful, the light, and the good, as well as the painful, difficult and the dark.
When someone is emotionally unavailable, why does this happen?
The short answer is that typically people who struggle with being emotionally available are those who have traumatic, complicated histories. Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, neglect or abandonment in their past.
People who have trouble being emotionally available are essentially afraid. It's an attempt at self-protection. An attempt at self-soothing and guarding oneself against harm, in a sense.
However, this is a learned behavior. And thus, it is one that can be unlearned.
The problem with choosing emotional unavailability is this: it's a half-way to love.
If you never allow yourself to open totally to another person, to trust, to let go and draw towards them, you miss out on awesome loves and powerful, emotionally fulfilling, incredible connections.
Ultimately, being emotionally available means allowing yourself to be fully known to another.
Being willing to show them the light, as well as the dark. Sharing the inner parts of your heart with another, and trusting in their receiving of it.
Being emotionally available means being willing to “go there” from time to time, to develop true intimacy. “Going there” means talking about the ugly truths, the insecurities, the complexities that reside in each of us, the “this is not OK for me” boundaries.
A person who is not emotionally available attempts bypassing these things because it feels too unsafe, too unsure, too ugly.
To grow into a more emotionally available person (which essentially means that, the more emotionally available you are, the deeper and more poignant your connections to others can be, as well as, the healthier and more satisfying relationships you will have), you need to “go there” with yourself first.
To get comfortable with seeing uncomfortable things about your behavior, history, and experiences. As well as, to grow comfortable in sitting with the difficult emotions of others as well.
When your body is crawling inward, wanting to run or feeling uneasy, instead of retreating emotionally or literally, deciding on breathing and staying. Working through it. Leaning towards difficult or painful emotions in both yourself as well as those you love.
The issue with anxiety and emotional guarding in relationships is that generally, they create distance instead of bridging it.
They create walls and rifts, where instead there could be closeness and connection. Relationships require trust, tenderness, patience, and vulnerability. Anxious people often have these traits and offerings in abundance, but it takes bravery and internal work for them to move towards instead of away from these relational benchmarks.
Again though, this is something that can be learned.
Is it possible for someone who is emotionally unavailable to change this behavior and pattern?
Absolutely. Humans are always capable of change. We are infinitely complex beings. Temperaments, moods, personalities, emotions, all ever in flux and thus continually shifting, growing, changing.
In fact, with regards to a person who struggles with emotional openness in general, this is rarely a stable, static thing in someone. Instead, it’s a response that tends more towards flexing and flowing.
People who struggle with allowing themselves to be emotionally available have many moments in which they do allow their hearts to open. Times during which they bravely take emotional steps towards someone (instead of away) to whom they wish to grow closer. They have periods of allowing their guards to lower.
And then at other times, they may dance into emotional retreat. Drawing back, taking a few steps in the other direction, tentative and cautious.
Rarely is a person entirely closed off all the time (though of course, there are people like that too). Instead, people who struggle with emotional bravery tend to have moments of strength, trust, and openness, coupled with times of caution, fear, and guardedness.
This is where patience comes in for the people who love and truly want to grow closer to them.
Some ways to move toward emotional availability, as well as, to help bridge the distance that can be created when struggling with this in a relationship:
1. Let your partner (as well as friends and family members with whom you are close since emotional availability applies to all relationships, not just romantic) in on what you’re thinking and feeling.
Be willing to “go there”, even if it isn’t always ideal. Risk telling them what is going on inside of you. The beautiful and light, along with the challenging, darker stuff, both of which we all have inside of ourselves.
Keeping too much to yourself has a way of widening distance between people instead of closing it.
2. Be willing to be vulnerable. Vulnerability — being open to another — is beautiful and is the essence of successful, healthy, close relationships.
The problem with protecting yourself too much is that it can result and invite in the very thing you are attempting protection against, which is loss and heartbreak. This is a risk in any close relationship already, one that’s impossible to escape and is unavoidable: loss.
However, better not to have caused it by being your own worst enemy.
Intimacy (and emotional availability) is letting someone in closer than you let the rest of the world. It’s trusting that person with the fragile, messy, untamed parts of you — the parts that are often beautiful, sometimes baffling, and always okay with the person who loves you.
3. Tough conversations can bring you closer. People often avoid talking about the difficult stuff, afraid of being off-putting or feeling concerned about what it might do to the relationship.
Instead, trust that you and this trusted loved one can cope with the challenge of whatever this topic or discussion might entail.
Much of life is beautiful, magical, and fantastic, however, life also contains sadness, challenge, and heartbreak. Trust that your loved one can empathize with, be open to, and inhabit both of these aspects of life along with you.
And if they cannot, it doesn’t indicate that emotional availability is a bad thing, though instead, more likely indicates that maybe this person is not the right choice as someone to gift with these parts of yourself.
4. Let your partner (or friend, or family member) in on what it's like to be you. Human beings are complex, complicated creatures. Bringing someone in closer to you and your story is the lifeblood of intimacy. Sharing your anxieties, triggers, dreams, fears, and inner experiences with another, these are the bridges to growing close with someone.
5. Have fun together. Closeness is also bridged within laughter, shared adventures, fun experiences, and the building of marvelous memories together. The more moments you share with someone, this tends towards bringing two people closer. Laughter tightens connections. It soothes tension. Sharing positive experiences with someone (as well as challenging ones) tightens your bond.
6. Patience. The surest way to push someone away further who is struggling with fear of opening up and being emotionally vulnerable is attempting to pull them closer to you too quickly or forcefully. Allow them their own process. Being patient, open, and loving is the way for them to slowly though surely grow towards feeling more comfortable, safer, and for their trust and comfort in you to set forth blooming.
People can be unavailable for both healthy and unhealthy reasons.
They may have suffered through a troubled childhood experience that has wounded them, or they currently have other priorities such as taking care of a sick parent which doesn’t exactly coincide with being able to be fully present and be a great friend during that time.
Perhaps, they are recently divorced or widowed and are legitimately not ready to get involved in an intimate relationship. Then, there are those who are too afraid of taking the risk of falling in love or revealing themself to another because they have been hurt too much in their previous relationships.
However, those in the latter category are the ones with an important choice to make.
Continue forward dragging along such baggage, resulting in the potential loss of wonderful future relationships, or, work through and let go of past hurts and be willing to risk opening up and moving towards being willing to trust in something new.
If a person's primary reason for being emotionally closed off is because of past romantic hurts, well, they need remember that no two loves are the same. Each relationship is different. When you equate one as being the same with previous others, you make a grave error.
Every relationship is a clean slate.
A new experience, bringing together two brand new elements which will result in a completely different and unique output from the last one(s).
It’s also important to remember that just because someone isn’t fully available emotionally, it doesn’t mean this cannot or will not change.
It often simply means they’ve had emotionally exhausting or traumatic experiences and might need to approach things more tentatively initially…at the very least, at the beginning of the relationship.
Falling in love, as well as growing emotionally close to someone platonically, is meant to be magical, and frankly, it is awe-inspiring, incredibly emotionally fulfilling, and absolutely awesome. It is a high point of the experience of being alive, as well as human.
But, getting close to another person isn’t without its highs and lows. From the ecstasy of realizing that someone pretty amazing is as moved by you as you are by them, to the tension and pain of self-doubt and possible loss, to the security, richness, comfort, and sometimes stillness of deeper love, intimacy is a vehicle for a plethora of varying emotions.
Anxiety and emotional caution can and does affect many relationships. If not addressed and worked through, it can take away from, and even cause the otherwise unnecessary ending of some relationships.
However, by being open to and deliberate in responding to the challenge of emotional availability, in turning bravely toward this type of response and behavior in your close connections with others, you can create relationships that are immensely emotionally fulfilling, strong, close, joy-filled, and resilient.
Check out more about Brooke at brookeenglish.com