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5 Truths About Emotionally Unavailable People (From Someone Who Once Was One)

Sarah Rusca Cline
mbg Contributor By Sarah Rusca Cline
mbg Contributor
Sarah Cline founded Never Be Average alongside her sister Samantha Messersmith. They are authors, relationship experts, life coaches, and public speakers who are helping women around the world write their comeback story.

Six years ago, I left my husband after years of enduring his cheating and betrayal. Shortly after he proposed to me, he sat me down and revealed that he had been unfaithful through our entire relationship. I was young, naïve, and already had 250 wedding invitations in the mail, so I stayed. One year after we got married, he cheated again, and then again. Once I finally walked away from the relationship, I thought I was going to suddenly be free to live life for myself again.

But even after I left my husband, my identity stayed with him. I was blinded by the emotional destruction my marriage had on my mental health. Instead of healing, I became numb. I distanced myself from my emotions in an effort to never feel the same vulnerability again.

My next relationship was on for six months, off for three, over and over again. I thirsted for the high of the honeymoon phase and once the flame fizzled, so did my desire to keep things going. It was an unhealthy relationship filled with betrayal, infidelity, heartache, and pain.

It wasn't until after I walked away for the last time that I learned why it had really failed. I realized that my inability to tune into my feelings about a difficult past had doomed it from the start. People can be emotionally unavailable for a lot of different reasons, but I believe that a troubled past is often the root cause.

During this time in my life, I was that intensely unattached partner. Here’s what I want you to know about dating an emotionally unavailable person:

Emotionally unavailable people see a relationship as a source of comfort — something to occupy their time until something better comes along.

1. They will mislead you.

I always knew in the back of my mind that this relationship was not my forever. We would talk about getting married and starting a family someday, and I would engage in the conversation but subconsciously I would never truly entertain the idea. Every time we broke up and got back together, I would jump right back onto the “this is forever” train. Inside I knew this wasn't true, but it felt good to say in the moment.

My partner and I would feed each other’s desire to have a functioning relationship, and together we would ignore everything that led to our breakups. With each new start, I would convince myself that this time was going to be different without acknowledging my fear to truly commit.

Emotionally unavailable people will keep you close enough that you won’t stray, but they are still holding a lot of extra rope on their side. Companionship makes them feel safe, and they'll do whatever it takes to hold onto it — even be dishonest about how they're really feeling.


2. They won’t change with time.

After four years of on and off, we tried to save our relationship by moving in together, but it didn't change anything. This relationship could have gone on for five more years and it would have been the same old story.

Emotionally unavailable people see a relationship as a source of comfort — something to occupy their time until something better comes along. They have to choose to mend this mentality in their own time. You will not fix them with romantic leaps or signs of commitment.

3. You will never come first.

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Everything in our relationship was on my schedule — I was selfish with my time and I put my happiness before my partner's. I made my needs clear and set the expectation that they would take priority.

Emotionally unavailable people are selfish. They convince you that whatever you are doing for them you are really doing for yourself. This narcissistic behavior typically stems from past heartbreak. At one point, they probably loved deeply, passionately, and vulnerably, and had it end in agony. In response, they want to make sure that their needs are always met so nothing can be taken from them again.


4. They are honest where they stand.

Although I would get wrapped up in the honeymoon phase every time we got back together, I always hinted that I wasn't ready to fully commit. I knew I was sending a mixed message, but I wanted to make sure that when things got too heavy or I needed an out, I could say, “Remember when I told you…”

Emotionally unavailable people are honest about the fact that they're noncommittal. They are not immune to heartbreak — that's why they won't put themselves in a position where someone has enough control to break their heart.

5. It is not about you.

All of the betrayal, manipulation, and chaos in my relationship had nothing to do with the other person. It had everything to do with the wounds left behind from my failed marriage.

If you think the person you are dating is emotionally unavailable, you should talk to your partner about it, but keep in mind that their behavior won't change just because of one conversation. Emotionally unavailable people need to work through their intimacy issues on their own, and they have to make the decision to do so for themselves.

Emotionally unavailable people will often not be who you wish they were, and it's important to understand that this has nothing to do with you. Some people come into our lives to stay a lifetime, and some only to teach us something. It is crucial to your happiness that you learn to understand the difference between the two.

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