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It's Possible To Become Emotionally Unavailable Years Into A Relationship — Here's Why

Weena Cullins, LCMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
By Weena Cullins, LCMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Weena Cullins, LCMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist with over 15 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families. Her clinical advice has been featured at NBC News, The Huffington Post, Insider, Redbook, and many more mainstream media publications.
Image by Boris Jovanovic / Stocksy
September 3, 2020

Dating emotionally unavailable people can be a truly draining experience. When a person is emotionally unavailable, it means that they're unwilling or unable to manage the emotional aspects of a relationship.

Openly sharing their feelings or encouraging you to share yours is not on their agenda, so it can be difficult to know where you stand with them. Emotionally unavailable people often fear or see little value in emotional intimacy—so expecting emotional depth and support from them can be unrealistic.  

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It's not always easy to spot an emotionally unavailable person at the start of a romantic relationship, but signs often begin to appear shortly after the honeymoon phase. So what happens when the person you carefully chose and cultivated a relationship with for years begins to show signs that mirror emotional unavailability? Is it possible for a person who showed no signs of being emotionally unavailable for years to change over time? And if it does occur, is it just a phase, or could it be a permanent change?

Despite the consistency your partner may have shown throughout the years, it is possible for them to become emotionally unavailable. Over time, emotionally available partners can become less present, even after years of being consistent. They may have proved that they are capable of managing and sharing both your feelings along with their own, but it's not a guarantee that they will always be emotionally present.

The following are three potential causes for an emotional shift:

1.

Emotional injuries

An emotional injury occurs after a perceived negative interaction between partners. Occasionally having disagreements or hurting each other's feelings is a normal part of long-term relationships, but if any hurt feelings are left unattended to, it can cause resentment to build over time.

An emotionally present partner who sustains an injury that goes unchecked can become less supportive and available to meet their partner's needs. Unfortunately, you won't always know that your partner is nursing an old emotional wound. Therefore, it's important to check in periodically. Try to be receptive to any concerns they bring up to ensure they don't feel dismissed. 

2.

Relationship double standards

If you've found an emotionally available partner who consistently shares, explores, and expresses feelings with you, then it's important to reciprocate. It can be easy to slip into a comfort zone when you're feeling so well cared for. However, emotionally available partners usually expect as much energy and effort from their partner as they pour in.

Having a double standard for the relationship could cause an otherwise consistently emotionally available partner to go inward, eventually leaving you to do the heavy lifting alone. Make sure your partner feels that the standards are fair across the board in your relationship.

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3.

Grief

Grief is a normal reaction to loss or change. In addition to death, career changes, or unemployment, health changes, major moves, and relationship shifts can all trigger grief.

Emotionally available partners may check out in ways you've never experienced before while grieving a loss or life change, so be sure to look for any shifts that could potentially cause them to be less emotionally present. While there is no time limit for grief, your partner's lack of availability may only last for a season.  

All relationships evolve, as well as the behaviors that partners exhibit toward each other over time. If your partner has been consistently available to meet your emotional needs over the years but falls short for a season, it's likely that there's an explanation for the shift in their behavior.

The cause and solution might not be obvious, but with open communication and the help of a therapist if needed, it is possible to regain the emotional support and intimacy that your relationship was built on.

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Weena Cullins, LCMFT
Weena Cullins, LCMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Weena Cullins, LCMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist with over 15 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families. Her clinical advice has been featured at NBC News, The Huffington Post, Insider, Redbook, and many more mainstream media publications.

Cullins speaks to local, national, and international audiences about relationships, money matters, parenting, and the role of spirituality in achieving your personal goals, and she serves as a moderator/facilitator for community-based panel discussions sponsored by local nonprofit organizations. She previously worked as an adjunct professor and clinical supervisor at the University of Maryland at College Park, where she obtained her master's degree in family studies, and she has intensive clinical training in working with trauma survivors. She uses empirically validated treatment modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy and emotion-focused therapy with her clients.