10 ways to spot an emotionally unavailable person, according to psychology

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There’s a stark contrast between being in love with someone who’s emotionally available and someone who isn’t.

Spotting an emotionally unavailable person isn’t always easy. They can hide behind charming tactics, engaging conversations, and seemingly deep connections.

But, according to psychology, there are telltale signs that can help you identify if your partner is emotionally unavailable.

In this article, I’ll break down 10 ways to spot an emotionally unavailable person. I promise, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. And remember, knowledge is power.

Let’s dive right in.

1) They avoid deep conversations

Emotional availability is like an open door, inviting you in for deeper, meaningful conversations.

When you’re with someone who’s emotionally unavailable, however, that door often feels closed. They’ll steer away from topics that require vulnerability or deeper emotions.

Psychology tells us that an aversion to emotional depth is a common trait in emotionally unavailable people. They might be great at small talk and casual chats, but when it comes to sharing feelings or discussing deeper issues, they often retreat.

This isn’t necessarily because they’re not interested in you or what you have to say. It can be a defense mechanism, a way to protect themselves from feeling too much.

But remember, a healthy relationship requires emotional depth. If you consistently find yourself in shallow waters, it might be time to consider whether your partner is truly emotionally available.

2) They’re evasive about their past

We all have a past. And while some chapters are harder to read out loud than others, sharing our story with someone we care about is a part of emotional availability.

I remember, not too long ago, I was dating someone who was incredibly vague about their past. The subject was always quickly changed when it came up, or covered in broad strokes without any real details.

According to psychologists, this evasion can be a clear sign of emotional unavailability. It could mean they’re not ready or willing to open up emotionally, or they might be trying to avoid dealing with unresolved issues.

If you find yourself with someone who dodges questions about their past, take note. It could be a sign they’re emotionally unavailable.

3) They rarely express emotions

Emotionally unavailable people often have a knack for keeping their feelings under wraps. They can appear cool, calm, and collected, which can initially be appealing. But underneath that composed exterior, there might be a lack of emotional depth.

Individuals who are emotionally unavailable tend to express fewer emotions.

This isn’t because they don’t experience emotions like the rest of us. Instead, they are often uncomfortable expressing them or choose not to for various reasons.

4) They keep you at arm’s length

Have you ever felt like someone is physically close, but emotionally distant? This can be a classic sign of an emotionally unavailable person.

They might spend time with you, but there’s a certain boundary they won’t let you cross. They may avoid introducing you to their friends and family, or they may resist making future plans.

This “arm’s length” strategy is a way for them to maintain control and avoid getting too emotionally entangled. It’s not about you. It’s about their struggle with intimacy and vulnerability.

If you’re feeling like there’s an invisible wall between you and your partner, it might be because they’re emotionally unavailable.

5) They’re focused on the physical

An emotionally unavailable person may focus more on the physical aspect of a relationship rather than the emotional one.

While physical attraction and intimacy are important in a relationship, they shouldn’t be the sole focus. A balanced relationship involves emotional intimacy too – sharing feelings, supporting each other, and working through problems together.

If you find your relationship heavily tilted towards the physical, with an apparent lack of emotional depth, this could be a sign of emotional unavailability. It might be their way of avoiding deeper emotional commitment and connection.

6) They struggle with empathy

At the heart of any meaningful relationship is empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It’s what connects us on a deeper level, making us feel seen, heard, and valued.

An emotionally unavailable person, however, often struggles with this. They may find it hard to tune into your feelings or show genuine concern when you’re going through a tough time.

It’s not that they’re bad people. It’s just that they’re not in a place where they can fully connect with the emotions of others. And this can leave you feeling lonely and unsupported in the relationship.

Everyone deserves a partner who can truly empathize with them. If you’re not getting that, it might be time to reevaluate.

7) They’re unpredictable

There was a time when I found myself in a relationship with someone who was wildly unpredictable. One day, they were fully present, engaging and affectionate. The next, they were distant and unresponsive.

This inconsistency left me feeling confused and unsure about where I stood in the relationship.

Psychology suggests that this unpredictability is a common trait of emotionally unavailable people. They may swing between being warm and cold, leaving you in a constant state of uncertainty.

If you’re experiencing this kind of emotional roller coaster, it might be a sign that your partner is emotionally unavailable.

8) They’re self-absorbed

You might think that someone who’s self-absorbed is emotionally available because they display strong emotions. However, being caught up in one’s own world often leaves little room for the feelings and needs of others.

An emotionally unavailable person might often dominate conversations, focusing mostly on their life, their achievements, or their problems. They might have a hard time listening to you or showing genuine interest in your experiences.

While they may display strong emotions, the focus is primarily on themselves – not on creating an emotional connection with you. 

9) They don’t handle stress well

We all face stress and challenges in life. But how we handle them can tell a lot about our emotional availability.

Emotionally unavailable people often have a hard time dealing with stressful situations. They might shut down, withdraw, or become overly defensive when faced with a crisis or even minor inconveniences.

This could be because they’re not equipped or willing to process their emotions effectively. And this inability to cope with stress can put a strain on your relationship, especially when you need to lean on each other during tough times.

If your partner tends to crumble under stress instead of communicating and working through it, they may be emotionally unavailable.

10) They’re not truly present

Being present is more than just being physically there. It’s about being emotionally engaged, attentive, and responsive to your partner.

If your partner often seems distant, distracted, or disinterested when you’re together, it may be a sign of emotional unavailability. They might be physically with you, but their mind and heart are elsewhere.

This can leave you feeling unheard and undervalued. Everyone deserves a partner who is fully present in the relationship, not just in body, but in mind and spirit too. Don’t settle for anything less.

Final reflection: It’s about connection

At the core of every human being is a deep-seated need for connection — to feel seen, heard, known, and loved.

Yet, emotional unavailability can create a barrier, blocking the path to true intimacy and connection. It can leave you feeling confused, lonely, and emotionally depleted.

Remember that recognizing these signs is only the first step. It’s equally important to approach the situation with compassion and understanding. Emotional unavailability often stems from past hurts, fears, or deeply ingrained patterns.

And while it’s not your job to fix anyone, awareness can guide you in making informed decisions about your relationships. It can help you decide whether to continue investing in a relationship that may or may not change, or to seek out relationships where emotional availability is not a struggle but a given.

Ultimately, it’s about honoring your need for emotional connection and choosing relationships that fulfill that need.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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