“If only my partner were more emotionally available.”
Have you heard this before?
Have you said it yourself?
Whenever emotional availability becomes an issue in a relationship, it’s wise to take stock of both partners’ emotional styles.
Why? Because if you’re with a person who’s emotionally unavailable, it’s an inescapable fact that, well … you’re with them.
Presumably you’re with them by choice. But if you’ve been kidnapped, tell me where you are and I’ll call the cops!
If you weren’t kidnapped, then you chose this emotionally unavailable person as a partner.
I’m just saying.
But rather than berating yourself for making a poor choice…
or assuming it’s random bad luck that has nothing to do with your own emotional style…
consider an alternative explanation.
The Safety Factor
Maybe through no fault of your own, you’re comfortable with emotional distance in relationships.
Having some space between you and the ones you love is at least familiar, if not pleasant.
Emotionally unavailable people come in two flavors:
1. Those who create distance, and
2. Those who rely on their partners to create distance.
Distance is safety. If you’re not in close emotional contact, you’re less exposed, less vulnerable.
Pursuer and Distancer
No matter who’s responsible for emotional distance in a relationship, both partners are protected by it in the same way.
Distance-themed relationships tend to follow a Pursuer-Distancer pattern.
In the role of the Pursuer, you experience yourself as wanting closeness. You may perceive yourself either as “the normal one in the relationship” or as “too needy,” depending on what sort of feedback you’ve gotten or which side of the bed you got out on.
In the role of Distancer, your job is to hold the space. You wish the other person would stop pursuing so you could experience the desire to be close (“How can I miss you if you won’t go away?”).
In some couples, the roles are fixed: One person always seems to want closeness, while the other consistently wants more space.
Some couples switch roles on a regular basis, with the pursuer becoming the distancer and vice versa.
But always, there’s a shared sense of safety because of the emotional distance maintained.
If you tend to do the distancing, is it conscious? If not, pay attention and see if you can uncover any concerns you may have about getting too close to your partner.
Then, experience those feelings consciously. Allow yourself to know what you’re protecting yourself from.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting protection; just make it conscious. Understanding the problem is the first step toward solving it.
If distancing doesn’t feel like a problem for you, acknowledge that it can still be a problem for the relationship.
If you tend to do the pursuing, consider what would really be required of you if your partner showed you his or her soft underbelly. Are you truly up for that?
Have you ever had a partner who reliably wanted to be close to you? If not, acknowledge that wanting closeness has felt more comfortable to you so far than having it.
Get curious about your pursuing pattern. There’s a reason you’d rather pursue than experience more consistent closeness. What is it?
If your relationships tend to follow the pursuing/distancing pattern, note that this pattern has been working for you on some level.
There’s no need to judge yourself or blame your partner; people engage in these patterns together for a reason. And every relationship pattern takes two people to maintain.
Assume you’re both doing the best you can, but make your “stuff” conscious rather than unconscious.
What you don’t know, controls you.
Couples counseling can help loosen relationship patterns. You don’t have to be on the verge of a breakup to benefit from seeing a counselor together.
Look for a couples counselor in your area by visiting GoodTherapy.org.