An emotionally unavailable partner can cause more harm to your mental health than you realize.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 7, 2020. It has since been updated.
Do you sometimes feel lonely in a relationship and wonder if your partner is so distant from you? Are you the one who feels things strongly and your partner sits there disconnected and cold? Do you wonder why something seems off even when all external things seem to be in place? Or, do you feel emotionally drained or neglected, as though you are the only person doing all the work in the relationship? If your answer is yes to more than one of these answers, it is possible that you are in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable partner. "There is another possibility that is typically overlooked in such situations: If you consciously want a lasting relationship but keep getting a different result, you may be subconsciously 'drawn' to unavailable partners," writes Roxy Zarrabi Psy.D. for Psychology Today.
Here are some red flags to watch out for when you observe your relationship.
"Research has demonstrated that we are often attracted to partners who seem familiar to us and have similar qualities to our parents. One of the reasons people are drawn to emotionally unavailable partners is the role models they had for romantic relationships in childhood," says Zarrabi. Perhaps, your parents lived together but were emotionally distant from one another. Or maybe, one of them gave more and the other was aloof and distant. It is important to see if you carry any of these patterns into your own relationship.
This could have a lot to do with your childhood experiences. If you were an unloved child, who had suffered constant verbal or physical abuse or even neglect, you might have grown up to believe that you are not worthy of love and nurturing. Others' perception of you overpowers your understanding of yourself and you don't even know your true essence beyond the beliefs caused by others' negative words or actions.
If you as a child or young teen were made to feel "something is wrong with me" or "I am not good enough to be loved," you will unconsciously pick partners who reiterate this core belief. You will then agree with yourself that true love one that makes you feel good is impossible because you are not worth it. The only way to break the cycle is to explore your core beliefs and heal from emotional wounds of the past.
Low self-esteem is more common than you might believe it is. Yet, how we deal with it makes all the difference. Those who have gone through trauma of any kind—emotional, physical, or sexual—are more likely to struggle with low self-esteem. It is all the more important of survivors of trauma to understand where their self-beliefs come from.
Because if our core beliefs are that we are not good enough (for others or ourselves), then what we expect from our partners will reflect that poor self-worth. This will attract people who will further lower our confidence and make us affirm that we are indeed not worthy of love and respect. Build your self-esteem through positive daily affirmations, going for therapy, forming valuable connections with those who see you for you are beyond your self-doubts. And more importantly, read and find ways to learn to be your biggest ally.
Feeling lonely is not easy and it is natural to be sad about it. But there is a difference between feeling lonely and being alone. If you believe you just cannot be happy or survive in the world without a partner, you probably never had the chance to know how joyful and empowering being alone can be.
It is also possible that right from your childhood, you have only seen co-dependent relationships that enmesh people into a single entity and you were made to believe that is love. Unlike what the mainstream media projects, you are not two halves coming together to become whole. You need to become a wholesome and happy individual yourself before another healthy person can join you in the journey. But the need to find someone to fill the gap, even if that someone isn't good for you, could lead you to attract emotionally unavailable partners.
A 2018 study has shown that people who have gone through childhood trauma, oppression, and abuse can develop high levels of empathy. This could also be why you try to save people from similar experiences. And when it is your own partner, you may tend to abandon your own needs and emotional safety in an effort to bring them out of the dark place they are in. But the principle of airplane safety applies to real life, too: Put on the oxygen mask first before you help the person next to you. If you want your partner to heal, you cannot be dragged down to emotionally or be open to abuse or neglect. Once you are in a healthy place, and only if you choose to, can you help another.
Disclaimer: This article is based on insights from different sources. The views expressed here are those of the writer.
Cover Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy