Are you battling with an emotionally unavailable partner? Gugu Mkhabela gets some expert advice
The late poet and activist Maya Angelou once advised, ‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.’ We usually prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt or believe that we can change a person. This is especially true in relationships. ‘Ag, I’ll give him/her time, he/she will come round, will call, open up, change…’ But how often does that actually happen?
What if the person you love is simply not capable of letting you in? And can the relationship work in the long run?
What does it mean?
Mmagauta Radebe, life teacher and a co-founder of Life Teaches Marriage School, describes it as finding solace in the mastery of neutralising emotions to avoid further pain and disappointment. Any sort of feelings or emotions are seen as a weakness.
Or, said more simply by Bryn Collins in her book Emotional Unavailability: Recognizing it, Understanding it, and Avoiding Its Trap, it’s the inability of a person to reach out and make a heart connection with another person.
Mmagauta lists the following five examples as signs that you could be involved with an emotionally unavailable person:
• Your world view is usually met with sarcasm, criticism and intolerance – if it differs from theirs.
• They seem far more concerned about the image they portray, as opposed to their reality. They may say things like, ‘What would people think or say?’
• They project their own feelings on to their companions or loved ones. For example, whenever they’re angry, they turn around and pin the anger on their spouse or partner.
• Excessive self-righteousness is the core of their being. In their mind, they are virtually incapable of ever puttinga foot wrong.
• They seem unable or unwilling to extend themselves for the benefit of their partner. Things can only be done when they want them done.
Holding up a mirror
In her book, Bryn writes, ‘Part of the education process is to recognise the type of emotionally unavailable person you’ve chosen in the past. This should be a guidepost as to what it is about this particular type that feels so familiar and keeps enticing you over and over again.’ If you are constantly attracted to emotionally unavailable people, then what does it say about you? Self-worth is a trading tool we require to interact with the world. What we are willing to receive from and give to the world is in direct proportion to how much we value ourselves.
Approaching the situation
Yes, people can change, but it is not your concern to try to change them. On the other hand, we can influence people by being who we are. This is a complex situation and you’ll have to decide for yourself, based on your values. Can you love your partner despite their struggle? Emotionally unavailable people can alter their partner’s character, as they can drain all the tolerance out of you.
Mmagauta concludes that if you are not strong willed and protective enough of your essence, you will easily become an emotional wreck, swinging between extremes like a pendulum.
Always put yourself first. Remember that others are not your responsibility; if anything, they owe it to themselves to seek their wholeness. You should step aside and provide them with the opportunity to grow and mature all by themselves.
Nature or nurture?
Does a person’s previous experience or upbringing play a role in them being emotionally unavailable? Psychologists say that people often gravitate towards a partner who makes them think of the parent they had the most unresolved issues with.
Mmagauta explains that upbringing shapes our world view and cannot be swept under the carpet. The first part that develops in our brains is the emotional side, so at that early, undeveloped stage, we communicate through feelings. The only way babies can convey their discomfort is through crying. How our caregivers choose to react towards this informs how we will interact with the world going forward.