Saturday, October 22, 2011

Emotionally Available

Have you ever spent a good deal of time with someone and then left feeling like you have no deeper knowledge of them? Or have you shared a vulnerable moment with someone and afterwards you have no clue as to what they are thinking or feeling, and that your story did not “move” them in any way?

You may be with someone who is emotionally unavailable.

Or perhaps I may be describing you.

Emotional availability is the ability to monitor your own feelings and then communicate them to another person. It is also the ability to read other people’s verbal and non-verbal cues accurately, and then respond appropriately (emotional intelligence).

 I want to emphasize the word “appropriately” here. There can be a tendency to overshare in an attempt to connect with someone, or to withhold out of fear or anxiety. Oversharing may drive a person away because they might interpret it as neediness on your part, whereas holding on too tight to your feelings may lead them to believe you are emotionally cold.

I suggest a layered approach where you reveal your deeper feelings a little at a time, testing to see how they respond. With each new “layer” you should risk a little more and then see if they are also willing to risk in return. If they cannot, then stop there. If you continue to share after that point with nothing in return you will eventually become hurt and resentful.

I have observed that there is a tendency in some people to consider oversharing a virtue in the name of authenticity and transparency. They want to let a potential candidate for a relationship know all the emotional baggage that they carry, even before that person has a chance to discover all the positive benefits of being in a relationship with them. If this happens on a first encounter, I would be very apprehensive.

But on the other hand, people that are unable to share their deeper feelings (both positive and negative) will probably not be able to sustain a relationship because their partner will feel alone. This is where guessing and mind-reading may enter the picture, often with disastrous results. It takes a lot of frustrating work to pull feelings from an emotionally withholding partner. And you may never know if they are really being honest or just placating you.

So would I advise you to run from an emotionally unavailable person? It depends.

In a dating relationship I would suggest proceeding cautiously and not attempt to take them on as a project. If fear is holding them back and they open up as they relax, there might be potential.

In a marriage, it will probably be necessary to enter counseling as soon as possible to prevent further damage.

How about the person who tends to overshare and parade their emotional damage to you?

Again, in a dating relationship I would be careful not to engage in “rescuing” and take them on as a project. Are they engaged in counseling and recovery and being successful in healing the hurt places in their life, or are they stuck or unwilling to get help? Are they growing in maturity both spiritually and emotionally?

You will probably know when you are with an emotionally available and healthy person, because you will feel connected, but not smothered. You will feel relaxed around them, but not bored. You will feel energized, but not find yourself frequently in the middle of a drama, walking on eggshells.

Any thoughts or comments?  


  1. I really like this blog. I think the layer approach can be practiced. We don't just automatically know how to do this, especially if we come from a family of origin that is not well-versed in this area. I know for me, I had to learn and am still learning. But practicing emotional availability/not oversharing in friendships has been critical. Learning to do this in a context of a life group and building a circle of trust can be so healthy with "safe" people, as I've come to understand. If someone can do this well with friends, it's just natural for it to overflow into other areas of life: family, dating relationships, work life, etc. That's why I'm so thankful for our community so that I can practice there first! :)

  2. Thank you so much Nan. I needed to hear that! You guys are so good to blog about this. Aron has taught me everything I know about being emotional intelligent and layering information so as not to overshare. I am, like Melissa, still growing so much in this, and so thankful for people like you two and my hubbie, and others who care for those of us clueless ones!