While it’s a cliche to say that every cliche contains a grain of truth, the common idea that men are less emotionally available than women is one that persists — perhaps for good reason.
According to gender stereotype, a man who isn’t emotionally available does things like:
- Avoids committing to a future together
- Deflects any conversation that focuses on feelings
- Refuses to share anything vulnerable about himself that could be construed as “weak”
- Laughs at or condescend to people who do share their feelings, often including significant others
- Prefers relying on himself than depending on anyone else, either physically or emotionally; he brags about doing everything himself and not needing anyone for anything
Below we’ll discuss some of the factors possibly contributing to men being less emotionally available, why they persist, and potential ways that men can open up.
Emotionally Unavailable or avoidant attachment
As a couples counselor, I see a significant number of men who fit the description of “emotionally unavailable.” This can otherwise be described as “avoidant attachment.”
Often, these avoidant people get into relationships with partners that they find “clingy” or perhaps overly emotional; a common dynamic is illustrated here. The emotionally avoidant partner evades every attempt by their partner to get closer, and their partner — rightfully so — becomes frustrated and angry. We all probably know couples who fit this mold, and many of us have even been one or the other of these types in a relationship of our own.
Not Just a Problem for Men
Despite the common stereotype of men being more emotionally unavailable, in my experience, there are many women that can be characterized this way as well. Often, they act differently than emotionally unavailable men; they are frequently more likely to commit to marriage, possibly because society trains women to focus on marriage and children as a priority. But when you examine the micro-interactions within any relationship, emotionally unavailable women are just as difficult to be close to as their male counterparts.
But what are the features of emotionally unavailable women?
Here are examples of how emotionally unavailable women can act within relationships In my experience as a couples counselor, in relationships emotionally unavailable women tend to:
- Hold themselves back from expressing emotions such as love or vulnerability
- Avoid sex or clarify that sex is only sex and not associated with love
- Look down on partners for having or expressing vulnerable or “weak” feelings
- Be self-sufficient to a fault
Criticizing partners for not doing enough, but being uncomfortable depending on anyone
Emotional unavailability manifests similarly across genders, with minor differences and variations. Furthermore, many men that I see in my practice are much more emotionally available than their female partners.
They are decidedly the more romantic and verbally expressive in their relationship, and are frustrated and resentful that their attempts at romance or emotional intimacy are rebuffed or diminished.
Sometimes, these men were raised by very verbally expressive mothers, and they assume that all women will act similarly; when their female partners are less forthcoming, they become as frustrated as women in this scenario. Alternatively, sometimes, their mothers were also emotionally unavailable, and they subconsciously found a woman with whom to repeat this disappointing dynamic, but in hope of a different, more satisfying resolution.
Every Relationship is Different
Rather than pigeonholing men as less emotionally available, it is important to look at every relationship as a whole, and to look at the patterns of relationships over time. Often, people who are drawn to one emotionally unavailable partner have been drawn to others in the past. As stated above, this is often due to subconscious attraction to a partner who is similar to a parent; if your parent or parents didn’t give you what you needed emotionally, you may be drawn to a partner who doesn’t either.
No matter why you have ended up in a relationship with an emotionally avoidant partners, the key challenge you will likely face is how to feel close and secure within a relationship with someone who looks down on the expression of feelings.
Couples therapy can be very helpful in this regard, as can individual therapy that explores the origin of your romantic choices and helps you figure out whether your relationship is working.