why don't my relationships last? emotional abandonment and emotional availability

Why Don’t My Relationships Last?

It’s so common for people to have a string of relationships that don’t last. There’s a disconnect between you and your partner, even in the beginning when fostering the relationship, it gets cut short because of that disconnect. What’s going on? Is it that you’re not compatible or are needs not being met?

You might not even realize why your relationships don’t last. You might think it’s because you’re just not compatible with anyone, or you haven’t found the “right” person yet. A common underlying cause of relationships ending early is that your emotional needs, and the emotional needs of your partner, aren’t understood or being met. When this happens, do you get scared, pull back, put up an emotional barrier, or end the relationship early? 


Incompatible or Emotionally Unavailable?

Relationships often end because your or your partner’s needs aren’t being met. This can happen when you’ve been raised without space for emotional growth and expression. When children are raised without being taught emotional intelligence and given the freedom to explore and express their emotions, it can lead to being emotionally unavailable as an adult. 


Here are some signs that you may be emotionally unavailable:

  • You disconnect from others;
  • Your friends and partners comment that you’re distant and not open;
  • Relationships don’t last;
  • You have a hard time sharing how you feel.


Even if you spent decades of your life being emotionally detached from others, it is possible to change and find a deeper connection in your relationships.


What is Emotional Abandonment?

If we are raised without being encouraged to express our emotions, it can deeply impact the way we relate to others as adults. When parents don’t foster emotional expression, or didn’t show empathy, we learn to protect ourselves by putting up emotional barriers. 


Emotional abandonment can look like:

  • Being told “Get over it,” “You’re overly emotional,” “Boys don’t cry,” “You’re too sensitive,” “There’s nothing to be upset about,” or to “suck it up.”
  • Responding to emotional expression with guilt and shame: “You hurt me when you do that,” or “You’re making me look bad.”
  • Not being shown empathy through facial expressions or body language.
  • Verbal, physical, or spiritual aggression or oppression: “I’ll give you something to be upset about,” or “God says you’re supposed to obey your parents and behave well,” and screaming, yelling, pushing, or shoving.
  • Responding to the emotional needs of a child with guilt-inducing messages and shame tactics.
  • Parents not taking responsibility for their actions that abandoned their child’s emotional needs.


When raised with emotional availability, it teaches us to be able to effectively express our emotions and needs. We carry those skills with us into adulthood and are able to express our needs to our partner while ensuring their needs are being met.


Emotionally availability looks like:

  • Allowing the child to fully express themselves, even if it’s uncomfortable for the parent.
  • Notice if the child is suffering and asking them how they’re feeling.
  • Validating their feelings.
  • Reciprocating with emotional empathy and compassion: “I’m so sorry you feel that way,” “It’s not fair that that happened,” “Do you need a hug?”
  • Taking responsibility for not providing emotional support: “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you. I’m here for you now.”


Unfortunately, because of society, culture, and gender norms, many of us weren’t raised in an emotionally fostering environment, so we have to learn how to do this as adults. 


Emotional Abandonment During Childhood Can Impact Adult Romantic Relationships

Emotional abandonment as children leads to emotional unavailability as adults. There are different aspects of emotional intelligence that are stunted as a result:


Emotional Language: Language for emotional expression is limited and this impairs communication. When discussing your feelings, do you feel lost? Trying to express yourself can come out like a word jumble. So rather than trying and failing, people often stay quiet, which can be perceived as you not caring or not listening.


Emotional Empathy: When you’re not provided emotional empathy to emulate as a child, you’re not given the opportunity to practice it, making it difficult to do so as an adult in your relationships. It’s hard to understand what your partner is feeling, so you are unable to meet their emotional needs and give them the support and compassion they’re looking for in a romantic relationship.


Emotional Vulnerability: It can be really uncomfortable to sit with and process your feelings, especially if you don’t have the practice. If you are resistant to being vulnerable, you won’t be able to have your own needs met. You feel that you’re having a hard time understanding your feelings, so you don’t end up saying anything, or you say, “whatever you want,” which again can be perceived as “I don’t care.” If you are scared to express your feelings, or scared to let down your walls, it can come across as being not involved, invested, or engaged. Being emotionally vulnerable is a way to show that you care and the relationship is important to you.


How Does Emotional Vulnerability Improve Relationships?

Emotional vulnerability isn’t just about showing that you care. Allowing yourself to be open with others (and yourself) prepares you to cope with a variety of life’s issues so you can heal and thrive. When we’re scared to let our walls down and confronted with emotions, fear floods the nervous system and we end up reacting in ways that aren’t helpful (to ourselves, our partners, or the relationship). We end up feeling anxious, angry, frustrated, annoyed, or numb, and it’s often expressed through arguing, gaslighting, dismissing or invalidating others’ feelings, and creating physical and emotional distance. 


This fear of being emotionally vulnerable is intertwined with the fear that you’ll lose your partner or you’re not good enough, so you end relationships early. It masks itself as incompatibility, which makes you think that you’re just not cut out to be in a long-term relationship. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable and honest with your partner. It may seem counterintuitive, but it will lead to deeper and longer lasting relationships. 


I know it can be scary or taboo to be open about your feelings, especially when you’ve been raised in an environment of emotional abandonment and taught to suppress your emotions. But expressing your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s proof that you are courageous and strong. Read more on why emotional vulnerability is a sign of strength.


How To Improve Emotional Availability In Romantic Partnerships


Just because you may have been raised without the ability to understand and express emotions, doesn’t mean it’s too late to learn. Here are some tips on how to improve your emotional availability so you can have fulfilling and lasting relationships.


Active and Reflective Listening: Start slowly by practicing active and reflective listening. Listen to how others talk about their emotions so you can expand your own emotional language. Paraphrase what the other person said. When they are expressing themselves to you and pause, say back what they said in your own words. Add phrases that show empathy, such as “that sucks” and  “I’m here for you.” Keep practicing and take it slow.


Belly Breathing: The practice of belly breathing releases fear from the body. Allow yourself to feel your belly move up and down, without having too much movement in your chest. Take long deep inhales through the mouth and slowly exhale through the nose until the intensity of the uncomfortable emotions subside. Give yourself plenty of time to practice this skill and do your best to release any judgement about how you are doing the practice. Instead focus on the movement of your body and where you are holding tension. The act of belly breathing removes tension from your neck and shoulders, or wherever you are holding it. Your body physically senses the diaphragm moving up and down, leading to a significant decrease in fear and tension.


Mindfulness: The behavior piece comes first. Once you’ve learned the language of emotional expression, you can move on to learning how to sit with your feelings. Allow yourself to feel your emotions, rather than pushing them down or avoiding them. Although this may feel very intense at first, your emotions won’t physically harm you. Again, take it slow. It doesn’t have to be scary and fast. When you are ready, reflect on your feelings a little at a time until it becomes less overwhelming and scary. Then do it more and more – you’ll notice that it becomes easier to fully feel and express your emotions over time. The more you practice coping, the easier it gets. It’s uncomfortable, but know you can get through it. 


Self-Compassion: Take it slow. Not everyone was given the opportunity to develop the skills to be emotionally available. It’s not innate or a personality trait. It’s a skill that takes time to learn. If you don’t have all of the words to express yourself and your needs, state that you are working on it and don’t the best you can, “I have a limitation,” “I didn’t have the most effective parent to be emotionally available,” or “I’m working on it/I’m still learning.” Be kind to yourself and don’t judge yourself for where you are.


How Individual Therapy Can Improve Your Relationships

Individual therapy isn’t just for people who aren’t in relationships. Going to therapy by yourself can improve all of your relationships. Therapy teaches you how to communicate more effectively to meet your partner’s needs and to express your needs. It empowers you to be strong and in control so you can change yourself and your life. 


As we address and process childhood hurt and emotional abandonment, we also look at what’s happening in your current relationships and how you can shape a brighter future. I help my clients develop new neuro-pathways that break old patterns of thinking and behaviors that no longer serve you. When you were a child, these might have protected you, but now as an adult they no longer serve you. I can help you create these new pathways that better serve you and those in your life today.


Therapy teaches you coping and relaxation strategies, self-compassion skills, and how to build self-trust and internal validation so you can work through difficult emotions. I provide you the space, time, and support you need to go through this process. You are not alone. It isn’t easy, but it is incredibly rewarding. Do it for yourself and your partnership.


If you live in California and are struggling with being emotionally vulnerable and your relationships, I’m here for you. I know it can be scary to start therapy and face your limitations – I’ve been there. Contact Jacqueline and get the support you need to learn how to have deeper and longer lasting relationships.

Posted by Jacqueline Jackson