When a woman asks if you can change an emotionally unavailable man, she is usually seeking the answer ‘yes’. It’s not something with which women in happy relationships concern themselves that much.

This means you are already at a disadvantage.

You are in an unfulfilling relationship, but you dream of paradise. And you’re certain that paradise is within reach, if only your boyfriend would open his heart and see what is his for the taking.

If I could just make him see how good we could be together
If I could make him talk to me about how he feels
If I could just motivate him to change

Something that should be spontaneous and fulfilling is turning into a job. A work in progress. And you’re the only one working on it.

How Did You End Up Here?

Let’s take a step back and think more deeply about what it really means when you talk of trying to change an emotionally unavailable man.

The first thing to realize is that you are treating him as a child. He’s not. He’s an adult; and he’s not going to change just because YOU want it.

The truth is that people don’t change unless THEY decide to do so.

Has he given you any reason to believe he wants to change?
Probably not.

Now it’s not that change is impossible. Of course, he can change; people change all the time. But there’s always a reason, a trigger. Something that convinces a person that change is necessary or would be beneficial.

But it gets worse.
Because right now, here YOU are, trying to change him.

Take a minute to see it from his point of view.

He has a woman available to him when he wants her. Because she wants to make the relationship closer and more intimate, she showers him with attention to show him what an amazing girlfriend she is. He accepts the attention but keeps her at an emotional distance so that his own life doesn’t have to change.

What’s not to like?

Meanwhile, there you are, waiting for the thunderbolt moment when he realizes that it’s love: you are The One. Cue the soaring violins!

Why You’re Unlikely to Change an Emotionally Unavailable Man

But what you are really doing is hoping for a miracle; because then you won’t have to face up to some unpleasant realities.

You won’t have to accept that you have wasted your time and romantic energy investing in him
You won’t have to take any of the blame
You won’t have to find someone else

But of course, it’s easier to focus on what you see as his shortcomings than to look a bit closer to home.

Remember, he’s not a child. And it’s not for you to decide what he wants, or what is best for him. Anyway, it’s really what you want, and what is best for you, isn’t it? And that’s why it’s not going to change an emotionally unavailable man into one who connects with you.

What does make people change?

Usually it’s when something life-changing happens, which makes it impossible to go on in the same old way. They must change or go under. But you won’t change an emotionally unavailable man while you’re always there, the fallback girl, available when he wants you.

A home truth must be faced.

You can’t change an emotionally unavailable man; in fact you can’t force anyone to change. You can only change yourself.

Think about it. Instead of putting your happiness into the hands of man who is pretty cavalier and careless with it, you will be taking it back into your own hands. And that’s where it belongs.

This is positive action. And there are excellent reasons for doing it. Here are a few.

The Longer You Stay, The Harder It Becomes to Walk Away

There’s no doubt about it: for lots of people, dating is a bit of a hard slog. Talking about his part as Sam in Sleepless in Seattle, Tom Hanks called dating ‘a necessary evil’. So when you’ve found someone you think could be right for you; your first instinct is to try to make it work, rather than facing the ordeal of cutting loose and having to go back on the dating scene to find someone else.

And so you go on, investing in a relationship that isn’t really what you want; but the longer you go on trying, the harder it becomes to admit you’ve wasted your time and emotional energy. You keep telling yourself that things will ‘come right’ in the end.

Well, they might. But if you are constantly chafing in a relationship that is unfulfilling, it’s unlikely. Tell yourself you are worth more than that; and learn to move on.

Bad Experiences Are Self-Perpetuating

Has this happened to you before?

It’s amazing how many women go on making the same mistakes: choosing men who keep disappointing them, often in strikingly similar ways. If this isn’t the first time you have tried to change an emotionally unavailable man, then you need look at your own attraction triggers to understand why it keeps happening.

Why are you attracted by these men?
How quickly do you recognize the type?
Why don’t you realize you are wasting your time and walk away?

When you develop a behavioral pattern, there is always a reason. Work on understanding your reasons, so that you can change your behavior. Get professional help if necessary.

You Are Using Your Romantic Energy On a Man Who Is Unworthy Of It

A good relationship is one which makes both partners feel happy and fulfilled. But you are neither. You are putting in 80% – 90% of the effort, and he is putting 10%, maybe 20% on a good day.

This is an unacceptable use of your time and energy. Pull back and wait for him to make more effort. It he doesn’t bother; it’s an indication that you need to move on.

Your Confidence and Your Self-Esteem Are Being Destroyed

People derive their sense of self-worth from how other people treat them. And when a man treats you as dispensable, it undermines your confidence. This makes you feel less worthy of a good relationship, and means you cling more desperately to the inadequate one you have.

It’s a downward spiral.

You feel less attractive and desirable
You become needy and clingy
You stop believing you could do better

Telling yourself you are a strong woman doesn’t help, because you know a strong woman wouldn’t put up with such treatment. So don’t just tell yourself, BE a strong woman.

Walk away.

He Doesn’t Want You Enough To Make Any Effort To Please You

When a man genuinely wants to please a woman, he’ll go all out to do so. If you’re having to tot up his positive actions to convince yourself he’s serious, you are in trouble.

Don’t overanalyze. Keep it simple.

Does he ask you on a date?
Does he ask you to be his girlfriend?
Does he want you to meet his friends and family?
Does he tell you he wants to be exclusive, and not see other people?

If he’s not doing these things, the message is loud and clear. He’s happy to be with you now, casually, but he’s not thinking exclusive, let along long-term.

He’s not too shy, too uncertain or just too bashful to ask. There’s no ulterior motive. He’s just not that much into you.

You’ll Never Find Mr Right If Your Life Is Being Consumed By Mr Wrong

One of the worst things about being with Mr Wrong is how it consumes your energy and skews your perceptions. The longer you stay, the more committed YOU (not him) become to the relationship, and the more reluctant you are to cut your losses and leave. And every day those potential losses become bigger, as does your emotional investment.

And every day your boyfriend does a little bit less to keep the relationship going. He doesn’t have to make any effort, because YOU are doing it for him.

And every day your confidence is being sapped and your self-esteem falls a little further; so that you feel less worthy of a good relationship – and less inclined to take the risk of leaving.

But wait…There is a final irony here.

What If You DID Manage to Change an Emotionally Unavailable Man?

Right now you are placing your happiness in his hands, making it conditional on your being able to change an emotionally unavailable man. And the real reason you want him to change is so that he can love you the way you want to be loved. It’s a selfish reason, and love does not flourish among selfishness.

If he does ever change, it won’t be because he has suddenly recognized the value of the love you have been pushing on him in order to extract a return. It will be because of some huge event; an event that leaves him with different priorities and wanting different things.

But YOU will still be the same woman; the woman who fitted into his old life. Now he wants something different; and that probably means a different woman.

One who personifies all his new ideals
One who is the best fit he can find for his new life
…and almost certainly NOT YOU

You are diminishing yourself by clinging to a sub-standard relationship, not just in your own eyes but in your boyfriend’s eyes too.

What’s the solution?

Give yourself some love. Loving yourself is not selfish, on the contrary it is the first step towards being lovable to others. Stop trying to force a reluctant or indifferent man to love you, and love yourself. Focus on your friends, career, and hobbies and start to feel positive about life.

Give yourself some time to rebuild your self-esteem, and then see if you still want him. You may find that your efforts have given you higher standards, which you now realize he can’t fulfil. And you may have boosted your value in his eyes, too; enough to inspire him to make more effort.

If you still believe he is The One, then find out to rekindle your relationship in a way that works for you.

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Joan

    Married to a man for 15 years and I always knew there was something wrong. I kept working at the marriage and he didn’t. He blamed his job. I waited for his retirement thinking it would be “different”. The marriage was NEVER about US. It was about his job. I finally moved out. That hasn’t helped. Now he works more. He’s definitely EU. Wish I had known earlier. What a waste of time.

  2. Lex

    Don’t blow past people’s boundaries like that, that’s not cool. If you blow past their boundaries and are trying to make them commit, you’re acting like a predator. It shows you don’t actually respect the other person, want control of the relationship and them. There’s a word for this type of person, a “creep”.

    If someone doesn’t want to commit, there’s a damn good reason for it, perhaps you don’t think it’s valid but that’s the whole problem. You don’t think it is, which means you don’t see the other person as an equal and worthy of making their own decisions. That’s really bad news!

    Why would someone want to be in a relationship with a predator / creep / stalker to begin with?

    If someone doesn’t want to commit, don’t force it or come back later, just leave. Don’t use emotional blackmail, be an adult and leave the relationship, if it means moving out, do so.

    Many people tell you they don’t want to get married from the get go. If you think you can wear them down to marry you, you’ve got a screw loose and should be in therapy to fix your misunderstandings on how relationships work; it’s not all about you.

    You need to practice empathy, to see it from another person’s perspective instead of feeling hurt they aren’t reciprocating the way you expect them to.

    1. Sarah

      Clearly you didn’t read past the title.

    2. Sam

      While I agree with this, I remember being a grown up to an emotionally unavailable man who I was in a casual relationship with and saying “Look, I really care about you, but I’m struggling to separate things. I dont think it’s fair on either of us now. I’m not going to make you have a relationship with me that you dont want, but if I cant separate the fringe benefits that I do enjoy giving because I care about you, then please dont ask me to” – queue him continuing to do so me thinking to myself (naively) ‘Well if I told him that then surely as a grown up himself he wouldnt ask’ and pretty much got your response afterwards from him!

      Its selfishness on both peoples parts. Ones enjoying the trappings of a relationship (selfish) knowing the other wants more and the other is largely hoping the other one will turn around and give it to them from there selfishness.

      I dont like that it’s entirely blamed on the woman here. Why cant the other party take some responsibility also? Or is it really that ok to take advantage of other people?

      1. Sarah

        I agree it wasn’t kind of him to go on seeing you but I assume that as you didn’t explicitly say ‘don’t call me’ he went on having his cake and eating it. In his eyes he’d made his position clear, but his behavior was what in previous century would have been called dishonorable.

  3. Anastasia

    So I was also in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable guy. A few days ago he told me that he loved me with all his heart and will always do and expressed his desire to change his traits , but then again within a few days he was just the previous person, ignoring everything I am saying emotionally or expressing love for him. Sometimes he is responding super nicely, but that’s like that 80-20 thing It has been 4 years, but finally yesterday I wrote to him that I am setting him free. I also wrote to him I don’t blame him for anything. I really tried my best to make him feel loved, inspired him to be kind with People, shared all wholesome stories I came across, still he was the same person. He is so grateful to me as he said, but for the most of it, he responded so less which made me feel very very sad over 4 years and he was always coming back to me when he needed mental support. He had a wish to change, but I don’t think I will ever be able to change him. I even included in my prayers everyday, I don’t know how better I could havr tried. I don’t know whether setting him free was right, since after almost 4 years he wished to change but still was the same person. He said that I was the most precious and pure hearted woman he had ever met. But he is always the same.My heart has bled a lot past 4 years. I really had no other way except for leaving him. Do you think I was correct? Do you think he will be back in a good form?

    1. Sarah

      I think you are doing the right thing to withdraw from him.

      For 4 years you have done all the work, This was unwise, but you did it out of love and for the best of motives. It’s never wise to give more in a relationship than you receive. The more you give, the less effort a man makes, which makes you try even harder (and him even less). He doesn’t sound like a bad man at all, just a man who can’t find a way into a relationship in which you are already doing everything. Step back. Stop giving. Leave a space between you into which he can step, and perhaps finally make his own contribution.

    2. B

      Wow Anastasia, I just read your comment and it really resonated with me. My girlfriend broke up with me 6 weeks ago, probably for like the sixth / final time. We were together in total for about 4 years. She kept leaving me and then coming back. I would and have done everything I could for this relationship. I gave all of me and now I have nothing left and lost my identity with the relationship. The pain is unbearable. I think you did the right thing walking away. I wish I had walked away but I couldn’t do it. I love her too much and breaks my heart at the thought of not being with her but I also felt like she lost respect for me in the end because I just kept giving and enabling her behaviour. At least by walking away and being honest you are giving your partner a clear message and a chance to change. I feel so guilty for not being more honest and having better boundaries, maybe I could’ve helped my ex. I hope everything works out for you, know that there are others going through the same. Sending you love. B

      1. Sarah

        I hope you emerge stronger and wiser too. Good luck for the future.

    3. Fiona

      The question is it worth him coming back? Unless he gets help at putting in hard yards at emotional development, likely you will be taking back old problems. Meaning your back where you started. You need to focus on self now.

      1. Sarah

        Perhaps there’s an emotional development course you could recommend?

  4. Jennie

    I realize now that I have always been attracted to emotionally unavailable men; and the reason is that they present an irresistible challenge. If I can get a man too easily, I’m not interested. But my personal experience bears out your theory that trying too hard turns a man off. So how can I reconcile my own need for a challenge with men’s refusal to be challenged?

    1. Sarah

      Instead of trying to get him, make him work to get you. And if he can’t bothered, then you know immediately you’re wasting your time. Win, win.

    2. Lex

      You can stop playing mind games, which is an immature emotional longing and not an actual need. Seeing things logically, like many guys do will get you further along in the relationship.

      However, you need to realize, the more you feel you need to fix them, the real problem is that you need to fix yourself, first. Once that’s done, you’ll no longer look for people who are “fixer uppers” or the “challenge accepted” types. Meaning you see them as a challenge and that you should try to change someone.

      If you have that kind of mindset, it’s creepy, because it all about control, it’s predator like.

      The reason why people try to change others, is because they can’t control and change themselves. They’re too afraid to work on themselves, so they pull some crazy bullsh*t on someone else.

      That’s being irresponsible and immature, to boot.

      You attract what you currently are, not what you want in a relationship. If you want a better relationship, you need to change yourself so you’re not controlling and looking to “fix someone, because they’re not actually broken… You are!”.

      1. Sarah

        It’s looking as if you have a few issues of your own.

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