Emotional availability is about the ability to share an emotional connection. The model illustrated by the figure below was created by Rachel’s work with clients to capture what characterized successful connections made on dates and in role play. The six elements used are responsiveness, empathy, intimacy, openness, sensitivity, and articulation. (Another model, this one supported by published papers, can be found here.)
We can become emotionally unavailable in the short-term when we have had painful experiences of relationships, but this can be a longer-term condition when this was during childhood and attachments were insecure. But we can all improve in this area, in all kinds of relationships, both personal and professional.
Perhaps the crucial question to ask is: Do others see us as warm or cold?
If you would like to make warmer, more productive connections with people, you might like to take some time to answer these questions to see how emotionally available you are:
- What do you say when your date tells you they have recently suffered a bereavement or isn’t feeling well?
- Do you follow it up later in the conversation and the next day?
- Are you able to find out or get a sense of how much they want to talk about their difficulty before moving onto a different topic of conversation?
- Do you come across as warm in your facial expressions?
- How do you convey that you appreciate how difficult it has been for your date to go through their divorce, or how it feels to have had a stressful day at work?
- Are you able to use an appropriate tone of voice and non-verbal sounds and touch to convey your support and desire to understand?
- Are you able to offer sympathy without providing solutions?
- How do you feel when your date says she can’t wait to see you again, or that she has feelings for you?
- How do your feelings change after having good sex – do you want to go straight home and be alone?
- Do you feel panicky at the thought of the dating turning into something more routine, where for example you start arranging what to cook together?
- Are you able to talk about how you feel?
- Do you feel comfortable with your feelings, both positive and negative?
- Are you confident enough to say you’re missing your date, or that you’d rather he didn’t phone you every day?
- Can you tell from facial expressions when your date is uncomfortable or wants you to change the subject?
- Do you know when your date is close to tears, getting irritated, feeling offended, bored?
- Do you know when to go home and give your date some space?
- Do you have the vocabulary to express a range of feelings and thoughts about your date, so that you don’t have to repeat yourself too much?
- Are you able to say exactly what you like about him/her and give specific compliments?
- Can you articulate feelings of physical attraction, respect and admiration, how interesting or entertaining you find them, as well as more romantic responses?
- Are you able to ask questions that get to a deeper level?
Our emotional availability is something we can all reflect on, and develop strategies to improve on. We need to think about what is holding us back – have we become more cautious as a result of bad dating experiences, rejection, or previous relationship patterns? Do we need to explore a more general fear of intimacy and commitment? Or do we just need help with our social skills?
How should we show we are emotionally available in conversations?
Even if we’re emotionally available, we might not convey it. We probably all need some honing of our social skills and the ways in which we help the conversation along. Here are a few tips.
Even the gap in time between hearing our date disclose something personal and our response can make a big difference. We have to get the balance between listening without jumping to conclusions by responding too early; and leaving too long a gap and appearing to not be that interested.
Our listening skills often need improving too. We can make the mistake of offering advice, telling our own related story (“that happened to me too …..”) or making assumptions about how they must be feeling. Try asking questions and acknowledging what they have already said to show you’ve listened.
Consider this exchange:
A: I just went through a year of getting divorced. It’s been quite tough.
B: Oh yes, I had that a few years ago too. It was really stressful.
A: Well actually for me the emotion I felt the most was sadness.
B: My friends were mostly useless. But I got a lot of help from a support group in London, they were really good, I met with them nearly every week – you should join it.
B: So, shall we get another drink?
What was wrong with this conversation? Let’s assume that A is female and B is male, just to keep it simple with using “his” and “her”.
Firstly, B jumps straight in with his story without acknowledging A’s tough year. Then he talks about his emotion of stress without finding out how she felt. A expresses a different emotion and B does not respond to that, but continues with his story, and tries to give advice when it’s not been asked for and might not be what A needs. B is then quick to move onto something else when A doesn’t respond, rather than trying to draw her out further.
A isn’t perfect either. By moving on from stress to sadness she implies that his experience isn’t that important to her and that she is more interested in talking about her own feelings that finding out more about his. A then shows she isn’t interested in hearing about his support group even though he is clearly enthusiastic about it, and she could find out quite a lot about him and how he relates to others by asking more about it.
Even if your emotional responsiveness is fabulous already, you can still improve by finding ways to help the other person in the conversation to develop theirs.
If you would like help with developing your emotional availability, please get in touch! This can be done for example through:
- role play
- re-writing a conversation like the one above
- giving me access to your online dating conversations so I can analyse where you might improve
- providing you with good questions that will help to open up the conversation
- ideas about what to say to express empathy and the other components described above