Withholding love is a common relationship tactic that many people use to avoid being hurt, deal with their emotions, or control their partner. There are many ways that it can show up. Perhaps you are withholding love and don’t even know it. Let’s explore this and see.

The Silent Treatment or Shutting Someone Down

Sometimes we all need some space to figure out our thoughts and feelings, and it’s better to take a break to get clear. If you state that that’s what’s going on, that’s not the silent treatment. The silent treatment is a deliberate refusal to speak with someone or acknowledge their existence. It’s designed to punish the other person, show displeasure, or sometimes avoid conflict. Shutting someone down is not allowing them to speak.

Withholding conversation is a form of withholding love. It’s a stop sign that says, “We will not go where I don’t feel comfortable going.” When that’s a habit, it limits how deep and meaningful relationships can be. Additionally, conflicts never get resolved and resentments build so either the relationship will eventually end under the pressure of so much unresolved stuff or it will stagnate and be superficial.

Withholding Affection

Withholding affection could be in the form of praise, positive regard, support, attention, hugs, or sex. This teaches the other person that they have to deserve love in order to get it. It’s controlling, manipulative, and abusive. Everyone is worthy of love. Love is free, priceless, and doesn’t need to be earned.

This doesn’t mean that you have to give attention to anyone anytime that they want it and in any way that they want it. You can still have boundaries. It becomes withholding when it’s done to control or punish.

Why Do People Withhold Love?

We are taught how to love. When we grow up in a safe environment where verbal and physical affection are freely given in an appropriate way, we learn to be open. We learn how to give and receive. Unfortunately, if we get into romantic relationships that are hurtful, we can also learn how to shut down and protect ourselves by withholding.

While this works to keep danger at bay, it also works to keep love at bay. If I don’t show you who I am, you can’t hurt me. If I don’t share my emotions, you won’t know me. When I keep my affection, compliments, and time to myself, I don’t invest in you, so our relationship never grows or becomes safer. So, withholding hurts all people in the relationship.

What To Do If This Is You

If you’re reading this and saying, “Uh oh. I think that me!” that’s great! Here are some things you can do to learn how to be authentic without withholding love.

  • If you need space or time to yourself, let your partner know. This helps to maintain your connection while you get the space that you need.
  • If you find yourself talking over someone, stop. Listen with the intention to understand. If something that they are saying upsets you, muse on it. The things that tweak us are mirrors into what is unresolved within us. See if you can learn something about yourself from this.
  • When something makes you uncomfortable and you feel the impulse to withhold, pause. Lean into it and ask yourself what’s going on. If it’s safe to communicate that, do so. For example, “I am feeling a bit insecure right now. Could you…. (or) I need to…”
  • If you find yourself clinging to resentment, it’s a sign that something is unresolved. Talk about it until it’s resolved so that you can move on.
  • Are you being snarky, sarcastic, uncharitable, or unkind? That’s a sign of resentment, too. It also results from judgment and finding someone undeserving of kindness. Perhaps it’s time to reset your baseline to “respectful.” Remember, everyone deserves love. It doesn’t have to be earned.
  • Do you withdraw when you feel vulnerable? Everyone has a self preservation mode. We all want to survive, but it’s rare that sharing feelings or being yourself will threaten your survival. Gradually give yourself permission to be you and share control. Practice being open so that you learn how and when to do that safely.
  • Do you withhold love because you don’t have the greatest boundaries? Learn how to say yes and no appropriately. Ask for what you want. This actually makes relationships much better because everyone will know where everyone else stands. This is a great thing!
  • Examine how you learned to withhold love. If there is something from childhood or a past relationship that needs to be healed, get some help with that. It can make all the difference in the world.

Humans need love and connection. It’s the foundation of honest, healthy relationships. If you want that, you have to be able to engage in loving ways. When you experience how giddy and free it feels to be free of the need to shut down, you will wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. So what are you waiting for?