Emotional Withholding Is The Most Toxic Form Of Abuse — Here’s Why

Any relationship that’s worth being in should contain plenty of love, affection, and empathy. When those things are lacking, it’s not long before things start going downhill. Being with a partner who refuses to open up to you emotionally or who goes out of their way to make you feel isolated alone is guilty of emotional abuse. Here’s how to recognize emotional withholding and what to do about it.

What is emotional withholding?

Emotional withholding in relationships refers to a pattern of behavior in which one partner intentionally withholds emotional expression, affection, or communication from the other partner. This can occur in romantic relationships, friendships, or family relationships. However, we’re going to focus on the romantic aspect in this article.

Emotional withholding can be damaging to a relationship and can cause feelings of frustration, loneliness, and resentment in the partner who’s being denied an emotional connection. It can also create a power imbalance in the relationship, with the withholding partner holding more control and the other partner feeling powerless. That’s not a situation anyone wants to be in.

Signs your partner is guilty of emotional withholding

  1. They avoid talking about their feelings or get defensive when you try to have an emotional conversation. Whenever you try to open up to get them to, they immediately shut down. They act like you’re trying to trick the into being vulnerable or something.
  2. They don’t express empathy or concern for your emotions or well-being. Your partner should want you to feel supported and understood. However, when they’re guilty of emotional withholding, they may seem cold or uninterested when you express sadness, concern, etc.
  3. They withhold physical affection, such as hugs, kisses, or holding hands. They should want to show you how much they care about you physically. However, if they refuse to do so in order to maintain power over you or make you feel bad, that’s emotional abuse. Don’t put up with it.
  4. They’re always making excuses to avoid spending time with you or engaging in activities you enjoy together. You’re in a relationship, so quality time is part of the deal. If they’re constantly avoiding being around you or only want to see you in group settings, that’s not okay.
  5. They dismiss your ideas or opinions without consideration. Emotional withholding can also take the form of dismissiveness. If they’re never interested in what you feel or think about a situation and never consult you before making decisions, they’re in the wrong. There are two people in your relationship. They should act like it.
  6. They use silence or passive-aggressive behavior as a way to punish you or control the relationship. When there’s conflict in a relationship, you have to communicate. That’s the only way to work through things. However, if they refuse to engage or deliberately blank you to feel powerful, they’re not only guilty of emotionally withholding but of emotional abuse as well.
  7. They make you feel guilty or ashamed for expressing your emotions or needs. This should never be the case. Not only should they validate your needs and emotions, but they should also aim to meet them where possible. Sure, no one else is responsible for your overall happiness. However, a lack of desire to ensure you’re okay is a serious red flag.
  8. They never apologize or take responsibility for their mistakes or hurtful behavior. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. When we do, we shouldn’t have a problem holding our hands up and saying we’re sorry. Someone who uses emotional withholding as a form of control refuses to apologize. They act like they’re perfect when they’re really not.
  9. They frequently interrupt or talk over you when you are expressing yourself. While you’re telling them how you’re feeling, they start giving their side of the story or get up and walk away as a way of dismissing you. It’s like your feelings don’t even matter.
  10. They don’t respond to your attempts to connect emotionally or withdraw emotionally without explanation. This is perhaps the most hurtful thing on this list. You want to be close to your partner because you love them. However, emotional withholding sees them making a deep connection impossible.

What to do about it

  1. Communicate your feelings. It’s important to communicate to your partner how their emotional withholding behavior is affecting you. Use “I” statements to express your own feelings and avoid blaming language. Also, don’t let them shut you down. You WILL be heard.
  2. Practice active listening. When your partner does communicate with you, make sure you listen attentively and show that you understand what they’re saying. You don’t want them to accuse you of ignoring what they’re saying (even if that’s what they always do to you).
  3. Validate your partner’s emotions. Make sure your partner knows that their emotions are valid and important. Avoid dismissing or minimizing their feelings. Just because they’re emotionally withholding with you doesn’t mean you should treat them the same. Continue being the partner you want to have in return.
  4. Set boundaries. Let your partner know what behaviors are not acceptable to you and what you expect from them in the relationship. It doesn’t matter whether they agree with these boundaries or not. They’re yours and you’re entitled to set them.
  5. Seek therapy. Consider seeing a therapist or counselor together to work on communication and emotional intimacy in the relationship. Of course, for this to work, your partner needs to accept their behavior is wrong and be willing to work on it.
  6. Take care of yourself. It’s important to take care of your own emotional needs, even if your partner is not meeting them. This may involve seeking support from friends, family, or a therapist.
  7. Practice self-reflection. Take time to reflect on your own behavior in the relationship and how it may be contributing to the problem. That being said, do NOT blame yourself. You’re not to blame for your partner’s behavior no matter how much they try to convince you that you are.
  8. Consider the future of the relationship. If your partner is unwilling to work on the issue or the emotional withholding behavior is causing irreparable damage to the relationship, it may be necessary to consider ending the relationship for your own emotional well-being.
Bolde has been a source of dating and relationship advice for single women around the world since 2014. We combine scientific data, experiential wisdom, and personal anecdotes to provide help and encouragement to those frustrated by the journey to find love. Follow us on Instagram @bolde_media or on Facebook @BoldeMedia