Withholding is a natural reaction when you feel your needs aren’t being met. But it’s a bad strategy.
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Many couples face the issue of unmet needs at some point in their marriage. When that happens or when we think our spouse isn’t behaving toward us as they should, we have a natural tendency to react by withholding from them the things they need most from us.
What does it mean to withhold from your spouse? Withholding is essentially a form of punishing your spouse by denying them something they want or need. It may be sex, affection, communication, kindness, attention, or some other key need. It’s often done in an attempt to manipulate your partner into giving you what you want.
The problem is withholding doesn’t work.
Why Withholding Is A Bad Strategy
Whether you react by withdrawing emotionally and shut down or react with resentment or anger, it will only serve to deepen the divide between you and your spouse. In truth, that will only make it less likely for you to have your needs met.
Let’s look at a few examples of how this might show itself.
Let’s say a husband has a high need for respect. When he feels disrespected by his wife, his natural reaction might be to shut down and withdraw emotionally. He may stop expressing tenderness, withholding non-sexual touch, or refusing to engage in conversation. But is his lack of affection actually going to cause her to act more respectfully toward him? No. In fact, if she feels hurt by his withholding behavior, she is less likely to give him the respect he wants.
Here is another example. Let’s say a husband hasn’t been giving his wife the time and attention she wants from him, acting a bit disengaged. She might react to the lack of emotional intimacy by withholding physical intimacy until he gives her the attention she wants. Is that going to work? Not likely. He’s likely to withdraw further in response to her sexual refusal.
The simple truth is that withholding in response to a situation where there is a divide between you, speeds you on the path of separation.
There is a better way
The Bible tells us in Roman’s 2:4 that It’s God’s kindness that leads us to have a change of heart, not his judgment or anger. God never withholds himself from us. He never distances himself to punish us. He pursues us relentlessly, even when we aren’t living in a way that honors him.
We are called to love like that.
Let’s suppose the disrespected husband in our example responds by moving toward his wife instead of away from her. Suppose he gives her an extra amount of the affection she longs for. His selfless act of forgiving the offense and choosing to show love despite his legitimately hurt feelings is much more likely to cause her to show him more respect than withdrawing and shutting down. And when she feels secure in his love, he will be able to share with her about his need for respect.
Similarly, what if the wife who feels neglected chose to show her husband extra physical affection, despite her feeling hurt by his inattention? The truth is he is more likely to respond positively and give her the time and attention she wants when he feels sexually satisfied. I realize that offering physical affection in the face of emotional distance is against every natural reaction women have but in a relationship of good-willed people reaching across any divide that separates you will propel you down the path of intimacy.
This Is Not Give-To-Get
I want to make sure this next part is very clear.
Moving toward your spouse when you feel your needs aren’t being met in order to get something from them is more manipulation than love.
The heart behind what I’m talking about is reaching out to your spouse and selflessly meeting their needs regardless of whether they are meeting yours or not, whether they respond as we would like or not. We do this because we are called to love like Christ – to put “being love” ahead of being right.
The Truth in Tension
Giving more attention to what you are giving your spouse than what they are giving you is a powerful principle for fueling intimacy and passion in your marriage. However, the counter-principle that needs to be held in tension is that you also need to express your own needs clearly.
It might seem like I’m telling you to do two different things, but these two principles actually go hand-in-hand. When you focus on meeting your spouse’s needs, it creates an atmosphere where he or she is more likely to be open to hearing about your needs.
For more about expressing your needs, check out our post “How to Voice Your Needs So Your Spouse Will Hear Them.”
Watch out for your natural tendency to withhold in the face of unmet needs and look for chances to show love in the way your spouse needs it most.