Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Withholding Affection as Punishment

How the Silent Treatment Destroys Relationships

Vanessa Bennett
8 min readFeb 22, 2019


The feelings of anger, frustration, betrayal, and annoyance washed over me. Followed by an intense desire to push him away, throw up my hands, and say “fuck it and fuck you.”

This is not a feeling most of us want to associate with our intimate partners. And yet, 3-months into what seemingly was the best relationship I had been in in my life I felt this very familiar cluster of emotions and sensations wash over me like hot molten lava. My long practiced and perfected skill at pushing people away and shutting them out came rushing forward, overcoming any skills learned as an adult in therapy. I spent the next 8-hours being cordial yet extremely distant, angry and deeply hurt.

I believe it was my years of inner work combined in large part with the fact that I have a partner who is open and willing to hear the hard shit (after years of his own work) that enabled me to pinpoint why I was feeling this way, articulate exactly what triggered it in me, and then be very specific about behaviors that felt unsafe and unacceptable in intimate relationships moving forward. (And yes, it took me 8-hours to articulate it. Breaking old habits is not easy to do...even for a therapist.)

I’ll break down the mere 10-minutes that led to the 8-hours of this intense reaction:

Immediately after waking up in the morning I could sense something was off with him. He was quiet, contemplative, and distant. Drastically different than he usually was and had been just the day prior. I asked him if he was ok, he replied yes. I knew this was not true. He continued being distant, and in my opinion, cold.

That, my friends, is what we call a trigger…in action. A + B led to C. So what did this change in his emotional and physical behavior signal to me on a mostly unconscious level? If the behavior was A and my hurt and anger were C, then what was B?

In my head, B was that I had done something wrong. He wasn’t happy with me. So, ipso facto he wanted to break up. He had changed his mind about us. He was leaving me. And, the only way for him to feel better about him, about me, about us or be normal again was for me to alter my behavior, be good, coddle him, suck up…



Vanessa Bennett

Psychotherapist, Mindfulness + Codependency Coach. Cohost of the Cheaper Than Therapy Podcast. IG:vanessasbennett