Everyone wants to be loved, and yet so many times, love is the hardest thing for us to express and receive. Here are 10 reasons we withhold love from others, and maybe why they withhold it from us.

A meme about how we withhold love

I like to climb the nature reserve next to my house every Saturday morning, and yesterday I was joined by a friend of mine. He’s a pretty smart guy and likes asking questions about things he already has good ideas about in an attempt to learn more about it. Yesterday he asked me what my thoughts were on what it means to guard your heart. I shared some thoughts from a post I wrote quite a while ago about the topic, but it got me thinking on those lines again yesterday. And then last night I saw a few posts on social media about what our parents were like “at our age”, and about our desire to avoid human interaction, like the ones above.

Our society really has become obsessed with independence. For all the talk of people wanting to find a significant other, of finding and falling in love, in being adored and cherished by others… we sure do find it hard to love others. I’m not saying that to be judgmental – just as an observation of a truly prevalent difficulty in our society.¬†Looking at posts like the above and seeing the millions and millions of people who reshare, tag all their friends, and relate and go “omg this is me”, I couldn’t help but feel sad that these sort of posts are as relateable as they are.

Love is one of the most wonderful things a human being can ever experience. Unfortunately, it’s also an area of our greatest pain and frustration. As a result, it’s quite common for us to withhold love from others, and for us to feel like others withhold love from us. So I thought this time around I would have a look at some of those honest, painful and sinister reasons why we do this to each other.

#1: Love is scary

To be seen as you really are, to be cherished, to have someone stay… that’s a scary idea enough on its own.

And perhaps even more scary is, if you put yourself out there – if you communicate your affection, if you give the best of your heart to your wife, if you tell your man how you really feel, if you talk about the love you have for that person… what if they don’t love you back? What if you decide that you will stay with someone through all the things they do wrong, and they don’t decide to stay? What if they misuse your affections? What if they take advantage of your kindness? What if what if what if?

The what if’s usually win out when it comes to love. We end up remaining afraid of the very thing that’s meant to set us free.

#2: Love is new

For some of us, all we’ve every really known is a life where it’s just about us. We make dinner plans for ourselves, we see the friends we want to see, we’re used to managing our schedule the way we want to manage it. So when love comes our way, we withhold our expression or our response. It’s unfamiliar territory. My career, I can control that, I’m in charge there, I’ll throw my effort there. My hobbies, man I’m good at my hobbies, I’ll keep my effort there. Casual sex, that’s easy, no strings attached, no heart things, I’ll keep my effort there. My pets, my housework, my volunteerism, my whatever. We like safe, predictable, familiar.

But to open the door to your heart is something many of us have never really done before. We’ve only ever engaged in our relationships with half our heart involved. Or less.

To love with all our hearts is unfamiliar and so we don’t always know how to go about it.

#3: Because we don’t recognize the right types of love over the wrong types of love

Sadly, our society is dominated by people who have “loved us” in all the wrong ways, and to quote Bon Jovi, many people give love a bad name.

My Fair Lady is a very popular and beloved musical that’s doing the rounds in Brisbane at the moment. I had never seen it, and to find out what I’ve been missing, I watched an adaption of it online a few weeks ago. I couldn’t believe it. The story centres around an abusive, angry, selfish professor trying to teach a cockney woman to live a life of class. Sure, it has some endearing moments, and the professor ends up falling in love with the woman, but there is no pay off – he doesn’t change, he remains angry and abusive towards her.

We call that love?

And yet when we see love in our own lives… from the right people, from people who genuinely care, from those who aren’t harsh, from those who aren’t abusive, we fail to recognize, receive, or reciprocate when we see the real deal because we have grown accustomed to its cheap imitators from those who claim to be loving.

#4: Our personality type

I’m pretty introverted, and it can be very easy for me to give into my introverted, introspective nature and keep all my thoughts and affections to myself. So when people tell me they struggle to demonstrate love to their husband or wife, when they say they don’t know how to go about asking someone out or maintaining a growing relationship, when they feel down on themselves because their parents never said that they loved them because of “personality”, I can understand that notion, as my tendencies are inclined to be the same as those who withhold.

I think the real issue here is that good intentions aren’t enough. It’s amazing to hear of how many well meaning, love filled people do not actually express it in a way that their partner, their new girlfriend, their children or their family can understand or receive.

They say love unrequited is one of the most damaging things in life. I think love uncommunicated is perhaps just as bad.

#5: Our family of origin

On that note, if you grew up in a family where people didn’t hug each other, where no one used the words “I love you”, where people routinely belittled each other at the dinner table, even a home full of violence or abuse, you are more likely to withhold your love from others.

One things psychologists frequently discuss when counselling people in these areas is the impact of your family of origin. Why? Because patterns and cycles repeat themselves. The traits of the parents, the marriage, the treatment of children and extended family all perpetuate almost without end, until someone gets the help they need to break the cycle.

Are you repeating a cycle of withholding love?

#6: We don’t know how to balance career and relationship

Can you study and love at the same time? Can you be striving for promotion at work while also building a family?

Many people in our generation can’t. I have heard many of my older mentors attribute this reality to selfishness. You know… they’re probably right. We don’t really know how to put anyone besides ourselves first at times. My dreams, my goals, my aspirations, and no one better get in my way.

Unfortunately, we get to climb the heights of success, only to realize we have no one with us there to celebrate it or share it with.

#7: We don’t understand it ourselves

Man, love is confusing. Especially our own love. Why does this person have so much of my attention? Why do I find myself shifting thought to them continually throughout the day? Why am I deferring my own needs or desires for the sake of others?

Love messes with our sense of control. Even though we are still fully in control, its sway is powerful and makes us feel like our decisions aren’t our decisions any more.

#8: Because of what happened last time

Once bitten, twice shy. If you’ve had your heart broken to whatever degree, it can be an abhorrent, frustrating, brutal idea to even consider loving someone again.

I’ve written more on this one in How Do You Move On?.

Choose healing.

#9: We’re trying to pour from an empty cup

You can’t give from what you don’t have. And if you don’t know you’re loved, if you don’t have strength, energy, capacity, willingness or desire within yourself, how will you ever communicate it to someone else?

Love must come from a source higher than ourselves if it is to be faithful, constant and true. I have to know inside myself that I’m loved, I have to feel it and be consumed by that reality myself before I can successfully open up my heart and love another in return.

Great, great message I heard about this by Steven Furtick that you can watch here. Best 40 minutes of your life if you feel this way.

#10: Because we don’t think we’re worth loving

Are you worth the effort? Are you worth people going out of their way to love you? How does your heart feel about those questions?

You are worthy of being loved. Not because of what you’ve done… man, if it was because of what we’ve done, I’d be screwed.

It’s because of who you are.

You are enough to be loved. You are enough for someone to wake up in the morning with you on their mind. You are enough for someone to pour out their whole life, just to see you smile.

Do you know it? Do you know you’re loved? Do you know you’re worth loving? Because if you don’t, you’ll never be able to give to others the way you want to. You will always have something holding you back. Even with your best intentions, without a clear understanding of your own value, you will never be able to instill in others a clear value of theirs.

Then you’ll know what a great love you carry yourself, and what a great love you have to give to someone else.


There can be many more reasons we withhold love from others, and that they withhold love from us. These were 10 that I’ve been thinking about. How about you? What are some reasons you’ve seen for why we withhold love from people?