There are many components of a healthy relationship, but the foundation of a relationship is safety and trust.
Without safety, and without trust, there is no relationship.
It does not matter what other great characteristics exist in the relationship. Good compatibility, amazing sex, shared goals, etc. If a relationship lacks safety and trust, it will not be a healthy relationship.
And one major thing that undermines safety and trust is punishment.
A healthy, adult relationship should not include any form of punishment.
Punishment can take many forms. It can include outright threats to do something to hurt your partner, either physically or emotionally. But it can also include things like stonewalling, withdrawing support, and withholding sex.
Anything harmful that is done with the intent of controlling your partner or hurting your partner for doing something you did not want them to do is punishment.
If you have a partner who attempts to control you or intentionally hurt you, you will lose trust in that person, and you will not feel safe with them.
Once safety and trust are gone, there is no true relationship. However, it is possible to still remain in an illusion of a relationship with someone when trust and safety are gone.
An abusive relationship lacks safety and trust. We call it a “relationship” but in reality it is not.
A relationship exists when two people are connected.
In an abusive relationship there is an unequal power dynamic where one person abuses and attempts to control the other person. It is not a true relationship as there is not a true connection. There is one person attempting to control another person through various harmful tactics.
And in any adult relationship where one or both people punish, a true connection will not exist.
Often what exists is what is called a trauma bond, which is an unhealthy attachment and dependence on an abuser, that is created as a result of the intermittent reward and punishment that is part of an abuse cycle.
Not all relationships that include punishment are abusive relationships. But all relationships that include punishment are unhealthy relationships that lack a solid foundation and connection.
There is a difference between punishment and a healthy need for space.
Sometimes after a fight, one or both parties may need physical and/or emotional space. This could mean that a partner does not want to talk or does not want to be physically intimate because they need some space to recalibrate.
There is a difference between needing healthy space vs refusing to speak to or be intimate with someone because you are intentionally stonewalling them, or you are intentionally withholding sex.
Men and women seek connection in different ways, and it is important to keep these differences in mind and be willing to compromise. Men typically use sex as a way to connect after a fight, while women will want to emotionally connect after a fight.
A woman will want to talk before having sex, while a man will want to have sex before talking. Each is seeking connection, but the bids for connection are different and therefore often misconstrued by each partner.
It is important to understand where your partner is coming from and be willing to communicate and compromise.
If one partner feels that the other is stonewalling or withholding, the relationship will incur damage. If the pattern repeats over time, this damage will be difficult if not impossible to repair.
It is important to always treat your partner as an equal who is worthy of respect. Punishment has no place in adult relationships.