by John Hart, PhD, LGMFT
Healthy relationships are relationships in which both partners are able to promote an emotionally safe and secure atmosphere for each other. Safety in a relationship is not always about physical safety. While we want our partners to know that we will protect their physical well-being, “putting in the work” towards their emotional well-being is just as critical. And when we mention security in a relationship, we are referring to a partner’s ability to consistently promote the emotional state of their partner. When at least one partner does not feel emotionally safe in a relationship, it can manifest into problematic interaction patterns.
There are three important ways to promote emotional safety and security in your relationship:
1. Listen! Listen! Listen!: While many of us know that communication is key to a healthy relationship, consistently listening to your partner both during the “good times” and the “bad times” will support a safe and secure atmosphere. Listening to your partner is such a beautiful process – it allows them to feel comfortable disclosing important thoughts and feelings to you and that encourages a strong connection within the relationship.
2. Do Not Criticize or Judge: This strategy does not mean you cannot and should not provide constructive feedback to your partner. But in order to avoid criticizing or judging your partner, you need to be very mindful about your verbal (e.g., tone, inflection of voice) and non-verbal (body language) communication. Why is this important? Well, our partners will feel emotionally secure when they can sense their romantic partner is emotionally open and accessible rather than closed off (which criticizing and judging can elicit).
3. Show Empathy: Being able to place yourself into your partner’s shoes and express understanding to their situation facilitates a close bond between the partners. In healthy relationships, empathy always wins out during the hard times because it allows both partners to communicate more effectively. The reason is because empathy is usually the vehicle driving the emotional safety between the partners. Showing empathy involves asking about your partner’s feelings, normalizing their feelings, verbally validating their perspective (even if you disagree), and expressing to them in a gentle, calm manner that you understand where they are coming from.