How to Create an Emotionally Safe Space

by John Hart, PhD, LCMFT

April 14th, 2023

A prime indicator of a healthy relationship is the presence of an emotionally safe space. Emotionally safe spaces are critical to connecting with our relationship partners as it allows us to feel valued, comfortable, seen, and understood. Couples who consistently provide an emotionally safe space to discuss their relationship matters tend to report higher satisfaction and closer connection to their partners. Safe spaces make difficult conversations relatively easier because the safety that people feel in this kind of relational environment allows for vulnerability, transparency, and less judgment. On the other hand, emotionally unsafe relationships are filled with tension, disconnect and defensiveness. Partners in these kinds of relationships report walking on eggshells and being unable to relax around their partner. If you and/or your partner are struggling with creating an emotionally safe space, it is important to seek couple therapy from an MFT as we are well-trained in systemically reshaping an emotionally unsafe space into a safe one that benefits both partners. Here are a few tips on ways to create an emotionally safe space in your relationship:

  1. Be an Active Listener – Listening is the hallmark of emotional safety in a relationship. Great listeners do two things very well – being active and being attentive. One of the ways to show up as an active listener would be to take the time and reflect what you heard your partner said and give good non-verbal communication. An attentive listener is one who provides undivided attention (e.g., no distractions), provides consistent eye contact, and is fully engaged.
    2. Be Curious, Not Judgmental – It is far more beneficial to be curious than judgmental in relationships. I always recommend to clients that asking thoughtful, open-ended questions is a great way to show curiosity. Your partner will perceive you as engaged and want to open up more. Stay away from being judgmental as it will spark defensiveness in your partner and that tends to lead to negative reactions or shutting down.
    3. Be a Cheerleader – People who report higher levels of couple satisfaction tend to voice feeling encouraged and supported by their partner. I recommend being your partner’s biggest cheerleader – encourage them when they are feeling down, celebrate their achievements, and maintain some level of positivity. On the other hand, stay away from criticizing your partner, mocking or making fun of them, and dismissing their experiences. In emotionally safe spaces, it is not about being right per se, it is about having a relaxing moment that is filled with love and support that fosters openness.