What Is Emotional Safety, And How Do You Increase It In Your Relationships?
Emotional safety is the bedrock of all healthy and meaningful relationships. Although it may be equated with "boring" to some, it is far from that. It contributes to a climate of authenticity and vulnerability in a relationship and deepens your closeness and connection with one another. So, what exactly is emotional safety, and how do you increase it in your relationship?
What Is Emotional Safety?
Emotional safety is a state where two people are open, vulnerable and intimate with each other. It is the very foundation where connection flourishes and is paramount if you want to have a truly loving relationship.
Human beings are wired with the desire to feel safe; our brains are constantly detecting whether a person or a situation is safe or dangerous. When we don't feel emotionally safe in a relationship, we don't connect or engage with the other person; rather, we try to get ourselves as far away from him or her as possible, whether this happens consciously or not.
On the other hand, if we decide someone to be safe, we automatically relax into the present moment. Research has shown that people who feel psychologically safe can better collaborate, think, take the initiative, and learn. We can also empathize so much better, which in turn has positive implications for our relationships and the way we engage with the world.
When you are in an emotionally safe relationship, you can trust each other, relax in each other's presence, and feel confident that you have each other's best interests at heart.
What Are The Signs Of An Emotionally Unsafe Relationship?
In an emotionally unsafe relationship, there is an overarching feeling of disconnect, defensiveness, and tension. You feel distrustful of each other. You may also feel like you can't speak your mind, be vulnerable, or show your true feelings because you are afraid of how others will react. There is a subtle undercurrent of anxiety when you are with them, and it feels like you are constantly walking on eggshells, wondering when they are going to snap.
There also tends to be a sense of suspiciousness of the other person's thoughts, words, and actions. Rather than believing the best in them, you expect the worse.
How To Increase Emotional Safety In Your Relationships
Cultivating emotional safety in a relationship takes time, patience, and persistence. It doesn't happen overnight, but the benefits for both you and your relationship's well-being are truly worth the investment.
1. Create Conversations Around Emotional Safety. Every challenge, conflict, or argument in a relationship opens up opportunities to create more dialogue around emotional safety and what isn't okay. Let your partner know what they said or did that made you feel safe or unsafe. Part of having authentic conversations about emotional safety means identifying ways to improve trust in your relationship, even though it may be uncomfortable at times.
2. Be Consistent. It is utterly exhausting and emotionally draining to be around someone unpredictable, volatile, or moody. If being inconsistent in behavior is a surefire way to sabotage emotional safety, being consistent is a surefire way to increase it. Always say what you mean and mean what you say, be reliable and dependable even in the small things, and avoid saying one thing then doing another. Moreover, make sure you keep your promises, even when it's inconvenient.
3. Replace Judgment With Curiosity. Just because you disagree with your partner doesn't make you right or make them a bad person. It also doesn't mean that you can judge or criticize them for their thoughts, beliefs, or opinions. Rather, be curious-ask questions to understand further what they are thinking and saying. This means being sensitive to their perspective despite how you feel and holding back from making assumptions before you jump to conclusions.
4. Give Each Other Space. And not just physical space, but emotional space, too. Refrain from stifling the other person by pressuring them beyond what they are comfortable with or forcing them to do something or go somewhere they don't want to. Compromise is important, yes, but respecting each other's limits and need for independence and autonomy. When you do that, you show the other person that you truly want what is best for them, even if it doesn't involve you.
5. Encourage And Uplift Each Other Constantly. Be your partner's biggest cheerleader-celebrate their achievements, shower them with compliments, and encourage them if they are feeling down. Also, praise them in public. Whether it is a dedicated post on Facebook or telling your friends something thoughtful they did, it will show your partner how proud you are to be with them. Contrarily, refrain from speaking ill to other people, which will only stimulate gossip and toxicity.
6. Respect Each Other's Boundaries. This is particularly relevant when you are having a heated discussion with your partner. Recognize when things are starting to get out of hand or going into dangerous territory and stop the conversation. Agree to resume the discussion when tempers have cooled and you have gained enough space around the situation to think more clearly. This is much better than leaving it to chance and ending the conversation in anger, regret, or hurt. Another part of respecting boundaries is learning and accepting what is and isn't okay to your partner and avoiding any sense of entitlement over one other.
7. Be An Attentive Listener. When your partner is talking, refrain from watching the TV, checking your phone, or working on your laptop. Be completely present with them, eye contact and all. While they speak, give reassurances that you listen with verbal cues or reflect what you hear. Don't judge, criticize, fix, or explain-these are listening pitfalls that will likely make your partner go on the defensive or shut down completely. Furthermore, don't interrupt when they are talking-make mental notes in your mind if you wish, but always let them finish speaking before you add in your two cents.
8. Show Empathy And Compassion. Showing empathy is an incontestable way to increase emotional safety in your relationship. You can start with: "I hear that you are feeling disappointed at what happened at work today. I'm sorry you had to go through that. Tell me more." This shows that you are making an effort to understand your partner and care about what they are going through. A big part of compassion is trusting that what they say or do is never to hurt intentionally, harm, or drain you; most of the time, it's never about you.
9. Greet Each Other With Warmth. After a long day at work, you see your partner kiss them or welcome them home with a hug. A loving gesture like this goes a long way in setting the tone for how the rest of the evening plays out. By being intentional with how you greet one another, you can create a calmer, warmer, and more reassuring atmosphere where your partner feels safe enough to let their defenses down and relax.
10. Seek Therapy. Recruiting the help of a professional therapist or couple's counselor is invaluable in bringing about a sense of emotional safety and well-being in your relationship. This is especially true if you have difficulty creating or maintaining a safe emotional space. Open and authentic communication is the life-blood to a healthy and happy relationship, and a trusted third party's role in creating that can be extremely helpful.
How To Sabotage Emotional Safety In Your Relationships
- Name-Call And Demean The Other Person. Constantly putting your partner down will only chip away at their self-worth and confidence, making them less trusting of or connected to you. If your words don't build, encourage, or uplift, think twice about saying it aloud.
- Use Sarcasm Frequently. While it can be used in good taste, making sarcastic remarks may signify resentment or contempt-and contempt has been identified as the number one predictor of divorce by researcher John Gottman.
- Be Defensive. If you take everything personally and at face value, the other person will be tentative in their truest thoughts with you.
- Use Threats And Ultimatums. If you are constantly threatening to leave your partner or withhold your love unless they do something you want, then your relationship has turned toxic and unsafe. Ultimatums may also be a sign that something has gone wrong in the relationship. At that point, it may be time to seek the help of a licensed couple's therapist.
- Constantly Bring Up The Past. If you habitually bring up the other person's history and past mistakes, there may be some resentment within you. When constantly reminded of their past, your partner may also start to feel demoralized and ashamed, leading to less vulnerability between the both of you.
- Dominate The Other Person. If you are in a mindset where there is a wrong and a right, a winner and a loser, then you will lose any emotional safety and trust in a relationship. Intimate and safe relationships can only flourish when there is mutual respect for one another.
When emotional safety is present in a relationship, there is a deep sense of warmth and closeness with the other person that is hard to replicate in any way else. While developing this kind of safety can be slow going and by no means easy, think of it as a work in progress rather than a destination. As you increase its presence in your relationship, intimacy and trust will inevitably flourish.
Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)
What does it mean to be emotionally safe?
Feeling emotionally safe is an important part of the relationship that you should spend time cultivating.
How do you provide emotional safety?
Helping your partner feel emotionally safe can include simple actions such as sparking a conversation about vulnerability. If you are not accustomed to being vulnerable with your partner, they might feel less inclined to be vulnerable with you.
Show consistency with your desire to provide an emotionally safe space for your relationship, and practice empathy frequently when aspiring toward a safe relationship.
Why is emotional safety important?
If your partner does not feel emotionally safe with you, or visa versa, your underlying sense of trust is tainted. Even within nonromantic relationships, feeling emotionally safe with close friends and family requires a level of trust that they have your best interest at heart. You might seek guidance, advice, or a safe space to vent, and an emotionally safe relationship will provide you with that space to heal and grow.
To some, feeling emotionally safe means that you don’t inherently fear abandonment with the person to whom you are opening up. Whatever your definition of emotional safety means, make sure you cultivate that with your partner.
What are some characteristics of emotional safety?
The word safe means different things to different people or even within different couples. The same is true for emotional safety. When seeking safety, emotional support is a key characteristic.
Another more specific characteristic of safety emotional safety is compassion. To showcase trust, compassion, and overall emotional support to your partner, avoid defensiveness, name-calling, holding a grudge, and casting shame. A sense of safety is derived from characteristics such as active listening, asking questions to help understand, and respecting boundaries, mutual or otherwise. The road to being emotionally safe requires patience, empathy, and kindness.
What is emotional in a relationship?
To feel emotionally safe, there should be a good, consistent give and take in any relationship.
Some people will coin this term as being emotionally available, or in other words, being available and present with your partner for real, intimate discussions. Being emotionally unavailable can appear in distance, disinterest, disconnection, and in extreme circumstances, gaslighting.