What is emotional safety? Am I emotionally safe to myself and others? Is the other person emotionally safe? These are key questions that need to be asked and answered by everyone as they travel on their dating and mating path.
We’ve discovered that relationships are satisfying and nurturing, only if BOTH partners strive towards valuing and developing the inner qualities of emotional safety. Feeling and acting emotionally safe is necessary for every soulful connection.
I (Basha) got married for the first time at age forty eight to my spiritual partner Jeff. You are probably wondering why it took me so long to find a loving partner. The truth is, that as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be married. However, as much as I wanted to share my life, I promised myself I would never settle. I would rather be happily alone, then lonely in a marriage. You see, I came from critical parents who demonstrated their love by buying me gifts, always with conditions attached and by continually telling me how I could improve myself. They also had difficulty expressing their feelings, unable to communicate authentically.
Therefore, I grew up never feeling LOVEABLE or even likeable.
What was wrong, I kept asking myself? Why did people struggle so in relationships, including me? My parents, even though they loved each other, were continually engaged in power struggles. In addition, there were a lot of unhappily married people around. After many years of intensive emotional healing and soul searching, I came up with the solution. Like most people, I was looking for the “WHATS” in life. I was blinded by society’s values of focusing on what looks good on the outside in choosing a partner, job, etc. We must learn to focus on the “WHO” of the person, the inner, soulful qualities of the heart and spirit in ourselves and others. Loving someone isn’t enough. We can only feel loved and loveable if the relationship with ourselves and another is EMOTIONALLY SAFE. That’s the key to a soulful, satisfying and nurturing relationship based on authenticity, intimacy, and meaningfulness.
When I was single, even when men told me that they loved me, I never experienced that feeling in my core. At first, I blamed this disbelief on myself because I didn’t really love or like myself and was attracting relationships that were distant and aloof. However, this feeling continued even after I learned to love and appreciate myself and was able to love unconditionally.
Then I met Jeff. The key ingredient in our relationship turned out to be emotionally safety, in addition to physical attraction and shared values. With Jeff, I finally feel like I’ve come home to myself. This is the first time in my life that I truly feel safe and loved.
We know each others flaws – we don’t necessarily like them but we accept them as part of the whole package. He accepts me, rarely criticizes, just only when he’s stressed and I push his buttons (which he admits). We always maintain an atmosphere of open communication.
We initially started out solely working with singles, but quickly evolved into working with couples as well. As we’ve dialogued with thousands of people, it has become apparent that “Emotional Safety” is one of the most crucial issues in any healthy relationship. We believe that the divorce rate is so high partly because this component is not valued in our society.
Emotional safety is something you need to strive for in yourself and look for in another person.
Specifically, individuals who love themselves and work at becoming whole have reached a point where emotional safety is a natural part of who they are. It’s a two-way street of openness, vulnerability and acceptance reflected in a combination of words, body language and attitudes.
Meeting the criteria for being in an emotionally safe relationship can be defined by the following qualities in both partners:
- Respecting and setting limits and boundaries
- Telling the truth consistently and compassionately
- Not becoming enmeshed or co-dependent
- Not using anything you reveal – information, fears or vulnerabilities -against you
- Feeling you can be open and not having to protect yourself
- Not being judgmental and blaming
- Sharing fears, insecurities, flaws and weaknesses
The key to emotional safety is the ability to connect with another through the heart. This connection presupposes that each individual has done some inner work and is working towards accepting themselves and others without judgment. It is this work that is vital to the individual and totally supports the relationship.
In truth, we can’t be emotionally safe all the time, even with the most loving partner. There will be breakdowns in any relationship. People who love each other may hurt each other unintentionally. As much as we may love someone, we can never anticipate another person’s needs. No one can read your mind, no matter how intimate and loving they are. We need to communicate honestly when someone has hurt us. Then we need to forgive ourselves and another and learn from the experience and move on.
I (Jeff) clearly remember how emotionally unsafe I sometimes felt during my marriage to my late wife Bunny. Occasionally, I would come home to find her sad and uncommunicative. I would ask her what was wrong and all I would get was her agonized reply of, “Nothing.” Boy, was that emotionally unsafe for me. She would spend hours in silence, sometimes weeping. I had no idea what I had done and the silence was awful. Finally, after long periods of excruciating time, even days, she would tell me that I should have known what I had done to make her upset. The problem was that she believed that true love meant that I should be able to read her mind.
After relating this story at several of our lectures, we were amazed at how many people encounter similar emotionally unsafe experiences every day. In my relationship with Basha, we create an atmosphere where this non-communication never occurs. We always tell each other everything, holding nothing back. I now always feel emotionally safe with her as we continually communicate authentically about all the issues in our lives. We don’t make each other wrong for our feelings.
The key to emotional safety is authenticity. Honest and authentic communication is critical to developing and maintaining healthy partnerships. You must be open to hear feedback, both positive and negative, acknowledging that another’s perspective might be different from yours. This openness is the path towards becoming more emotionally safe and finding others who are emotionally safe for you. We can’t stress this enough. BE AUTHENTIC in all your relationships and communications with other people. DON’T JUDGE OTHERS. BE OPEN TO FEEDBACK. COMMUNICATE. The ability to say NO connects you with your own authentic power so you only do things that support you. Be honest and open and connect to others through your heart. And finally, be committed to only choosing relationships that are emotionally safe.
Questions to think about:
Are you an emotionally safe person? When you give someone feedback, do you do it in a helpful and loving way?
Are the significant people in your life emotionally safe? Think about how you feel when you spend time with each of them. Any comments?