Creating an Emotionally Safe Marriage

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Emotionally Safe Marriage

All of us are designed by God to have strong and secure attachments to the people we love. This truth is clearly outlined in the Bible: God created us to be in relationship with him and with others; God desires intimacy with us and he’s also given us other intimate relationships to help fill our hearts and our longings for love and connection.

From the time that we are conceived, we are being shaped by the attachment relationships we have. We develop a sense of safety and security when we believe that we are understood, accepted and valued, when we can trust that the person we love will be there for us.

Are you there for me? Can I count on you? Can I trust you to be there for me when I reach for you? Will you be emotionally available to me? Am I worthy of your love despite our conflicts and hardships? Do you understand and value me? Are you trustworthy with the deepest parts of my heart?

These are questions of ATTACHMENT – this isn’t about steps you take to be closer to your spouse, but it’s more about “ways of being” with your spouse. These qualities mean that you are someone with whom your spouse can feel safe and secure; you are someone who sees, loves, accepts and understands him or her.

An emotionally safe marriage is one in which you feel safe enough to say what you feel, knowing that your spouse will respect or at least attempt to understand your point of view. You feel confident that at the end of an argument, you can come back together and re-establish your emotional connection and warmth.

Clinical experience and research have shown that there are three essential ingredients to a safe marriage. First of all trust: trust that your partner will always tell you the truth, that your partner can be relied upon to make wise decisions, that your spouse will be dependable, responsible and reliable, but most important of all, that your spouse will always care for you and value you in spite of the storms you may encounter in your marriage.

The second important quality is emotional availability, which is your capacity to turn your full attention to your spouse whenever he or she needs you. Research shows that marital satisfaction is highly correlated with whether a person perceives a spouse to be emotionally available to them. Husbands who had confidence that their wives would be emotionally available were less rejecting and more supportive. Wives felt more assured of themselves when their husbands listened attentively. Do you know that you can actually build your spouse’s self-esteem and help him or her cope better with stress?

Some of the reasons why you or your spouse may not be emotionally available can be because of your discomfort with closeness because of your own attachment histories, hurtful experiences with family or other intimate relationships, busy schedules, wrong priorities, or from harboring resentment from too many unresolved conflicts. Any of these sound familiar to you?

The third essential ingredient to safety is sensitive responsiveness. What does that look like? Here are some questions to ask yourself: How do I respond when my spouse approaches me about some painful event or hot topic in our marriage? Do I respond with understanding even if I don’t agree? Do I sound critical or hurtful in my response? Am I defensive? Am I approachable? Do I listen with warmth without judging, criticizing or problem-solving?

Unfortunately, when these three qualities aren’t there, your psychological, relational and even spiritual foundations can be shaken. This is the reality of human relationships in a broken world. Not only do we sometimes injure one another as husband and wife, but many of us enter into our marriage with attachment wounds from our earlier childhood relationships that weren’t always safe or secure. That means that we might have come into our marriage with attachment injuries that make it more difficult for us to trust, or a greater sensitivity to feelings of rejection or abandonment – all of this affects our ability to build a safe marriage.

Another reality is that marriage doesn’t always turn out to be a place of safety but instead can be plagued by negative and hurtful ways of interacting. It’s often because couples love each other so much that strong, negative emotions can arise. Each difficult encounter can then cause you to feel more fearful and self-protective. After enough of these encounters, you become overly cautious and you shut your heart down to protect your heart.

Before I go any further, please know that if there’s physical, sexual or emotional abuse, there can never be safety. The damage that has been done has to be dealt with before you can even try to move towards emotional safety with your spouse. It also requires BOTH partners to be willing to move forward, and if you don’t believe that your spouse is safe for you right now, then you need to take steps to protect yourself and get some help to navigate your way through this very difficult challenge.

But sometimes years of constant fighting can feel abusive and trusting very difficult. You may have been disconnected from your spouse for so many years that having a safe marriage seems impossible to achieve. You may be thinking that it’s not worth the risk to try, as it puts you into a vulnerable position.

But please believe that fostering a close emotional connection with your spouse and working towards a healthy relationship is very possible, no matter how bad your marriage may seem to be. The question I have for you is this: if God were to offer you a miracle in your marriage, would you accept it? If the answer is yes, no matter how hesitantly, then you’ve just taken the first step towards healing your marriage.

A solution to this is beyond the scope of this blog but seeking professional help can help you begin the journey of healing and making the necessary changes. If any of what I’ve said here resonates with you, I would strongly encourage you to go deeper and learn about how to create a safe marriage.

Stay tuned for more on healthy marriages!

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