Ashley Hudson LMFT
How To Cultivate Emotional Safety In Relationships [Guest Post by Amalia Miralrio LCSW]
Updated: Jun 12, 2022
You might have heard that emotional safety in relationships is an important piece of dating. If your Tik-Tok feed is anything like mine, you’ve heard people talking about the importance of feeling safe in a relationship. However, you might not be sure what this even means! What is emotional security? How do you make sure you have it?
As a therapist in Detroit who specializes with working with women around relationships and dating, I hear versions of these questions all the time. Keep reading to learn the foundations of how to cultivate emotional safety in your relationships.
What is Emotional Security?
I use the terms emotional security and emotional safety interchangeably in this blog. However, there can sometimes be important differences. Emotional safety is the experience of knowing that you will be respected and heard in a relationship – even when there is conflict. You should always be able to disagree and express yourself without any threat of physical, verbal, or sexual violence.
Emotional security can refer more to the idea that someone will stay with you and follow through on commitments. Sometimes when people say that they want to feel emotionally secure, they’re talking about loyalty and commitment more than they’re talking about basic respect. These are the types of differences therapists pay attention to, but in my experience most people use emotional safety and emotional security interchangeably.
Here’s a simple way to understand emotional safety: take a moment to think about someone you love and trust. This could be a teacher, a best friend, a family member, or even a pet. Pay attention to how you feel as you imagine yourself spending time with this person. You might notice that your shoulders drop, your stomach relaxes, or you feel a sense of warmth.
When you’re dating someone, you should be able to feel just as safe. It’s a myth that passion or true love makes it okay to feel anything less than safe and secure with your partner. Respect, honesty, consent, and clear and consistent expectations can help you feel emotionally safe. Conflict and disagreements are not excuses for disrespect.
Below are a few examples of what one can expect in an emotionally secure relationship. Maybe you can think of some additional pieces to add.
In an emotionally safe and secure relationship, each person knows that they can:
Pursue their own passions
Nurture friendships, professional relationships, and family relationships outside of the romantic relationship
Set boundaries (like saying no to hanging out or having sex)
Rely on their partner to show up consistently
Grow and change
Trust that their partner is honest
Each person might not do every single one of these things perfectly all the time, but when someone does make a mistake there is accountability, sensitivity to the other person’s feelings, and change. We all make mistakes, but the aftermath of a mistake makes a big difference in the ability for the relationship to repair. Please note that in cases of verbal, sexual, or physical violence, apologizing and promising to change is not enough. In those cases, it’s important to reach out for outside support as soon as possible.
How to Make Your Relationship Emotionally Secure
To cultivate safety in relationships, it’s helpful to take an honest look at how close you feel when there isn’t conflict and how respected you feel when there is.
Emotional safety in relationships is the basis for romance. Pop culture will have us believing that conflict and drama make for good romance, but research shows that it’s just the opposite. Research shows that a safe, solid friendship is the most important foundation for making a relationship last. Even when couples come into therapy together wanting to work on sensuality and physical intimacy, the first step is to assess their friendship foundation.
We can’t get close to someone else if we don’t know that we’ll be safe with them. Of course, we can never know this in the beginning stages of getting to know someone and this is why it’s important to take our time getting into a committed relationship. As the safety builds, so does the intimacy. You can think of it like bricks building a wall; you can’t place additional bricks until the foundation is set.
To start, think about your partner as if they were just a friend. What would you appreciate about them as a person apart from being your partner? Can you remember what you thought of them when you first met?
For example, maybe you appreciated how kind they are to everyone around them. Maybe you loved that they have a unique sense of style and don’t care what anyone thinks. Or maybe it was a shared passion for social justice and making the world a better place! It’s important to check in with yourself and make sure you’re still able to see your partner as the full person you saw them as before they had this special role in your life.
Secondly, check in with what happens when you disagree. Do you feel safe to express your thoughts and feelings to them? Equally as important, what has it been like in the past when they’ve expressed that they feel disappointed, angry, or upset with you?
If these questions make you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. It’s common to feel anxiety when confronting your own patterns and behaviors in relationships. The most important thing to remember is that if you’re dissatisfied with your relational past or present, confronting it can only help your relational future. It’s not too late to learn how to be a safe person. It’s not too late to learn how to assess if someone is a safe person.
Therapists refer to the process of safe conflict as “fighting fair.” If you’re struggling to feel emotionally safe in times of conflict, the basic tenets of fighting fair can help you break the communication patterns that prevent you from developing the closeness you desire with your partner.
If your relationship stresses you out more than it calms you, it might be time to reach out for additional support. Emotional safety can grow over time, and sometimes therapy can help. You deserve to feel safe and secure in your most intimate relationships.
I recommend the directory Inclusive Therapists to find someone licensed near you. If you’re located in California, you’re lucky enough to contact Ashley Hudson Therapy! And of course, if you’re located in either Michigan or Pennsylvania, be sure to check out Amity Detroit Counseling for more information on how we can work together.
Meet the Author: Amalia Miralrío is a licensed therapist located in Detroit, Michigan. She specializes in working with women and gender non-binary individuals around dating, relationships, sexuality, and self-image. Her educational background is in clinical social work and human sexuality. Amalia lights up when she sees her clients start to trust that they can be themselves, experience intimacy, and feel at peace with their bodies.