How can marriage truly be a safe emotional place if it relies so much on the words, actions and emotions of another?
They say a ship is safe in the harbour, but a ship is not built for the harbour, it is built for the open sea … They also say one cannot discover uncharted shores, unless one loses sight of one’s familiar shore. Platitudes. Or maybe … truths?
Sounds like a few people—maybe more than a few—say safety is overrated. That a journey without risk is no journey at all.
But a desire for safety is in all of us, and if I look at my own life I would have to say there is a deep desire for safety. This from the bungee jumper/skydiver/adrenalin junkie dude … But the safety I seek, at this stage of my life, is not physical safety. I still love the rush of adrenalin, new things and adventure.
The safety I am drawn towards more and more as I journey through life, is emotional safety. I suspect I might not be alone in this.
Marriage, I think, is possibly (and very romantically) viewed by many single people as the pinnacle of emotional safety. “Finally,” the single person imagines, “Someone will be committed to me forever. No more dating, no more rejection, no more seeking approval, no more searching for affirmation. Finally someone will find and appreciate the beauty that I know is inside me and love me for who I am.”
Fanciful maybe? But deep down, most, if not all of the people I have called friends through the years, have hinted at these things. From the cool alpha-males, to the nerds, to the outcasts and the players. The list was pretty much the same.
But is marriage guaranteed to be an emotionally safe place? Can it ever be a really safe place? There are probably many answers to that question, all different. I guess you might be able to tell a lot about a person’s marriage by their answer to that question. Or—and this is maybe my point—not so much about a persons marriage, as about the person they have become, and perhaps the example of marriage they come FROM …
What seems to me is that marriage is not capable of being a permanently safe place. The only safe place emotionally for a human being, really, is the womb! Anywhere other than that, safety is primarily a function of from where we get our identity and who we make ourselves vulnerable to. And we are all flawed.
Some questions I have begun to consider lately:
- If our sense of personal identity depends on anyone else, can we really be emotionally safe?
- If our happiness/joy/depends on someone else’s happiness, can we really ever be emotionally safe?
- What makes someone happy/joyful? How can we be happy/joyful in ourselves and be resourced within ourselves to stay happy and joyful, regardless?
My wife and I are responsible for building a marriage in which we, and our children, can thrive. Not “cope.” Thrive. If anything, that is the primary outcome we desire. The challenge for us is that we need to do this for them while discovering all the while that emotional safety for ourselves is simply not guaranteed. It’s a moving goal, and as often as we manage to grab hold of it, it also slips through our desperate fingers and disappears from sight for a while.
Emotional safety is a real and legitimate need. But. It must be worked on by two willing parties. And not parties wanting first to secure their own safety. That is childish and selfish, and it will never work. It turns a relationship into a tug-of-war and a blame fest. And it can’t be worked on by only one person in a relationship.
A marriage that is a place where both adults and children can thrive is a marriage where husband and wife are wanting the other partner to be emotionally safe. And that means understanding what makes them feel safe and doing what it takes to make them feel emotionally safe.
Emotional safety comes from a sense of trust—that the other person is in our corner and knows what we need, whether we are asking for it or not. We CAN’T talk our way into this, or out of it when we stuff up. We can ONLY behave our way into trust.
I’m not trying to be controversial or anything here—just throwing concepts out that might strike a chord (or a nerve). And mixing up the gender so that it’s a universal thing.
- If punctuality makes them feel loved and emotionally safe, be punctual.
- If genuine praise is needed to feel loved and appreciated, praise genuinely.
- If promises need to be kept to the letter, then make only promises that can be kept, and keep every promise to the letter.
- If needs are unclear and can’t be known without help, find a way to clarify.
- If a disciplined self-starter is needed, be a disciplined self-starter.
- If honest and quick forgiveness is needed (as we all do, frequently…) find a way to forgive quickly and let them know.
- If compliments or conversation are important, learn how to do it.
- If good communication is important, be a good communicator.
- If personal hygiene needs improving, improve it.
- If clear direction and help is needed in remembering things, (my own particular challenge :-/) then be OK with repeating yourself
- If inclusiveness is needed, be inclusive.
As a man on a journey, I certainly have some personal challenges to face in figuring out some of this stuff. If you do too, then we are not alone. We are all at different places, there is no carbon copy solution here. But, no matter what, our children and partners don’t deserve to become victims of brokenness, inadequate coping mechanisms, and the tragedy of hollow marriages.
They deserve the absolute best we can create for them.
This post originally appeared at Notes from the Road.