The Emotionally Safe Marriage

Leslie Bashioum, MA, LPC

John and Stephanie have been married for 10 years. The couple often finds themselves in a cycle that leaves Stephanie feeling alone and abandoned and John feeling misunderstood and judged. Neither of them feels secure or safe.

Read more to find out what Licensed Counselor Leslie Bashioum says about an emotionally safe marriage.

In this Article: 

About the Author

This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

Leslie Bashioum, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in marriage counseling, family therapy, and anxiety & depression in women. She sees clients online and in-person at our Springfield, Missouri counseling center.

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The Emotionally Safe Marriage

John and Stephanie have been married for 10 years. They are both in their late thirties and have high-stress jobs. John travels for work, frequently leaving Stephanie at home alone with their two young children. Often, when John returns from his trips, the couple finds themselves arguing instead of feeling the joy and connection they both desperately desire.
The couple often finds themselves in a cycle that leaves Stephanie feeling alone and abandoned and John feeling misunderstood and judged. Neither of them feels secure or safe. 
 
Many of couples I see in my office are not dealing with major life altering events. Instead, they are navigating issues such as relationship disconnection, tension, and defensiveness. These things get in the way and send danger messages to their brain, which ultimately take a toll on the marriage.
Most of these couples sit across from me and describe that communication seems to be a real struggle in their marriage. Couples express feeling disconnected from one another, not valued, and describe an overall lack of intimacy in their marriage. 

A Foundation of Trust and Safety 

Oftentimes, what is lacking at the core of these marriage dynamics is a foundation of trust and safety within the relationship. This can be the case for a variety of reasons, such as old wounds being triggered in the present or simply having never been modeled how to be emotionally safe with one another.
Regardless, having an emotionally safe marriage does not just happen. It takes time and practice. Our willingness to show up and care about what is going on within our spouse’s heart paves the way to connection and intimacy. And the way we listen and communicate can make all the difference. 

Safety Before Vulnerability  

In her book Created for Connection, Sue Johnson explains, “When marriages fail, it is not increasing conflict that is the cause, it is decreasing affection and emotional responsiveness.” Emotional safety is the foundation of any satisfying connection in a healthy and loving relationship. We must feel safe before we’re able to be vulnerable, and as Brené Brown reminds us, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” In an emotionally safe marriage each spouse feels valued, understood, and accepted. 

Emotional Safety is Modeled by God 

Emotional safety is not just something important in our marriage relationship either. It is something vital in all of our meaningful relationships. Safety is something that our Heavenly Father provides and models for us consistently. We see this many times throughout scripture. 
“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” Proverbs 18:10
“Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.Psalm 16:1
“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8
How humbling it is to think that the God of the universe goes out of His way to make us feel safe. Our relationship with our Heavenly Father is the safest relationship we will ever know. God’s desire is as we feel safe with Him, our heart would become open so He can love through us. Our heart begins to open when we feel safe, not only in our relationship with our Heavenly Father but in other relationships as well. This is, in essence, what emotional safety is all about. 
 

Characteristics of an emotionally safe marriage:

1.    Both spouses have created safety within themselves.
That is, each spouse believes they are worthy of time and attention and they are emotionally aware. In order to do this, we must stay connected to our own heart and be proactively caring for our emotional well-being. In addition, each spouse is also able to take responsibility for their own thoughts, feelings, actions, and beliefs. Taking ownership for what we think, feel, believe, and do helps bring clarity to boundaries that are vital and healthy in our marriage because they help us determine who is responsible for what. 

2. Both spouses have adopted an attitude of curiosity.
You can ask your spouse: “What are you feeling?” “What are you thinking?” “How are your emotions and thoughts connected to what you are doing?” Staying curious, particularly in the midst of painful emotions, will provide an opportunity for you to grow from your circumstances. 

3. There is a foundation of trust.
Does your spouse feel accepted and cared for, in spite of his or her faults? If the answer is yes, this type of unconditional positive regard fosters trust and creates an environment for healthy communication and connection. Being trustworthy encompasses being attentive to the influence you have in the relationship, while also letting go of the responsibility for what your spouse thinks, feels, believes or chooses to do.
 
In conclusion, emotional safety is important and necessary in any marriage relationship. However, it is something that also takes time and practice. When we are willing and committed to putting in the work to create supportive, nurturing relationships and are also willing to develop the skills necessary to create safe environments to do so, our relationships are more likely to endure and thrive.  
 

References and Resources:

Johnson, S. M., & Sanderfer, K. (2016). Created for connection: the “hold me tight” guide for Christian couples: seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

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