In my practice I see broken hearts a plenty as a result of a relationship gone wrong. That’s the risk of being in any relationship isn’t it? That if you open up and are vulnerable, chances are you’re going to get hurt. So why do we take the risk?
Relationships are the life blood of our existence. We need them just as much as we need food, air and water. We are social creatures, meaning that we are built to be with others and not on our own. So risk is part and parcel of being in a relationship.
Even in the best of relationships, you are going to get hurt. Being hurt in of itself is not the problem, as in a healthy relationship it can be unintentional. It’s how each partner within the relationship responds to each other’s hurt that determines the health of it.
Emotional safety is needed to be able to express yourself
The health of the relationship can be measured according to how emotionally safe each partner feels. This means that both partners can be vulnerable enough to say what is being felt, and that each partner is able to respond in a way that takes what is being said seriously and does not dismiss it.
This takes work and commitment from both partners. Great relationships don’t appear from nowhere. It takes time and attention to understand what your partner is saying and how they are feeling, so that you can respond in a respectful and loving way.
If you recall from a previous post, our emotions are always communicating something to us and those around us. Yet so often, we repress or deny what we are feeling, when it is the very message we should be paying the most attention to. By paying attention to our emotions, we become aware of what is going on within us. Then we can take care of, and be responsible for ourselves, tending to what we need before we communicate it. This ensures clarity of what we want or need, rather than it coming out in a blabbering mess!
Choosing the timing of when you say what you need to is also important. We know that when we are feeling emotional, that what we say may not come out the way we want or intend. Again, this means that looking after your own emotional state is vital to relationship health.
What helps create emotional safety?
Trust: within your relationship, you need to know that your partner can be relied on to be there for you no matter the circumstance. There will also be an understanding that what is being expressed is important, is worthy of attention and must be taken seriously.
Affection: the level of tenderness and affection you have for one another gives room for emotional safety.
Respect: the more admiration and high regard you have for each other, the more attentive you will be to what is being said and emotionally expressed.
What destroys emotional safety?
Intolerance: not being open to hear what your partner is thinking or feeling.
Criticism: Chipping away, destroying self-esteem and self-confidence places you on a fast track for destroying intimacy and safety within your relationship.
Defensiveness: as a result of being criticised, it is natural that your partner can withdraw within themselves to avoid the pain of it.
An established pattern that often occurs within a relationship is that the more one partner criticises, the more the other withdraws. The spiral continues leaving a couple feeling unhappy and in despair.
Relationships can be repaired
At the heart of criticism can be fear that an emotional need is not being met. These fears can range from ”you’re not spending enough time with me” to “I’m scared because I feel like I’m losing you”.
Similarly, what drives defensiveness is fear. Fear of not being good enough, of not providing enough, or not paying enough attention. So what we have here is two people frightened of losing each other, but not knowing how to get out of the cycle they have found each other in.
Our emotional state can change rapidly. It is catching when we feel fear, expressing it and allowing our partner to respond to it, that leads to ongoing repairs within a relationship. This is a process that is ongoing. So what we have is, rather than one big blowout, are small tender moments that lead to understanding and intimacy. It’s the whisper that says ”I’m here for you” which has the ability to soothe the human heart.
3 tips to improve your relationship
- Be honest about what is going on. Take a realistic inventory of the state of your relationship.
- Recognise and take responsibility for your attitude and the behaviour you demonstrate towards your partner. We cannot change or control anyone else but ourselves. So begin to pay attention to what you are feeling and how you are generally communicating to your partner.
- Be open to what each of you are thinking and feeling, responding in a non-judgemental and empathetic way.
Remember, the health of a relationship is not determined by whether or not you argue or whether you unintentionally hurt one another. It’s rated according to how you respond to each other when you are feeling vulnerable and need emotional support. It’s taking the risk to allow your partner to see, hear and understand how much you need them, giving them the opportunity to love you in way you need it.