How to Create Emotional Safety In Your Relationship

Posted by Dana Cole, LMFT on September 28, 2021 at 4:00 AM
Dana Cole, LMFT

3 minute read

Building Emotional Safety in Relationships

Do you have “emotional safety zones” in your life?  

Emotional safety zones are relationships where you can express difficult emotions without fear of rejection. You may have experienced this with close family members, tight-knit friends, or even communities like churches, sangha, or group therapy. 

But perhaps the most important person you can share a safety zone with is your spouse or romantic partner. After all, they are the one person you must come home to at the end of the day — both physically and emotionally. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to interact in ways that make you and your partner feel anything but safe with each other.

Damaging The Emotional Safety In Your RelationshipConflict and Emotional Safety

As your relationship progresses, you may notice that one or both of you erupt with intense emotions at surprising moments - an emotional earthquake. Prompting events could be large (moving in together) or small (forgetting to pick up milk).   In response, you might pull away, fight back, or shut down. Later, you might regret this unsupportive reaction.

Does this predict something ominous about your relationship? No!

Most of us learned less-than-healthy emotional skills as we grew up. It’s only natural that we carry these tendencies into our closest relationships. Rather than judge yourselves, approach skills like an athlete. It comes down to training! 

Relationships Skills: Sending, Receiving, And Containment 

Relationship Skills

Successful containment is the key skill for a shared emotional safety zone with your partner.

“Containment” creates an intentional space for emotional expression. This direct and compassionate approach cancels out the need to repress or divert issues. Instead, you can just deal with them. Imagine that!

In a containment session, the emotionally charged partner becomes the “sender.” The other partner agrees to be the “receiver” or “container.”

Why Safety Agreements Are Important In Relationships 

Safety Agreements in Relationships

Perhaps you already feel your pulse rising as you anticipate the volley of emotional accusations from sender to receiver. Let us be clear: containment is not intended to invite a free-for-all. You and your partner must commit to rules based on mutual respect and love before moving forward.

The Imago Relationships book, Getting the Love You Want, offers the below list with five key items:  

  1. No blind-siding.

    • Containment sessions are by appointment only.

  2. No avoiding.

    • The receiving partner grants an appointment as soon as they can.

  3. No checking out.

  4. No physical harm to either partner.

    • Nobody has the right to act in an abusive way.

  5. No property damage.

    • Please see above.

Those five items are a clear enough outline of what not to do. But what actions can you take in a containment session? 

If You’re The Sender… 

  1. Describe behaviors that upset you. Be specific.

  2. Build statements from your own experience. It helps to start the sentence with “I.” (i.e., “I feel unheard” rather than “You never listen.”)

  3. Express your emotions rather than criticizing your partner in character or motivation.

 If You’re The Receiver… 

  1. Listen with empathy.

  2. Visualize your partner as a wounded child instead of the current, upset adult.

  3. Receive what’s being said.

  4. Remember this to calm your defenses: your behavior triggered your partner’s wound. Their reaction relates to their childhood far more than you.

When It Comes To Emotional Safety In Relationships - Play For Keeps

Emotional Safety in Relationships

The rewards of an emotional safety zone blossoms over time, like a well-tended garden.  Some you’ll feel more immediately than others. When strong emotions arise, you’ll know what to do instead of stewing in tension. In the long run, handling conflict builds trust. You’ll get to relax and enjoy your time together.

If you struggle in this exercise, remember that athletes excel with the right coach. Contact a professional for containment sessions. A counselor can hold a secure emotional space while you and your partner find your safe harbor.

You may also want to check out our Imago Relationship Workshops and Relationship Therapy. We also have Online Couples Therapy and Online Couples Workshops right now!  

Discover more about Imago with our Imago Professional Membership, Imago Professional Facilitators, Imago Professional Training, and Imago Educational Webinars

Connect. Transform. Thrive.

Check out Dana's Website and handouts too! 

Topics: Emotional Safety, Emotional Connection, Happy Marriage, Relationship Goals, Emotionally Unavailable, Couple Goals, Couples Workshop, Marriage Tips, Emotional Needs, Relationships 101, Marriage Workshop, Emotional Intimacy, Safety

About the blog

The Imago Relationships Blog features content from our team of professional therapists, workshop presenters and facilitators who are passionate about helping you discover a new way to communicate and love your life.

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