This is Part 3 of a 3 Part Series on Emotional Safety in Marriage.
In Part 1 we discussed the characteristics of a safe relationship.
Part 2 addressed 7 things will destroy security and sabotage your marriage. LINK
In this final installment I want to talk about 9 attitudes that will build emotional safety in your spouse.
As we cultivate these attitudes (which should result in similar behavior and actions) we will create a climate of emotional security and freedom.
Before we launch into these attitudes, listen to John Gottman describe how to build trust in a relationship:
In This Article
- #1 Kindness
- #2 Respect
- #3 Appreciation
- #4 Affirmation
- #5 Being Mindful
- #6 Open Communication
- #7 Responsibility
- #8 Releasing
- #9 Available
- Wrapping It Up
Let’s explore these 9 attitudes.
These attitudes are keys that open your marriage to its true potential AND locks the doors to thieves that steal your emotional security.
They are in no particular order.
My wife often states: Never underestimate the power of simple kindness.
It’s true. There is something powerful and meaningful about kindness.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to express kindness.
The Story of Keanu Reeves
In Part 2 I told the story of Keanu Reeves. His simple act of kindness (authenticity in the moment) to his fellow passengers earned him likability and fans. LINK
Kindness creates a bond that connects us to others. I’m sure Keanu’s popularity increased when this video was shared. I wonder how many people went to Netflix or Redbox and watched a Keanu Reeve movie after watching him interact with the other passengers?
How To Be Happy Ever After
According to Ty Tashiro, author of The Science of Happily Ever After, only three out of ten marriages remain in a healthy, happy relationship.
So, how to you become one of the 3 out of 10?
One place to start, [and this has been documented by psychologist since the 1970’s when they began to seriously study marriages], is kindness.
Kindness connects us and builds a sense of community.
The Kindness Experiment
The Journal for Social Psychology conducted an experiment that lasted seven days.
Those participating in the experiment were given the task of either performing random acts of kindness, or observing acts of kindness done by others. In both cases, their ‘happiness quotient’ increased. In other words, they were more happy when they either performed or witnessed an act of kindness.
In all honesty, this is predictable. At least in my opinion. It’s easy to guess that we become happy when we do something nice for someone else.
What was not predicted by the researchers was the effect those acts of kindness had on their sense of connection with others.
Those who participated in the study expressed an increased degree of social connection to those around them. Not just the people they were kind to, but to others in general.
Kindness binds us together.
And when it comes to marriage, kindness is one of the most important ‘acts’ that connects us.
As John Gottman says:
“Kindness glues couples together.”
Other research validates this. It is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a relationship.
When we express kindness, we are saying, ‘You matter to me!’ It creates an atmosphere where our partner feels understood, validated and loved. Kindness says, “I care.”
One Important Aspect
I’ve heard couples say, “Well, that sounds good, but that’s just not how we are. I’m not kind by nature.”
It’s an excuse. And quite frankly, if your marriage matters to you, change your perspective.
Kindness, as well as any character trait, is something we must develop. It’s like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes.
Sure, some people are naturally more kind than others. But that cannot be used as an excuse to refuse to grow in kindness.
Here’s a Key
It’s tough to extend kindness during a heated argument. When tempers are flared and you feel misunderstood, it’s difficult to ‘think about being kind.’
That’s why you need to practice when things are going well. The more you cultivate the habit of being nice (kind), the easier it will be when things are tough.
Fill in the blank:
I feel respected when ___________________________.
Think about it before you answer.
Respect is one of the key building blocks of a successful marriage.
What exactly is respect?
Look up the definition and you’ll find something like this:
1. a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
2. due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.
The core of respect is treating each other well.
I like how relationship expert April Asini puts it:
“When you and your partner care about each others’ feelings, you’ll go out of your way to take care of each other to make each other feel emotionally safe.”
## What Happens When We Lose Respect
Vicki Morgan tells a story of how she lost respect for her husband Bruce:
My husband, Bruce, was entertaining a group of colleagues at his company’s Christmas party, playing an impromptu and comical role as Redneck Santa.
He was distributing gift certificates and gag gifts to people in the audience, and the scene was jovial.
But when Bruce picked up the Cold Stone Creamery certificate to give away to someone in the crowd, he lightheartedly commented that it reminded him of his wife in bed.
I couldn’t believe what was happening. The thoughts racing through my brain were something like His wife in bed? Are you kidding me? I couldn’t believe he could be so insensitive to me — to us! I was mortified.
After that event she sums up their relationship: I became emotionally unsafe for both of us.
Emotional security is connected to mutual respect.
We will not always agree, but we must value each other enough to listen and work toward common ground.
Family Therapist Christine Wilke puts it like this:
“In an emotionally safe marriage each spouse feels valued, understood, and accepted. They may not always agree with each other, but each partner attempts to understand the other’s point of view with warmth and empathy. In these solid marriages spouses are not afraid to radically disagree because they know that afterward they have the capacity to emotionally reconnect.”
Fortunately for Bruce and Vicki they worked through their problems and have a strong marriage now. They even help couples who struggle in their relationship.
Pillars of a Healthy Respect
I like what Kathryn Skaggs identifies the three pillars of a successful marriage. Integrity. Respect. And endurance.
Trust is based upon respect. And respect is built upon trust. It’s difficult to respect (hold in high esteem) something you do not trust. The fact that you do not trust indicates you do not esteem it.
Practical Steps To Build Respect
There are simple things you can do to create an environment of respect.
- Never Speak Down To Your Spouse
- Keep Your Word
- Sincerely Value Their Opinion
- Create Clear Boundaries
- Discuss Your Differences
Men and women often define love differently. Neither seems to be able to clearly define respect. That’s why I asked you to fill in the blank above. It’s important to discuss what respect means (and doesn’t mean) in your marriage.
As we talk about these issues, we come closer to understanding how they fit into our relationship.
Side Note: One of the ways to build respect in your marriage is to work together to create a ‘marriage mission statement.’ Couples who believe they are together for a purpose are happier, healthier and have greater respect for each other.
They work together instead of working separate from one another.
Related Article: Writing Your Marriage Mission Statement
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
John F. Kennedy
When we think of appreciation, we usually think of gratitude. Like the quote above.
But appreciation has a much deeper meaning.
Think of it this way. We use the term appreciation when we talk about the value of our home increasing. We say ‘Our home appreciated in value.’
In contrast, we use depreciation when the value of something goes down.
Think of appreciation in your marriage as the actions you take to bring increased value to the relationship.
Two Types of People
John Gottman talks about two types of people. He calls them the ‘masters’ and the ‘disasters.’
Masters are positive. Disasters are negative.
But it runs deeper than that. He explains:
“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have, which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”
In essence, disaster people are not adding value. They are depreciating their spouse.
Julie Gottman adds:
“It’s not just scanning environment. It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”
Appreciation indicates the value we place on our spouse.
Read that again slowly. It’s true.
If you value your spouse, you will show appreciation. Where there is little appreciation, there is little trust. Without trust, you cannot build a bridge of love.
When I am thankful I acknowledge the value that’s been added to my life.
It also has a positive impact on our emotions. The more thankful we are, the better we feel.
The Science of Being Thankful
In an experiment conducted in 2003, scientist studied three groups to measure the effects of gratitude on participants.
Part of the study required the groups to journal.
One group journaled about events that troubled them (negative things). Another journaled about random, neutral things. The final group wrote about things they were grateful for.
They measured the outcomes by having the participants respond to a series of questions, as well as neurological exams.
They found that the group that journaled about their blessings (gratitude) had higher levels of well being.
Another study done by the University of Pennsylvania found that employees who were exposed to a gratitude message from the director were 50% more productive.
It’s amazing how being thankful changes our mood and gives us better perspective on life.
As Gottman relates, when we look for the value of our spouse, we are more likely to express gratitude. This in turn create a causes the value of our relationship to increase.
Here’s a powerful statement I want you to think about:
Be a cheerleader; not a coach.
We often think we are doing good when we try to coach our spouse into being better. In reality, this usually has the opposite effect. Instead of doing better, they interpret this as not measuring up.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for coaching. But rarely should this happen between spouses.
One quick example:
I started my writing career before my wife. I published my first book in 2017. I had been writing for years, but this was my first book under contract. Through the process I learned quite a bit about the discipline of writing, the process of publishing, and how the industry works (in general). I developed a few tips and tricks that helped me streamline MY writing process.
When my wife took on the project of writing her first book she came to me for advice. She had written many articles for her blog (MichelleNolan.com) at the time, but writing a book was a different beast. She wanted my advice. She asked me to coach her through the process.
We both realized this would move me out of the realm of cheerleader (Go girl. You got this. You can do it!) to coach (Stop slacking. This can be better. You need to grind it out.). I was hesitant about the shift so we decided on a few ground rules going in. They seemed to work. But I wouldn’t suggest this to most couples. The ONLY reason we did it was because she asked. This type of shift in a relationship should NEVER (read never, never, never) be one sided. It has to be an agreement between both parties.
Because the main role of a spouse should be primarily a cheerleader. We need to be an encouragement to our spouse. Not a corrector.
That’s not to say we can’t correct, discuss, challenge or disagree. All of these are legitimate and healthy.
Primarily we should seek to affirm our spouse. When this becomes the norm in a relationship, health always follows.
The Habit of Speaking Well
Our friends often comment on the success and love my wife and I display in our marriage. Many of our close friends come to us seeking counsel and help in their relationship. I say this to make a point.
One of the reasons we have such a great marriage is it is built on affirmation.
I noticed after a few years together that we have a strong habit of speaking well of each other, and saying publicly how great our spouse is. I will overhear my wife tell one of her girlfriends how thoughtful I am. Or how kind I am. She does this in front of me, but also when I’m not present.
I do the same. I constantly compliment my wife in front of (and to) my friends.
I think this is one of the reasons we do have such a great relationship.
The Power of Affirmation
There are many psychological studies that verify how powerful our affirmations are. I think this happens for a couple of reasons:
1. It keeps us focused on the positive.
It’s easy to get negative if we don’t consciously focus on the positve. When we speak positive, the mind thinks positive.
2. It trains the brain to think of the good.
Our thoughts are generally the result of what we have trained our mind to think about. Our minds get in a rut. Whether good or bad.
Some scientist even believe there are literal ‘grooves in the brain’ when we think on a subject over an extended period of time.
Author Anais Nin writes:
“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are”.
That’s why it is important to guard our thoughts, words and actions.
Make sure we are acting in sync with our goals. In this case, the goal is to create a marriage built on emotional safety.
Related Article: 5 Things Husbands Often Get Wrong
#5 Being Mindful
Being mindful is about focus. Giving attention to the relationship.
Because our lives are usually run at break-neck speed, we have to consciously decide to slow down and give attention to the things that matter.
Let’s face it, we all get caught up the rat race from time to time. But if we value our relationship, we will invest time, energy and attention to make it better. This is mindfulness. Concentrated time, energy and attention.
Know Where You Are At Any Given Moment
We need to make it a practice to know where we are in our marriage at any given moment. This is why it’s important to take stock. Evaluate.
It’s like the big map at a theme park. If you want to know how to get to giant water slide, you need to know where you currently are located. Then, and only then, can you navigate the place you want to be.
MAP GOES HERE
Same with marriage. If you aren’t sure where you are in your relationship, it’s virtually impossible to get to where you want to be.
Occasionally couples stumble into a great relationship; yet even then, they have other factors (principles) in place that make it easy for them to make it. It seems like an accidental discovery, in reality they had key things in place that helped them get there.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness is simply being present.
Here’s a few things you can do to make it a habit:
1. Set Aside Time
Most people spell love T.I.M.E.
It’s impossible to be present (mindful) if you are not present (there).
2. Keep a Gratitude Journal
Journaling is a great way to monitor your spiritual and mental life. It’s also an excellent way to focus on the things that matter.
I’ve often encouraged couples to keep a gratitude journal to record the positive things about your marriage.
It’s a great way to force yourself to stay focused on the good things about your relationship. What you continually focus on becomes more pronounced in your life.
In other words, if you focus on good things, you will see more good things. However, if you chose to see the negative, you will find it easier to see more negative. It’s true that you usually find what you are looking for. So look for the best.
A gratitude journal helps build the habit of ‘good consciousness.’
3. Tell Them
Not only record the positive things about your relationship, but tell your spouse about those good things. Share your relationship wins with each other.
The more you say it, the more real it becomes. That’s why you should conscientiously and consistently tell your spouse how much you value them.
4. Turn Off Distractions
The biggest thief of mindfulness is the little things that beg for our attention. The cell phone. Social media. Television.
Make it a habit of turning off distractions.
My wife is excellent at this. Her family often jokes with her about not being able to reach her by phone. She eventually calls back, but she doesn’t ‘break her neck’ to get to the phone every time it chimes. If she is with you, she is present. I respect that.
#6 Open Communication
I recently read an article about Psychologist Arthur Aron. He claimed that he could make a couple fall in love by having them discuss a handful of questions. But not just any questions. These topics were specifically
You can read about it here.
Is it true? Who knows. But probably.
Questions – the right questions – help us discover and connect on an intimate level.
Open, deep and meaningful conversation builds a heart connection that is strong and formidable. There is something about being open and transparent (add to this accepted and valued) that makes us bond on an emotional level.
The Marriage Quiz
We offer a free marriage quiz at The Healthy Marriage. It’s designed to help couples identify key areas where they need a tune-up.
It’s interesting that the majority of couples (individuals) who take the test realize that communication is an area that needs work.
Most couples would agree.
However, many couples have the wrong idea about communication.
Communication is not:
1. Proving Your Point.
The drive to ‘be right’ all the time will destroy your effectiveness in communicating.
Yes. There are times issues need to be hashed out and facts are important. But many couples reduce communicating to simply trying to get their point across.
2. Saying Things Louder to Be Heard.
We often think that yelling will help get our point across. The opposite is true.
A recent study measured how well people remembered information that was delivered with different emotions.
“Their analyses showed that participants recognized words better when they had previously heard them in the neutral tone compared with the sad tone. In addition, words were remembered more negatively if they had previously been heard in a sad voice.”
In other words, yelling, crying and heightened emotions did not increase how well they received the information, it actually hurt it.
3. Selling (convincing) to Get Your Way
There is a sales adage that says: Everyone likes to buy. But nobody likes to be sold.
Selling (in this case) is manipulation.
There are times we need to discuss and decide on a course of action.
For example, we are in the process of buying a new vehicle. I know what I want. My wife knows what she wants. Our goal is to discuss this purchase and do what is best for BOTH of us.
I ‘sell’ when I manipulate to get my way.
Selling always results in one partner feeling controlled, dictated and overlooked.
It never takes into consideration the feelings, desires and wants of your spouse. And it always leaves the relationship suffering.
4. Waiting Until You Are Angry to Talk
Depending on personality type, we deal with problems in one of three ways:
a) We run headlong into battle.
b) We flee to safer ground and avoid.
c) We wait for the right time to discuss the issue.
Obviously the third response is best.
Too often wait until things are so bad that it is explosive. At that point, the gloves come off and it’s a brawl.
Arguing is not communicating.
Remember the goal of communication is not just the transmission of information; it is connecting with our spouse and entering their world.
5. Using Should and Shouldn’t
Let’s be honest, when someone TELLS us what we should have done, it rarely sits right.
It comes across bossy and condescending. Avoid using absolute terms like this. It will help you have a more open dialog and move toward a positive relationship.
Open communication is built on the foundation of trust. Without it, it’s impossible to connect on a deep level.
Related Article: 11 Ways to Improve Communication in a Relationship
The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.
Emotional security stands on the foundation of personal responsibility.
Taking responsibility for yourself
To feel safe with another person, you first have to feel safe with yourself. I’m not talking about the fear you will harm yourself. If this is something you struggle with, please seek professional help immediately. Your life is valuable. Self harm is destructive on a number of levels. It never accomplishes what is intended.
Feeling safe with yourself has to do with self acceptance. Loving yourself.
Truth is, you can’t love someone else if your don’t love yourself. Not the self-centered, narcissistic, ego-manic type self love. The self love that accepts who you are and how you are. We often call it self esteem. The fact that you esteem yourself as worthy to be treated good, right and with respect.
If this is missing in you, you will never find in another person.
The beginning place of a healthy relationship is a healthy individual. This is why fixing another person never works. Only they can fix their life. Sure, they may need help, but no one can make a decision for you. You have to take responsibility for your own life.
Taking responsibility for your role in the relationship
I’m not responsible for my wife’s self esteem; only she can create that. I am, however, responsible to validate it and let her know she is valued, loved unconditionally, and accepted without reservation.
I am responsible to let her know I will protect her heart.
Why Taking Responsibility Matters
One of my life statements (which I heard from Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul) is:
f you want to be successful, you have to take 100% responsibility for everything that you experience in your life.
Until you take responsibility for your life, you are powerless to change it.
This is why taking responsibility matters.
If you are NOT responsible, you have no authority or power to make the situation different. You are stuck. Left to whim of others to make things better.
If you blame your circumstances on others, you are empowering THEM to control your life. THEY have to do something for things to change. So you lose control.
If, however, you take responsibility, you gain control.
For example, if you marriage is not what you want it to be, taking responsibility gives you the power to do something about it.
It’s important to know, responsibility doesn’t necessarily mean blame. Just because you take responsibility doesn’t mean you take blame. That’s important.
Placing blame rarely brings about change anyway.
Taking responsibility means you believe something can be done about the situation, and you have the power to do it.
As long as you blame someone else – your job, your wife, the kids, hormones, etc – you put yourself in a place of powerlessness. Whoever is to blame is the only one who can change things.
So take responsibility for what you want your life to be…what you want your marriage to be…and do something about it.
This is the first step toward true freedom.
Related Article: 16 Negative Habits That Wreck Your Relationship
One of my mentors taught me the value of letting go. We all have baggage in our life. Learning to let go of it helps us find freedom.
Unfortunately, our past often controls us.
Let’s relate this to marriage. Creating a healthy relationship has two components:
1. Things you bring INTO your marriage…
Things like right attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Some of the things we’ve discussed fall into this category.
We must BRING these things into our relationship if we want a healthy marriage.
2. Things you release FROM your marriage.
These things are equally (sometimes more) important than what you put into your relationship. Many times, it’s the things left in that destroy.
How To Ruin A Cake
I love my wife’s coconut cake. It’s my favorite. We don’t have it frequently because we try to monitor what we eat, but on special occasions she makes one for me.
She has a special recipe she uses. I think over the years she tweaked and dabbled to come up with her perfect cake.
Now, suppose she made me a coconut cake and used all the ingredients she normally uses. All the things that make it awesome.
She included a tiny…ever so tiny amount of transmission fluid. Not really enough to notice. Not even enough to change the flavor. It’s actually sweet to the taste so it could potentially enhance the flavor.
Would I still want to eat the cake?
Of course not. For a number of reasons. But mainly because it has something in it that tampers with it’s purity. It is poison.
It could make me sick. Damage my organs. Possibly even kill me.
Many times we let little things in our relationship that might seem indectable. They are small. Yet profoundly significant. Ultimately they undermine the purity of our marriage.
Things That Damage Emotional Safety
There are four things that will destroy emotional safety.
John Gottman explains these four things in this video called ‘The Four Horsemen’
Brené Brown reminds us:
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” (Source: Daring Greatly) Amazon Link
Two aspects of being available.
First, is making your marriage a priority.
We prioritize by making time.
Think about it. We make time for work. Special events. Even vacations. Why not our marriage?
Making your relationship a priority is more than putting an important event on the calendar. It’s about how you internalize your relationship.
Is this the most important relationship in your life?
It should be. Needs to be.
If so, then treat it like it is.
Now you can put things on the calendar. But don’t confuse scheduling time with your spouse with valuing them as a person.
Second, is making sure you are emotionally accessible.
This is the essence of ‘being available.’ Being there.
“Why are men so detached?”
I hear that question a lot. Truth is, they are not.
Let me clarify. Most men aren’t detached. They may be unlearned. Unskilled in intimacy. Maybe even unsure of themselves. But deep down, I believe (at least my experience indicates this is true) most men want to have a deeply loving relationship with their wife.
Sure, men are wired different.
But we all desire intimacy.
To have intimacy we must be present for our spouse.
This is one of Dr. Rich Nicastro top three recommendations for building an emotionally healthy marriage.
“We make ourselves known to one another by sharing who we are (our feelings, reactions, values, ideas, fears) and by being open and receptive to our partner’s sharing. Couples often report feeling painfully alone when emotional distance becomes the norm.”
“Finding intimacy begins with discovering ourselves…We have to be visible before we can be seen. We have to be available before our hearts can be affected. And we have to be present before we can be intimate.”
Being available is key to creating security in our relationship.
Related Article: 16 Habits of a Healthy Marriage
Wrapping It Up
Emotional safety is important for a healthy marriage. Creating a climate for a secure relationship should be top priority.
Here’s the 9 keys to creating emotional safety in your marriage.
- #1 Kindness
- #2 Respect
- #3 Appreciation
- #4 Affirmation
- #5 Being Mindful
- #6 Open Communication
- #7 Responsibility
- #8 Releasing
- #9 Available
If you were to rate emotional safety in your relationship, what number would you give it [scale of 1-10. 10 being infredibly secure]?
How can your marriage improve in this area?
What steps should you take to create a strong sense of emotional safety with your spouse?
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