In my book, Creating Our Safe Place, I wrote that in counseling we strive to help couples and families make their relationships safe. A safe relationship is where we turn to for acceptance, love, refreshment, peace, and comfort in a dangerous world.
In a safe relationship, we can drop our defenses and masks and be who we really are. Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves in unsafe relationships. We are loved only if we meet certain conditions: "I will love you if you: don't upset me, live where I want you to live, make me happy, be who I want you to be."
In unsafe relationships there is confusion about what change means. We may feel that it is not okay be who we are. We have to become someone our partner wants us to be. Of course, this can be threatening. In safe relationships, change means changing some of our behaviors or ways of relating so that we can experience closeness. It is about growth and maturing as individuals and as couples.
Feelings are okay in a safe relationship.
In unsafe relationships there are certain feelings we are not allowed to share. We may only be allowed to have happy and positive feelings. We become afraid to share our feelings because we might get hurt or abandoned.
In a safe
relationship, we can
drop our defenses and
masks and be who we really
are. Unfortunately, many of us find
ourselves in unsafe relationships. A safe
relationship encourages us to grow.
We know our relationship is safe when it is okay to be angry and disagree with each other. Our relationship is safe because there is an agreed on structure for dealing with anger and conflict. We are more interested in understanding each other's viewpoints than in winning the argument.
A safe relationship is when we can be vulnerable and know it will be treated as holy ground.
When our partner shares his or her deepest feelings, thoughts, mistakes, weaknesses, and secrets, we are standing on holy ground. This is where the person lives and not many people are privileged to enter this space, so it should be treated as sacred or holy ground. This means we don't make fun or criticize but rather "take our shoes off" and walk in humbly as someone who has been given a special privilege. It means that what is shared is honored and confidences are kept. Intimacy is private knowledge between two people. When it is shared, the private knowledge becomes public. Consequently, intimacy is damaged. The other person is afraid to be vulnerable and open again.
Next month we will continue exploring the traits of a safe relationship.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700