The gentleman sitting before me was utterly demoralized, his face ashen with his long, graying hair falling into his face. Don looked down before he spoke.
“I came here as a last ditch effort,” he said softly, referring to his trip to The Marriage Recovery Center. “I don’t know what else I can do.”
Surprisingly, his wife of twenty years, Kelly, was unsympathetic, even irritated.
“Why don’t you do the things we’ve agreed you would do to help me feel safe,” she said, obviously exasperated. “You want me to feel close to you, but you keep saying things that hurt me. Just a few hours ago you accused me of not trying in our marriage. You called me selfish. That hurt.”
“I can’t say anything right,” he lamented.
“But, you can!” she said emphatically. “Just don’t say the things you know will hurt me. When I say ‘stop,’ please stop. When I call for a time out, respect the time out.”
Kelly’s words didn’t seem to soothe her husband’s troubled spirits. He feel deeply discouraged, and from his vantage point, he could do nothing right. Yet, he seemed to have failed to grasp a central principle in marriage—safety comes before intimacy.
What do I mean by this? I mean that women, and actually men too, must have an emotional bubble around them protecting them from feeling violated. Much like we need to feel a sense of safety when strolling through the streets of our town in order to enjoy an evening out, we need the same emotional safety in our relationship in order to feel close to our mate. We must know, without a doubt, that our mate has our best interests in mind and won’t hurt us.
Don was stuck in a place I’ve seen in many others, many times. He was feeling sorry for himself and believed that Kelly asked too much of him. I don’t think she did. Safety comes before intimacy!
Here are a few additional considerations on this topic:
First, feeling safe is critical to our ability to be vulnerable. When you think about it, feeling safe is basic to our well-being. We can do little effectively when feeling unsafe. According to Abraham Maslow, in his famous ‘hierarchy of needs,’ the preeminent psychologist placed safety just above physiological survival and before needs for love and belonging. Safety is essential to our well-being. We must have it nearly as desperately as the air we breathe.
Second, unless we feel safe, we will not expose ourselves emotionally. We all know what it feels like to get hurt emotionally. It doesn’t take too many emotional blows before we tuck our tails and run. While we may not run physically, we run emotionally. We run by fighting, freezing or fleeing. Make no mistake—we run, and running is counter-productive to sharing ourselves spiritually and emotionally.
Third, we must hold that safe place. Safety isn’t something achieved and then ignored. It is something we must cherish, prize, treasure and protect. The ‘safe place’ is that sacred place between you and your mate where you come together in sacred connection, sharing your hearts. You make a vow to keep your mate safe—safe to share their thoughts, feelings, dreams and very personhood.
Fourth, violations of this safe place must be repaired. We are not machines that simply bounce back when we replace the oil and gasoline. We are spiritual beings, created in God’s image, and have very tender souls and spirits. We are made of emotions and these emotions can be hurt in many different ways. When we hurt our mate, we must vow to not hurt them again, in addition to performing meaningful acts of restoration.
Finally, both of you must vow to create, honor and maintain this safe place. You would do well to talk at length about this sacred, safe place. What does it look like to you? What would you like from your mate to feel safe and protected? How have you been hurt and what would you like from your mate to heal? Talk about this, dreaming together about this wonderful relationship you can have that will lead to intimacy. Remember, safety comes before intimacy—but if you will create safety, intimacy is likely to follow.
Which is better, connection or separation? The choice is easy. Do you long for caring connection?