Safety Before Intimacy

 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.”

Don shrugged.

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!

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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?

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About David Hawkins

bio-hawkinsDr. Hawkins is a Christian Clinical Psychologist who is a speaker for the American Association of Christian Counselors and has been writing an Advice Column for and for several years and is now writing for He is a weekly guest on Moody Radio and Faith Radio and is the author of over thirty books. He is happily married to Christie, an Interior Designer, and lives on Bainbridge Island, outside Seattle.

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  • Lover of Israel

    I have seen this used as a passive aggressive strategy for manipulation. If the wife is really not willing to try and be a lover, then the husband’s remarks are ignored at first, in hope that he will give it up. Many men do.

    If he decides not to endure the contempt and loveless non-sexual relationship for the rest of his life, his reasonable protest can easily be reframed as meanness, hurtful words, or even abuse. If he endures enough of this, his justifiable and deep hurt will eventually become impossible for him to hide.

    I have also found that our churches are very likely to respond very harshly to men in this situation. They see the outward hurt and biterness, and a woman who is playing the part of a submissive martyr, then they asume that they see the entire picture. The man may be depressed and have difficulty dealing with life. Hiding his sins and faults would be difficult anyway, because she has the goal of justifying herself by casting him in a negative light. Now, however, he is enduring emotional abuse, and she has people that will unwittingly help her keep him weak and controlled.

    In the end, allowing the wife to decide that the man isn’t allowed to be angry, or otherwise label his emotions and judge them, can destroy a man and a marriage. Men are responsible for loving their wives sincerely, but no one tells women that they should control their emotions. Making the man responsible for her emotions (feeling safe, feeling happy, etc.) before he is allowed to experience her sincere love and pursuit, is a manipulative abuse.

    Does the wife really feel unsafe? Which one is showing signs of injury? Emasculating a man and requiring him to act according to the wife’s emotional demands will only cause the man more injury. He will not have his needs met, nor will he heal at all. Instead, a wife that is doing this will be strengthened to double down and be less responsive, loving, and respectful.
    Women have no problem finding people to help them box-in their husbands. Unfortunately, there are very few people helping men in this situation.



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