In my last post, I talked about the 2 things that every couple is looking for in their relationship. Today I wanted to expand on that topic a little bit.
These are the two things partners are looking for:
- Achieving a sense of emotional safety, and
- Getting the kind of love that they want.
And these two things are central to most couple problems in one way or another. This isn’t to minimize the complexities that come with couple relationships, but the reality is we humans really are kind of simple creatures. The basic things that keep us happy are truly basic, and we lose a lot of happiness when we aren’t able to have those needs met.
A Key Relationship Tension
Safety and love don’t always go together. Many of us have grown up believing that we can’t trust other people to keep us safe, or we can’t risk being vulnerable with them, because they might end up hurting us. When that happens, we try to create safety by shutting out the painful parts of our emotional experience, and shutting out other people from getting too close to us. The drive for safety often prevents us from experiencing real love.
Love, on the other hand, is something we all want, but there are inherent risks to allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to experience love. It’s easy to find ourselves in a catch–22 where we’re desperate to receive love from our partner, but equally terrified that they won’t be able to give it. This is where many marriages end up struggling – the relationship tension that arises from the pull between protecting ourselves from emotional injury and opening up enough to be loved.
It Starts Long Before the Relationship
When couples are struggling to connect with one another, I try to help each partner see this tension and their own contribution to it. In almost all cases, it’s possible to draw a line from each partners’ current safety- and love-seeking behaviors, to things they were taught about safety and love when they were very young. Once we expose the origin and nature of this behavior for what it is – a programmed response to basic human needs – we’re then positioned to bring greater understanding to the relationship, expose the tension, and so diminish its power.
So what about you? What were some of the ways that you protected yourself when you were a kid, and what were some of the ways you sought out love? What about in your relationship today? Take a moment to consider: are these strategies helping or hindering your relationship to be what you want it to be?