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Do This to Feel Emotionally Safer in Your Relationship

The valuable role you play in creating emotional safety with the one you love

Years ago a local human services director asked me to do a series of workshops on the topic of emotional safety. Since I liked the agency and the director, I agreed before I had a chance to research the subject. Of course, at the time, I found little in the professional literature that specifically addressed emotional safety. Immersing myself in the subject, I quickly began to appreciate how safety is a fundamental human need as described by the work of Abraham Maslow, a highly accomplished psychologist and personality theorist. For Maslow, safety meant security: protection from physical and emotional harm.

Examining the emotional aspect of safety for this training, I realize that empathy is at the heart I'm emotional safety. Empathy helps create emotional safety by affirming that our struggles are okay – not necessarily right or wrong, but okay. This helps us to let down our negative judgment and barriers. When you felt "Safe "as a child, you explored your surroundings. When you felt "safe "in the classroom, you raise your hand without fear. When you feel safe in your relationship you can express your emotional needs and be true to them – that's emotional safety. And that's a beautiful thing!

Emotional safety has also been discussed by psychologist Don R. Catherall. Proponents of his emotional safety model contend that shifts in feeling secure in a relationship are precipitated by a partner's perception of change in the other's affective tone regarding their emotional relationship (i.e. the partners' feelings about themselves, each other, and their relationship).

As I discuss n my book, Why Can't You Read My Mind?, here are more ways to gain a sense of emotional safety with your partner.

1. Identify and challenge your toxic thoughts toward your partner. Overcoming your toxic thoughts toward your partner is imperative to create an emotionally safe relationship. Please see my recent blog, Do Any Of These Toxic Thoughts Threaten Your Relationship? for more on this topic.

2. Be Consistent. It is very emotionally draining and unsafe for your partner (and for you, as well) if you are moody and unpredictable. Being this way can sabotage feelings of emotional safety. As discussed in another recent blog, What Head Games Look Like in Lasting Relationships, avoid unwittingly or wittingly saying one thing and doing another.

3. Demonstrate Commitment. Protect your relationship. Don't destructively trash your partner to your friends or family. Be faithful and be supportive. Doing this will help you navigate choppy waters in your relationship and get you both to a better place.


Catherall, Don R. (2007). Emotional Safety: viewing couples through the lens of affect. New York: Routledge.……

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over 23 years of experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post-doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared on the Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS Eyewitness News Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC, and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2006), 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child (Perseus Books 2007), Why Can't You Read My Mind? , and Liking the Child You Love, Perseus Books 2009).

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