Once upon a time, there were two couples. Let’s refer to them as Couple A and Couple B. In “Couple A”, she’s open, easygoing … an open book. That carries over into all relationships, besides her mate. Then there’s her boyfriend. He’s a private person and it’s hard for him to open up and express his feelings, even to her. He’s accepting when she opens up and she has encouraged him to do likewise, but he has some work to do on himself before she feels he is being completely transparent.
“Couple B”: She’s critical, opinionated, sees things in black and white. She has trouble expressing affection and being intimate. She says whatever she’s thinking but what she’s thinking is often judging someone, commenting on someone’s deficiencies. She believes there is a clear distinction between right and wrong. He wants to share what’s on his mind, his affection for her, but he’s afraid she will be critical not only of WHAT he has to say but that he’s saying it at all.
The “she” in “Couple A” feels emotionally safe to say what’s on her mind; he’s less emotionally safe than her but she sees positive movement. Emotional safety is low for the “he” in “Couple B.” He wants to be open with her but doesn’t feel safe doing so. What’s the difference between these two relationships, other than there’s diminished comfort level of one or the other partner? I call it the difference between having a safe and unsafe platform.
Do you identify with either of the individuals in Couple A or Couple B? What happens when a platform (environment) of openness and honesty is missing between you and your mate?
How an Unsafe Platform Damages a Relationship
If a relationship is new and growing, feeling emotionally unsafe can sabotage the relationship, keep it from moving forward, and can ultimately cause the relationship to fail. In emotionally unsafe relationships, one or both partners can feel guarded, isolated, fearful, or all of the above.
If you have doubts about how your partner will handle certain pieces of information or discussions and will not take kindly to your expressions of concern, you might tend to keep many things to yourself. Your mate might even consider your tight lips a form of dishonesty – by omission. A relationship is on a rocky road if you’re continuing to keep secrets.
The unknown can make you feel anxious. Holding back because of how you think your partner will react, may be based on previous encounters with your mate. Holding back may be a presumption that you know how he or she will react, without giving them the benefit of the doubt this time.
Not being open and honest may be due to unhealed wounds from previous relationships or even from parental upbringing. Maybe you’ve been conditioned to be “gun-shy.”
If you’re excitable by nature and get upset over trivial matters, think how your partner may feel if he wants to talk about something more important? He doesn’t want to upset you or cause an argument and so he may not be as honest and forthright. He keeps his mouth shut to keep the peace.
Over time, you or your partner (or both) may feel that the relationship is on shaky ground, that it doesn’t feel permanent. Insecurity can set in. You may develop a shyness with your mate, or even paranoia, hoping that you’re not going to do or say something that will cause your mate to emotionally or physically withdraw from you.
You may start doubting yourself, your abilities as a person and as a partner … even your relationships with other people. You may feel unaccepted, powerless, and emotionally muzzled. Or maybe you feel stupid talking about something.
How can you as an individual or you as a couple thrive under these conditions? You can’t – not for long anyway.
What a Safe Platform Looks Like
A safe platform is a mutual give and take, sharing and listening, understanding and forgiving. Nurturing a safe platform means being honest with yourself and your partner, even if it’s not convenient, even if it’s not “pretty.” You both feel relaxed. You have closeness and intimacy. Kindness and caring characterize your interactions with one another.
You allow yourselves to be vulnerable. You let down your defenses. This may not come naturally to you. Each partner has to foster this. That means neither you or your partner criticize, blame, demean, bully, nor reject the other.
You’re mindful of how you respond so that he feels safe about being honest with you. If he expresses his true feelings and you happen to dislike what he’s saying, you don’t judge. You make neutral comments and ask neutral questions. No loaded questions or grilling. You respond calmly and rationally.
You’re honest. This is a biggie. Because you feel you can be yourselves and trust your partner implicitly, you feel you share anything with them – and that includes being honest when you mess up.
You open yourselves up to each other. You both are willing to break through emotional barriers and conduct dialogues free of defensiveness and accusations.
You work out the issue in your head first, especially when the issue is not clear and you are confused. After giving it some thought, you voice your concerns to your partner.
You ask for what you need. Your mate may have no idea that some of your needs are not being met.
You work at avoiding unhealthy patterns and backsliding. You commit to always be honest with each other. Consider the slate wiped clean. Tomorrow is another day to practice.
A safe platform involves some risk-taking. Speaking out may ruffle some feathers at first, but you forgive and work at changing anything that needs to be changed. This is a healing process. When you do it regularly as issues come up, your relationship deepens. Intimacy deepens. You feel emotionally connected.