Note: This is the second of a two-part series.
Think about the many moments in a relationship when your partner lets down his or her guard and exposes a soft spot. Perhaps it is when he is scrutinizing his bald spot in the mirror and looking forlorn. Perhaps it is when she has removed her make-up and feels less than glamorous. Perhaps it is when he has just finished a painful phone conversation with his ex. Perhaps it is when she is watching a movie and tears start streaming down from her eyes.
When your partner risks being vulnerable in your presence, you can feel very powerful. This quickly becomes a real test of your desire for a healthy partnership. What will you do with that power? Do you insert a little dagger in the soft spot that has just been revealed? Do you use it as an opportunity to assert superiority or to settle an old score? Do you seize that power because it feels good?
All of these are certainly options, but none of them are constructive partnership options.
There is only one constructive option: to make your partner feel safe.
Here are a few things to understand about safety and vulnerability:
- No one can open their heart until they feel safe.
- It takes more courage to be vulnerable than it does to be tough.
- Taking advantage of someone’s moment of weakness will never help you build up your own strength or power.
- Provoking jealously to control your partner will lead to your partner’s mistrust.
- It’s hard for someone to feel loving and close when s/he is also feeling picked on, criticized or judged. If you have little or no tolerance for differences, and find yourself going on the attack, ask yourself: why do these differences make me so angry, so frustrated, so insecure? What fears might be lurking beneath my harsh responses? Why can’t I be more accepting?
- Learn to not be threatened by differences.
- Learn to bite your tongue, not your partner.
- Sometimes we get so lost in our own emotional whirlwind that we don’t realize how much we are obliterating our partner’s feelings. Our terrible sadness trivializes their smaller sadness. Our phobias dominate their smaller fears. Our moods trump their moods. But when partnership is a priority, emotional balance is vital. You have to remind yourself that your partner is entitled to get a little depressed, fearful, anxious or angry, also. And you have to make room for those feelings, to make it clear that they are welcome.
- Dismantle your emotional landmines, and get a handle on your anger, rage and reactivity.
- Some of us feel compelled to micromanage our partner’s life. We scrutinize their habits, their language, their actions or their appearance—and provide constant critical feedback. If you need to micromanage something, start by micromanaging your unhealthy impulses, and come to terms with your own control issues. Why do things always have to be your way? Making it safe for your partner to relax and be human means learning to let go of control.
Making the relationship safe means taking responsibility for your own emotions, insecurities and inadequacies. When we punish our partner for having qualities that are just different from ours, we hurt their spirit—and we hurt the possibilities for a good partnership.
Source: This Is How Love Works by Steven Carter (M. Evans Publishing)