4 Red Flags You Don’t Feel Emotionally Safe With Your Partner
When the word “safety” comes up within the context of relationships, your mind may immediately fall to the importance of physical safety. Emotional safety, however, is equally as crucial. After all, you must first feel emotionally safe in your relationship, if you hope to ultimately open up to your partner. As Brené Brown wisely states in her book Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” In other words — without safety, we do not have the capacity for vulnerability, and without vulnerability, we can never truly get close to our significant others.
So, what does emotional safety look like? For one, it means being able to share your feelings, concerns, or desires without fear, as well as showing your partner the same empathy and respect. It resembles having open conversations about difficult topics, and honoring each other’s perspectives even when you don’t agree. It comes in the form of offering honest feedback without anyone getting overly defensive. In other words, when you’re emotionally safe in a relationship, there's no need to hold back or pretend.
“When you and your partner care about each others’ feelings, you’ll go out of your way to take care of each other to make each other feel emotionally safe,” relationship and etiquette expert April Masini told Elite Daily.
When we feel unsafe, we withdraw. It’s a natural, instinctive reaction. But our romantic relationships are incapable of thriving if we close ourselves off. Wondering where you and our partner fall on this spectrum? Here are some possible signs that you don’t feel emotionally safe with your SO.
When you feel emotionally safe in your relationship, you trust that your partner will not to do something that will intentionally hurt you. So whether you’re acting on it or not, if you find that you’re frequently tempted to check their phone or laptop for anything suspicious, that’s a red flag.
“If you’re going behind your partner’s back to try to figure out what they’re doing when you’re not around, you’re not feeling secure in the relationship,” explains Masini. “People who snoop like this are trying to confirm their worst fears — because they don’t trust their partner to tell them directly.”
Masini advises that if you're surprised by how trusting your friends are of their own partners, that's another possible red flag that you've got yours on a tight leash.
If you feel like you have good reason to snoop because your partner has cheated on you in the past, acknowledge that. If that’s the case, and you still feel tempted to scope out their texts and emails here and there, you haven’t been able to regain a sense of emotional safety. Communication here is key, and you should consider addressing that trust issue head-on.
You’re scared to leave your partner alone.
Especially in the early stages of a relationship, it’s common (and totally normal) to feel like you want to be with your partner all of the time. However, having a little breathing room is imperative for maintaining a healthy relationship. So if you feel scared to leave your partner alone, you may want to consider why.
As Masini points out, while this may appear to be a control issue, it’s actually rooted in fear.
“If you don’t trust your partner to be without you, you’re not feeling safe in the relationship,” she says. “Clinginess isn’t about affection — it’s about fear of your partner doing things you don’t like when you’re not around.”
So, if you’re feeling a little uneasy about your SO hitting a bar with friends or taking a vacation without you, it’s time to dig into your discomfort. Do you have cause to be skeptical of your partner’s loyalty? Or is there another reason why you’re scared of what might happen when you’re not around? Most importantly, do you feel like you can share these fears with your partner? If you’re feeling paranoid any time they’re not with you and on top of that, you don’t feel like you can be honest with them about it, that could be a sign that your relationship is lacking in emotional safety.
You agree with your partner on absolutely everything.
If you agree with your partner on a lot of things, tat can bode well for your relationship — after all, we are much more likely to find happiness with someone who shares many of our beliefs and values. However, if you’re never openly disagreeing with your SO, especially when you question their judgement, that can be a red flag that you’re avoiding confrontation or conflict. When you feel emotionally safe in a relationship, you should be able to express a difference in opinion without bracing yourself for a major blowout.
Take note next time you find yourself pretending to share your partner’s stance on something. What are you afraid of? Are you holding back because you know you’ll have to pay a hefty emotional price for your honesty? If so, consider that you may not feel emotionally safe in your relationship, and if you feel comfortable — bring it up to your partner.
You’re pointing the finger a lot.
Have you noticed yourself frequently blaming your partner for your negative feelings and reactions? According to Masini, that could be another sign that you’re not feeling emotionally safe in your relationship.
“When you regularly accuse your partner of behavior that you really don’t want to see, it’s often not because they’ve done anything wrong, but because you’re afraid they will,” she says. “By taking a preemptory strike at them, you’re creating drama that allows you to shed light on your fears. Often, this is not something that people are conscious of doing.”
Your brain basically has an alarm system that detects threats to our needs — and the instant it registers that your mental, physical, or emotional well-being is in danger, you have a physical reaction (the “fight or flight” response). As you probably know, a thought can set off an emotion, and the reverse is actually true, too. In other words, if you feel threatened, you’re likely to search for a reason why. As a result, you may find that you’re blaming your partner for things they haven’t done simply in order to explain why you feel so emotionally unsafe or unsteady.
There are plenty of reasons why you might be feeling emotionally unsafe in your relationship — it may stem from your partner’s behavior, or it may be a result of your own personal experiences.
“Sometimes the fear you’re feeling has to do with your past, not your present,” explains Masini. “If that’s the case, do the work you need to do to properly process your past experiences that have lead you to be fearful in relationships. Unless you take care of you first, you’re always going to feel fearful in relationships — even with loyal partners.”
If you’ve determined that your feelings of emotional unsafety are well-founded, then it’s time to have an open and honest discussion with your partner about your needs. A couples counselor or relationship expert may be able to further help you dig into your fears and gradually enhance the feeling of emotional safety in your relationship. Indeed, you may both have work to do in order to achieve emotional safety in your relationship. Still, it’s well worth the effort when you consider that the reward is a trusting, compassionate relationship, in which you can be stronger as both individuals — and together as a unit.
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