Are you in an emotionally secure relationship?
- Do you feel safe to talk openly and honestly to your partner about embarrassing or difficult topics? Do they feel that way about you?
- Are you loved by your partner? And not just intellectually… Do you feel loved by them most of the time?
- Would you describe your relationship as resilient and flexible? Or fragile and rigid?
Just like children crave a secure relationship with their parents and caregivers, we adults crave secure relationships with our spouses, partners, and significant others.
Of course, no relationship is perfect. But if you look at really healthy, emotionally secure relationships, you’ll almost always find these three things at work…
1. Emotional vulnerability
No, this doesn’t mean you have to go around vomiting your feelings all over everyone you meet like a newly in-love (or heartbroken) 14-year-old.
But it does mean you need to be willing to clearly and honestly talk about your emotions when necessary—even if it’s difficult.
Emotional vulnerability is the willingness to acknowledge and express your emotions despite it being hard.
- Some people are naturally shy and/or not especially expressive of how they feel emotionally with others—even in very close relationships. And that’s okay.
- But if you’re experiencing increasing levels of “quiet resentment” because your partner isn’t being as attentive or loving as you’d like, well, you need to be able to talk about how you feel even though it’s uncomfortable.
- That’s intentional vulnerability. You’re willing to be open about a difficult emotion because it serves an important goal or purpose.
Now, you’re not going to be willing to be vulnerable with your emotions when necessary if you suck at it. Sorry for being blunt, but it’s the truth.
Emotional vulnerability is skill. And if it’s difficult, that just means you need to practice more.
A simple way to get more comfortable and confident with emotional vulnerability is to pay attention to how you talk to yourself in your head when you’re upset. Then, rather than intellectualizing your emotions, practice labeling those emotions using simple, plain language.
- Instead of I’m pissed off right now try I’m really angry.
- Instead of I feel so down try I feel sad.
- Instead of I’m overwhelmed try I’m scared that I won’t be able to get everything done.
Healthy relationships depend on the ability to talk plainly about difficult emotions—at least occasionally. If that’s hard for you to do with your partner, start by practicing with yourself.
2. Assertive communication
Most people hear the term assertive and they think of pushy salesmen, or overly-confident businessman types. In other words, it seems like a synonym for rude. But the truth is…
Assertive communication is the healthy middle between passive and aggressive communication.
- In aggressive communication, you’re honest about what you want, but you communicate those wants in a way that’s disrespectful of others: yelling, threatening, etc.
- In passive communication, you’re very careful to be respectful of the other person, but so much so that you’re willing to sacrifice your own legitimate wants and needs: ignoring what you want, staying quiet when you have an opinion, saying something doesn’t matter to you when really it does, etc.
- And then there’s the worst of both worlds… passive-aggressive communication, which is when you are too afraid to ask for what you want directly and use indirect but manipulative strategies to get or express what you want: sarcasm, guilt-tripping, etc.
Now, it shouldn’t be hard to see how any relationship where one or more of these unhealthy communication styles is common is not going to feel especially secure.
For example: If you’re too passive and constantly ignoring your own wants and needs for fear of your partner getting upset, you’re going to end up racked with resentment, anxiety, and fake guilt.
The solution to all this unhealthy communication—and the foundation for a truly secure relationship—is for both people to be confident and competent communicating assertively.
This means they ask for what they want and express themselves in a way that’s both honest to their own wants and needs and respectful of the other person.
Like anything, the key is to start small and slowly work your way up to assertiveness…
- Actually, I’d prefer to watch that new documentary I was talking about tonight instead of football.
- Please try and remember to put your dirty laundry in the hamper instead of leaving it on the floor.
- I disagree… I think he made the right decision by saying no to the big job offer…
One last word of caution… For a relationship to be emotionally secure, both people need to commit to communicating assertively. It’s important to have realistic expectations about this because ultimately you only have control over yourself.
Learn More: How to Be More Assertive
3. Healthy boundaries
Emotional vulnerability is the willingness to be honest about how you’re really feeling emotionally…
Assertive communication is the willingness to ask for what you really want, or express yourself, honestly…
And setting healthy boundaries is about saying no to things you don’t want and will not tolerate.
The final hallmark of emotionally secure relationships is that both parties are willing and able to set—and enforce!—good boundaries. This is true with each other when necessary, but just as importantly, you need to be able to set boundaries between the relationship and the outside world.
- If your partner habitually is habitually late to things, you might need to set a boundary around their lateness and how you will handle it. E.g.: From now on, if you’re more than 5 minutes late getting ready for an event, I’m going to leave without you.
- Suppose your parents are in the habit of giving your partner unsolicited (and poorly-conceived) parenting advice during holiday gatherings… Well you might need to set a boundary with them. E.g.: Please do not give us parenting advice anymore. If it happens again, we won’t attend the next family gathering.
Now, these might sound a little extreme or harsh, but that’s only because, as a culture, we tend to be overly-passive and terrified of conflict.
We habitually give in on things and tolerate bad behavior because we’re terrified of other people being upset.
Unfortunately, this fear of other people feeling bad is leading to the perpetuation of and strengthening of bad behavior, which ultimately is destructive of any healthy relationship.
At the end of the day, relationships will only feel emotionally secure if you’re willing to protect the things that really matter to you. And the way you do that is to have the courage to set and enforce healthy boundaries when necessary.
Learn More: 5 Rules for Setting Healthy Boundaries
All You Need to Know
Emotionally secure relationships are built on three key elements…
- Intentional vulnerability
- Assertive communication
- Healthy boundaries