Updated: Feb 5, 2022
Most of us have received no real education about relationships, but if we did, it would have included the following basics:
Our relationships are a tremendous resource and therefore, we must invest in the health of that resource.
Relational skills are learned skills. Continuing to educate ourselves and practicing what we learn is a powerful way to nourish our relationships.
When the relationship begins to feel unsafe or painful, it is not necessarily a sign that the relationships is not viable, but it is definitely a sign that something within it hurts and needs healing.
Relationships that need healing require attention and care in the same way bodies do when there is physical pain or dis-ease.
Asking for help when the relationship hurts is a not a failure. It is a courageous step signaling that the relationship matters enough to receive the kind of care it needs.
Security and aliveness are two basic needs in the relationship. Security is the root system and is the base support for aliveness.
Relationships that feel secure are a lot of fun. Where there is security, there is room for all kinds of self-expression.
When a relationship starts to feel frustrating or painful, it is often time to examine how the root system is doing. Has there been an injury or repeated injuries to the security of one or both partners? Has the root system been weak all along and has the relationship been trying to grow beyond what the weak root system has been able to support?
Insecurity is distress caused by the loss of connection.
In this article I’d like to begin setting the foundation for ways security can be rebuild in relationships, but let us first examine the blocks we may have to doing so.
Here are 5 blocks that prevent many of us from becoming more secure in our relationships:
We believe that the task of creating a secure base ends in childhood
We rely on behaviors that do not serve our desire for a secure connection
We don’t know how to experience security in our relationships or how to return to safety after there’s been an injury
We feel ashamed to ask for help with something we “should know how to do”
We don’t set realistic expectations when it comes to safety in relationship
Here let me briefly examine all five.
1. It’s never too late to begin learning and investing in the security of our relationships.
Creation of the secure base doesn’t stop in childhood. In fact, for many that secure base was never established in childhood. For many childhoods have been about navigating and surviving hostile environments with very few examples of safety, comfort or warmth. Establishing safety is an ongoing process, which can begin at any point. I have seen time and time again that creating secure relationships is often the ongoing task of adulthood and because it is more normal than anyone has ever dared to say out loud, learning to create security in relationships in adulthood is nothing to be ashamed of.
2. We come into our adult relationships with an already formed relational blueprint. I call it the inherited blueprint and it consists of behaviors, beliefs and ways of being which originated in the past and persist in real time when familiar relational scenarios start presenting themselves. When we do not consciously examine and question this kind of inheritance, we rely on it blindly, resulting in it running our relationships.
Questions are an excellent way of examining our blueprint. Here are some of the examples:
Have you felt safe as a child? If yes, what helped you feel safe If no, what were the injuries?
What happened when you felt scared, angry, frustrated or sad?
Were others curious about you and your experience?
Did people in your family make amends when feelings were hurt? Were you able to openly share when something has hurt you?
Did you have a general sense that it was okay to be you growing up?
How much affection did you want as a child? Was that affection available to you?
What messages about relationships-implicit or explicit-did you receive growing up?
3. How secure we feel at any given moment might shift based on any number of internal or external factors. Repeated offenses to the sense of safety can leave one feeling out of touch with what does and does not feel safe.
When our sense of security has been tampered with, we become nervous, agitated, fearful and anxious. This is called dysregulation and this is what happens when a nervous system is handling more than it can safely handle. Being dysregulated doesn’t feel good and so naturally we try to resolve this uncomfortable state by looking for something or someone to help us come back to a more desired state of regulatory equilibrium.
Without a question, our relationships are our best emotional regulators.
That is how we have been made. Biologically, we come into the world wired for connection. We are wired that way because our connections are necessary for our very survival. Psychologically speaking, we need to know that someone will care for us and if that someone does so with consistency and love, we feel safe and we feel a sense of trust and openness to the world.
The vast majority of us will automatically seek connection with another person when distressed. Seeking a connection with someone, with anyone is still very hard-wired for most humans. Think about the last time you felt uneasy. Have you then found yourself suddenly reaching for your phone or calling a parent or a friend just to chat about what they had been up to? Just hearing another person’s voice sometimes is enough to start feeling more at ease.
But what happens when human connections have felt particularly unreliable and unsafe? From the attachment standpoint, when relationships feel unsafe and inconsistent early on, one develops an avoidant or preoccupied attitude towards connection. In either case connection starts to create unease and tension because neither feels reliable, steady or safe.
Going back to my first point, learning how to feel secure in relationships does not stop in childhood. If security of your connection is important to you, information is out there, including this article you’re reading right now.
4. A massive shift of consciousness occurs when we stop silencing parts of ourselves that hold a lot of pain. There is certain freedom and lightness in no longer hiding distress or difficulty, but instead saying that those difficulties exist. Empowerment comes when we name what hurts, when we identify what we would like to experience instead and when we acquire effective tools to help us get there.
Having loving safe relationships is learnable, but this knowledge is not actually something most of us automatically have when we come into relationships as adults.
5. Stepping on each other’s toes is part of learning how to dance together. Injuries happen in relationships. Most of them are unintentional and yet they hurt. What we’re aiming for is not relationships where toes never get stepped on. We’re aiming for relationships that value safety of each individual and therefore are willing to minimize injury when possible and/or know how to effectively and lovingly repair when injury occurs.