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  • Olivia Sanders
    Olivia Sanders

    7 Steps to Build Emotional Safety in Relationships

    Key Takeaways:

    • Open and honest communication
    • Active listening skills
    • Empathy and understanding
    • Consistent, non-judgmental behavior
    • Apologize and forgive

    Feeling emotionally safe in a relationship is crucial for its success and longevity. When you feel safe, you can express yourself without fear of judgment or retaliation. This sense of security allows for open and honest communication, deepening the bond between partners.

    In this article, we'll explore what emotional safety is, why it's important, and provide practical steps you can take to build and maintain it in your relationship. Whether you're struggling with feeling insecure or just looking to strengthen your bond, these tips will guide you towards creating a safe and trusting environment.

    What is Emotional Safety?

    Emotional safety refers to the feeling of being secure and understood in a relationship. It's the assurance that you can be open and vulnerable without the fear of being criticized, rejected, or harmed. This concept is foundational in any healthy relationship, whether it's romantic, familial, or platonic.

    Dr. John Gottman, a renowned psychologist, emphasizes that emotional safety is about “creating a relationship where both partners feel secure and free to be their true selves.” When emotional safety is present, it fosters trust, intimacy, and a deeper connection.

    Why Emotional Safety is Important

    couple conversation

    Emotional safety is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. It allows partners to be themselves without the fear of being judged, rejected, or hurt. When emotional safety is present, it fosters a secure attachment, deepening the emotional bond and increasing intimacy. This security is vital for building trust and understanding, enabling both partners to navigate challenges together more effectively.

    Without emotional safety, relationships can become strained and dysfunctional. Partners may feel the need to hide their true selves, leading to misunderstandings and resentment. Dr. Sue Johnson, a leading psychologist in the field of relationships, states, “Emotional safety is the foundation upon which we build our most meaningful connections. Without it, we are merely coexisting, not truly relating.”

    Signs You Lack Emotional Safety

    Recognizing the absence of emotional safety in your relationship is the first step towards improvement. Here are some signs that you may lack emotional safety:

    • Constant fear of judgment: If you constantly worry about being criticized or judged by your partner, it's a clear sign that emotional safety is lacking.
    • Inability to express feelings: Feeling unable to openly share your emotions or thoughts without fear of negative repercussions indicates a lack of emotional safety.
    • Frequent misunderstandings: Miscommunications and misunderstandings happen more often when partners do not feel safe to express themselves honestly.
    • Walking on eggshells: If you feel like you are constantly treading carefully to avoid conflict or upsetting your partner, emotional safety is missing.
    • Feeling unsupported: A lack of empathy and understanding from your partner can make you feel isolated and unsupported in the relationship.

    Addressing these signs is crucial to fostering a healthier and more secure relationship. By acknowledging these issues, you can start working towards building a foundation of trust and safety.

    The Impact of Emotional Insecurity

    Emotional insecurity can have far-reaching effects on both individuals and relationships. When one partner feels insecure, it can create a ripple effect, leading to tension, mistrust, and conflict. These feelings of insecurity often stem from past experiences, such as childhood trauma or previous relationship issues, and can significantly impact current relationships.

    Living in a state of emotional insecurity can cause anxiety, stress, and depression. It may also lead to behaviors such as excessive jealousy, constant reassurance seeking, or even avoidance of intimacy altogether. According to Dr. Brene Brown, “When we are in a state of emotional insecurity, we are more likely to armor up, shutting ourselves off from vulnerability and connection.” This defensive stance can prevent the growth of a deep and meaningful relationship.

    Step 1: Open Communication

    Open communication is the first and most crucial step towards building emotional safety in a relationship. It involves expressing your thoughts, feelings, and needs honestly and respectfully. When both partners are open with each other, it creates an environment where vulnerability is welcomed and trust can flourish.

    Here are some tips for fostering open communication:

    1. Be Honest: Share your true feelings and thoughts without fear of judgment. Honesty lays the groundwork for trust.
    2. Use “I” Statements: Frame your expressions in a way that reflects your perspective. For example, say, “I feel hurt when...” instead of “You always...”
    3. Listen Actively: Pay full attention to your partner when they are speaking. Show that you are engaged and understanding by nodding or summarizing what they've said.
    4. Stay Calm: Approach conversations with a calm demeanor, even when discussing difficult topics. This helps prevent escalation and keeps the dialogue productive.
    5. Set Aside Time: Dedicate specific times for deep conversations, ensuring both partners are fully present and undistracted.

    Open communication is the foundation of emotional safety. By practicing these techniques, you can start building a more secure and trusting relationship.

    Step 2: Active Listening

    Active listening is a powerful tool in fostering emotional safety. It goes beyond simply hearing words; it involves truly understanding and empathizing with your partner's experiences and emotions. When you listen actively, you validate their feelings and show that you genuinely care about their perspective.

    Here are some strategies for active listening:

    1. Show Empathy: Try to put yourself in your partner's shoes. Acknowledge their feelings by saying things like, "I understand how that could be really tough for you."
    2. Give Full Attention: Remove distractions when your partner is speaking. Make eye contact and use body language to show that you are engaged.
    3. Reflect and Summarize: Repeat back what your partner has said in your own words. This helps ensure that you have accurately understood their message and shows that you are actively processing the information.
    4. Avoid Interrupting: Let your partner finish their thoughts without interrupting. This allows them to express themselves fully and shows respect for their voice.
    5. Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage deeper conversation by asking questions that cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." For example, "How did that make you feel?" or "What do you think about...?"

    Active listening strengthens the emotional connection between partners. It demonstrates that you value their thoughts and feelings, which is essential for building a safe and supportive relationship.

    Step 3: Consistent Behavior

    Consistency in behavior is a crucial aspect of establishing emotional safety. When your actions align with your words, it builds trust and reliability. Consistent behavior means being dependable and predictable, which helps your partner feel secure in the relationship.

    Here are some ways to maintain consistent behavior:

    1. Keep Promises: Follow through on commitments and promises. If you say you will do something, make sure you do it. Reliability fosters trust.
    2. Be Predictable: Maintain a steady and predictable routine in your interactions. This does not mean being boring, but rather being dependable in your reactions and support.
    3. Avoid Mixed Signals: Ensure your actions match your words. Mixed signals can create confusion and insecurity.
    4. Communicate Changes: If something changes or you cannot fulfill a promise, communicate this clearly and promptly. Transparency helps maintain trust.
    5. Stay Consistent in Support: Be a steady source of support for your partner, especially during challenging times. Consistency in emotional support is vital for feeling secure.

    By practicing consistent behavior, you build a foundation of trust and reliability in your relationship. This consistency reassures your partner that they can count on you, enhancing the overall sense of emotional safety.

    Step 4: Show Empathy

    Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. In a relationship, showing empathy means acknowledging your partner's emotions and experiences without minimizing or dismissing them. This emotional connection is vital for creating a safe and supportive environment.

    Here are some ways to show empathy in your relationship:

    1. Validate Their Feelings: Let your partner know that their feelings are valid and understandable. Phrases like "I see why you feel that way" can go a long way in making them feel heard.
    2. Be Present: Give your full attention to your partner when they are sharing their feelings. Being present shows that you care and are invested in their emotional well-being.
    3. Acknowledge Their Perspective: Even if you don't fully understand or agree with your partner's viewpoint, acknowledging it shows respect for their experiences. You might say, "I can see how that situation was difficult for you."
    4. Offer Comfort: Sometimes, offering a comforting touch or a reassuring word can help your partner feel supported. Physical touch, like a hug, can also be very comforting.
    5. Express Understanding: Use phrases that reflect your understanding of their feelings. "It sounds like you had a really tough day" shows that you are listening and empathizing with their situation.

    Empathy fosters a deep emotional connection and trust in a relationship. By showing empathy, you demonstrate that you are a safe and understanding partner, which is crucial for emotional safety.

    Step 5: Avoid Judgment

    Avoiding judgment is essential in creating an emotionally safe space. When your partner feels judged, they may become defensive or withdraw, preventing open and honest communication. Judgment-free interactions encourage vulnerability and trust.

    Here are some strategies to avoid judgment in your relationship:

    1. Practice Acceptance: Accept your partner's feelings and experiences as they are, without trying to change them. Acceptance fosters a sense of safety and respect.
    2. Listen Without Criticism: When your partner shares their thoughts and feelings, listen without offering unsolicited advice or criticism. Focus on understanding rather than evaluating.
    3. Avoid Assumptions: Don't jump to conclusions or make assumptions about your partner's motives or feelings. Ask questions to gain clarity and understanding.
    4. Respect Differences: Acknowledge and respect that your partner may have different perspectives and experiences. Differences can enrich the relationship when approached with respect.
    5. Encourage Openness: Create an environment where your partner feels safe to express themselves without fear of judgment. Encourage them to share their true thoughts and feelings.

    By avoiding judgment, you create a nurturing and supportive atmosphere in your relationship. This approach helps your partner feel valued and respected, which is essential for emotional safety.

    Step 6: Apologize and Forgive

    Apologizing and forgiving are critical components of maintaining emotional safety in a relationship. Mistakes and misunderstandings are inevitable, but how you handle them can make a significant difference. A sincere apology and genuine forgiveness can heal wounds and strengthen the bond between partners.

    Here are some tips for effective apologizing and forgiving:

    1. Offer a Sincere Apology: When you've made a mistake, acknowledge it and offer a heartfelt apology. Be specific about what you're apologizing for and express genuine remorse.
    2. Avoid Excuses: An apology should not be accompanied by excuses or justifications. Simply take responsibility for your actions without deflecting blame.
    3. Listen to Your Partner: Allow your partner to express their feelings about the situation. Listen without interrupting or becoming defensive.
    4. Make Amends: If possible, take steps to make amends and show that you are committed to changing the behavior that caused the hurt.
    5. Forgive Genuinely: When your partner apologizes, practice genuine forgiveness. Holding onto grudges can create emotional distance and resentment.
    6. Communicate Openly: Discuss what happened and how you can both work to prevent similar issues in the future. Open communication helps rebuild trust.

    Apologizing and forgiving create a cycle of trust and healing in a relationship. These practices show that you value your partner and are committed to maintaining a safe and loving environment.

    Step 7: Create a Safe Space

    Creating a safe space is about establishing an environment where both partners feel comfortable being themselves. This involves both physical and emotional aspects. A safe space encourages openness, trust, and vulnerability.

    Here are some ways to create a safe space in your relationship:

    1. Designate Time for Connection: Set aside regular times to connect and communicate with each other without distractions. This shows that you prioritize your relationship.
    2. Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries that respect each other's needs and space. Boundaries help create a sense of security and respect.
    3. Maintain Privacy: Respect each other's privacy and personal space. Trust is built when partners feel their boundaries are respected.
    4. Encourage Openness: Foster an environment where both partners feel free to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or retaliation.
    5. Be Supportive: Offer support and encouragement, especially during challenging times. Knowing that you have each other's back creates a deep sense of safety.
    6. Create Physical Comfort: Ensure your physical space is comfortable and inviting. A cozy and pleasant environment can enhance emotional well-being.

    Creating a safe space involves ongoing effort and commitment from both partners. By fostering an environment of trust, respect, and support, you can build a relationship where both individuals feel emotionally secure and valued.


    Emotional safety is the bedrock of a healthy and fulfilling relationship. When both partners feel secure and valued, they can communicate openly, support each other, and navigate challenges together. By practicing open communication, active listening, consistent behavior, empathy, non-judgment, apologizing, and creating a safe space, you can cultivate a relationship where emotional safety thrives.

    Remember, building emotional safety takes time and effort from both partners. It's a continuous journey of understanding, respect, and growth. By committing to these steps, you can create a loving and supportive environment that strengthens your bond and enhances your connection.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What if my partner is not receptive to these steps?

    It can be challenging if your partner is not initially receptive to these steps. Start by having an open and honest conversation about the importance of emotional safety and how it can benefit your relationship. Encourage them to share their feelings and concerns, and work together to find common ground.

    How long does it take to build emotional safety?

    Building emotional safety is a gradual process that varies from relationship to relationship. It depends on factors such as past experiences, the level of trust, and the willingness of both partners to invest in the relationship. Consistent effort and patience are key to creating lasting emotional safety.

    Can emotional safety be rebuilt after a breach of trust?

    Yes, emotional safety can be rebuilt after a breach of trust, but it requires effort from both partners. Open communication, sincere apologies, and a commitment to change are essential. Rebuilding trust takes time, patience, and consistent actions to demonstrate reliability and commitment.

    Recommended Resources

    1. "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work" by John Gottman

    John Gottman's book provides practical advice and research-based insights into creating and maintaining a healthy relationship. It covers essential topics such as communication, conflict resolution, and emotional connection.

    2. "Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love" by Dr. Sue Johnson

    Dr. Sue Johnson's book focuses on the importance of emotional bonding in relationships. It offers a framework for creating secure and loving connections through meaningful conversations.

    3. "Rising Strong" by Brené Brown

    Brené Brown's book explores the power of vulnerability and resilience. It provides valuable insights into how embracing vulnerability can lead to stronger, more authentic relationships.


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