Safety

Last Summer I was reminded why tubing behind a ski boat is for people much younger than myself. After watching my friend Phil throw a couple of young guys off of a tube tethered behind his boat, I told him that I was ready for a ride. As I climbed out of the boat and onto the tube I was overcome by what I must now assume was some form of brief psychosis; temporarily separated from any cognitive awareness of my age, strength and weight at the time, I taunted the power of Phil’s boat and questioned his ability to dismount me from the tube.

Sixty seconds later, with whitened knuckles clenched to a pair of canvas straps and my heart struggling to circulate blood to gelatinized muscles, my insanity remitted and I became aware of my imminent death. The water that had looked so soft and inviting earlier, now felt like concrete as my feet – flailing behind the tube – skipped across it’s surface. Struggling to retain some appearance of masculine adequacy before the family and friends watching me, I forced my face into a smile as I contemplated whether my impending mutilation would require a closed casket. Each skip of the accelerating tube dislodged exhilaration and replaced it with terror. With the boat exceeding 100 mph (I was later told it was only 15mph but I know better), I decided that the most honorable thing to do would be to release the tube volitionally and, thus, relieve Phil of the guilt he would most certainly feel for killing me himself. After a brief skim across the water, my terror came to an end as the water that threatened me only seconds earlier, now enclosed me in its soft warmth. Upright, conscious and still possessing all limbs, I was successfully able to stop crying before the boat circled back around to pick me up.

Safety in a marriage – a sense that your spouse is invested in your well-being - is fragile. When you have it, you can risk things once feared and explore terrain previously avoided. When you lose it, even simple daily interactions feel tentative, uncomfortable and frightening. Blaming, name-calling, non-verbal expressions of contempt, criticism, defensiveness and even silence can quickly compromise a sense of safety in a marriage. And if you don’t have safety in your marriage, you don’t have anything. Without safety, establishing any meaningful communication, agreement or intimacy is impossible. Research indicates that once your spouse feels unsafe – and their heart-rate rises above 90 bpm – they are no longer capable of accurately hearing or interpreting what you are saying to them. Rather - if they “hear” anything - it is not what you’re saying, but what they expect to hear you say (which is typically not good news!). You can tell when it happens… their face hardens or they shut down… and on some level you recognize that they are no longer hearing what you have to say. Unfortunately, such a reaction probably triggers your anger and – if you are like most couples – this quickly escalates into what feels like the same old fight yet again. Without safety, even simple conversations deteriorate into destructive and hurtful interactions.

What have you done to help your spouse feel safe with you recently? In Psalm 32 David says of our God, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” If this is true, then even during difficult times in your marriage your safety is insured – and you, in turn, can offer safety to your spouse. If you have not recently made an intentional effort to offer your spouse safety, let me encourage you to do so with the following.

  • Express a commitment to take criticism and contemptuous actions or words out of your marriage
  • Once a day – for the next three days - affirm one positive character trait you genuinely respect in your spouse
  • Once a day for the next 10 days, express appreciation for something – big or small - which your spouse does for you and/or your family
  • Remind your spouse that you are committed to them and that you will not leave them
  • The next time you get into a disagreement with your spouse, set your agenda aside and strive to understand and affirm their position on the matter; the benefit of surrendering your agenda for the sake of understanding your spouse will usually far outweigh the loss of any individual debate or decision
  • Ask your spouse to tell you about things which you do that leave them feeling more or less safe/secure in the relationship

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