Moss Jackson, PhD


Ok, creating safety in your relationship is a big deal! Most of us do not really understand, much less know what to do to create and maintain a sense of safety in their long term relationships. In my last post on Navigating Your Relationship I mentioned that there are three key elements necessary to experience the full joy and satisfaction of your relationship: Safety, Power and Connection. In my initial post, I focused on the notion of safety. After I rereading the post, I realized there was a lot more to the art and craft of relationship safety so I am going to focus this post on the same topic of safety and give you several strategies you can use to maintain your relationship safety.


I want to first start with a warning. Staying in a chronically disturbed or unstable relationship can be harmful to your health and well-being. A bad relationship wreaks havoc in a person’s life. In a study conducted in 2000, almost 69% of the participants felt trapped in their lives and felt flooded by worries about money, dead-end relationships and fears about aging. Most did not know how to change their situation, but over 70% thought that even a small change could result in an important improvement.


In another study, Dr. Brant Cortright concluded that relationships characterized by stress, upset, chronic anger and fear reduce the creation of new and healthy brain growth, often resulting in illness, depression, anxiety and trauma. In an animal study with mice, the presence of a bully mouse lead to the abused mouse giving up and sliding into depression. It was as if it experienced “social defeat” and just gave up. Also in the abused partner, there was increased blood pressure, risk of heart disease, along with decreased immune vitality. In addition, the animal became lethargic, lost a sense of pleasure, had lowered testosterone levels and reduced sexual and exploratory behaviors. The good news is that animals and humans are highly resilient and can bounce back and resume a healthy state given even a small change.


For example, when a sample of monkeys were subjected to an electrical shock, they experienced increased stress. The good news is that when they had the advantage of being paired with familiar monkeys from their troop, they became more relaxed and showed reduced signs of stress. It appears as though social support had boosted their emotional resilience.


I take some liberties from these studies and think about what could help us to understand the presence of safety in our relationships. These studies, along with other sources I have studied suggest the following:

  1. Chronically stressful relationships hurt and maybe even kill us.
  2. A supportive partner goes a long way to help calm us down.
  3. Finding sources of relief, such as shared activity, and exercise or meditation are necessary to maintain your health.
  4. It is important to pay attention to your stress levels and to work with your partner to decrease chronic tensions.
  5. If your partner will not or cannot help to reduce your stress, then do something for yourself. Action is the best antidote to anxiety. Take personal responsibility and stop complaining. The worst thing to do is to stay stuck in a stressful routine where you will eventually break down both emotionally and physically.
  6. If you and you partner are stuck in a power or bully situation, assert yourself and say something like “I do not know about you but I feel pretty wiped out and close to losing it. Sorry, but I need a break to calm down. Maybe we can reconnect later and see if we can do a better job understanding each other.”
  7. Time outs are useful to give you a chance to catch your breath and gain perspective. Sometimes a strategic retreat is a smart move. Why stay stuck in an argument that goes on and on that feels like an epic fist fight?

In future posts, I will continue to explore how to best navigate your relationship. In the meantime, reflect on your relationship safety level and how you and your partner are driving each other into a downward spiral. Even if you cannot work together to resolve your issues, you can always declare a time out to calm yourself down.

You can also consider working with a relationship coach. Sign up below to follow these posts and check out my videos on Navigating Your Life.