Understanding how to create emotional safety is key to fostering meaningful connections and healthy relationships.
Emotional safety is the foundation for a loving and healthy relationship. It’s about establishing trust with another person and feeling safe enough to be open and vulnerable with them.
To put it simply, emotional safety is feeling secure enough to truly express yourself with someone and show up as your most authentic self.
Emotional safety also goes both ways. When you feel emotionally safe and reveal your true self, it opens the door for your partner to do the same. And when both people in a relationship feel secure, it provides a safe environment where a deeper and more loving connection can form.
Emotional safety does not apply to abusive relationships. If you’re experiencing abuse, whether physical or emotional, you have several options for seeking help. Try reaching out to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist or calling a domestic violence hotline.
When you find yourself in an emotionally safe relationship, chances are you’ll experience many advantages as a result. Benefits of emotionally safe relationships include:
- You feel valued and valuable.
- You can truly be yourself without the risk of judgment.
- You can show your weaknesses without being taken advantage of.
- You can share boldly and express yourself freely.
- You feel seen, heard, and understood.
More importantly, an emotionally safe relationship creates a stronger connection.
Of connection, Brené Brown, author and research professor of social work at the University of Houston, said it best: “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Wondering how to build emotional safety or unsure where to start? We’ve broken down seven helpful ways to cultivate trust and vulnerability in any relationship.
Respect boundaries and consent
Setting and respecting boundaries can increase safety and security in a relationship by establishing personal limits. By communicating a limitation, you let your partner in on your preferences and invite them to share their own. Think of boundaries as not only protecting yourself but also protecting your relationship.
Boundaries can be physical, sexual, intellectual, emotional, or financial — all critical to nurturing respect in a healthy relationship. Once you set a boundary, it’s crucial that you and your partner respect it. Some examples of boundaries that promote emotional safety are:
- honoring what is important to you
- sharing personal information gradually
- protecting your time by not overcommitting
- asking for space when you need alone time
- communicating your comfort level on intimacy
Pay attention to your nonverbal communication
Body language is essential for emotional safety.
Vocal tone, eye shape, posture, and other micro expressions are continuously being interpreted by you and your partner, whether you realize it or not. “If you approach your partners with hard eyes, tightly pressed lips, and short words, they may not feel safe,” says Dr. Jake Porter, a Houston-based licensed professional counselor.
“The key here is to realize that we are each responsible not only for the words we say but also the way we send them,” he adds.
It’s a good idea to practice paying attention to the nonverbal communication you’re carrying with you before you approach your partner. Consider asking yourself, “What is my body language communicating right now?”
Be an active listener
Active listening is a critical component to a healthy relationship because people need to feel heard and understood to feel secure and validated. “Active listening is when you set aside your defenses and distractions, and truly take in what your partner is telling you,” explains Dr. Isabelle Morley, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Massachusetts.
“The ability to actively listen means that whenever fears or issues arise, your partner will feel comfortable telling you,” she adds. “Instead of the problem growing or your partner becoming resentful, you’ll be able to quickly and easily address it.”
Some ways to practice active listening include:
- nonverbal signs of listening like smiling, nodding, and maintaining eye contact
- asking your partner questions or asking for clarification
- summarizing or reflecting back on what was said
Transparency is an important part of building trust and emotional safety. When you practice transparency, you eliminate the potential feeling that you or your partner are hiding something from each other.
While you don’t need to share every part of your life with your partner, “general openness about your thoughts, feelings, and activities is a good way to build trust, communication, and security,” says Morley.
Give your partner the benefit of the doubt
Giving your partner the benefit of the doubt means removing judgment and, instead, being curious to learn about the motivation for their behavior. “Most people’s motivations are subconscious and often connected to their own baggage they bring to the relationship,” says Baltimore-based certified imago relationship therapist Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin.
“When we stop judging and making up stories of why our partner did what they did, we begin to look at them favorably from a place of compassion and understanding,” he adds. “We may disagree with them, but we can at least create a safe environment without confrontation.”
Foster accountability and follow through
Following through shows your partner that you are dependable and value the relationship. When you commit to something and follow through, you actively build trust by showing your partner your loyalty. Yet following through doesn’t have to happen overnight.
Even when you take small steps, enabling your partner to see your consistent effort shows them your commitment to the relationship. Try keeping your partner in the loop, as this will help you hold yourself accountable too.
Consider couples or relationship therapy
A mental health professional’s perspective can help people in relationships build emotional safety by focusing on dealing with conflict rather than focusing on the conflict itself.
“Couples therapy fosters emotional safety by helping couples understand how they work together as a system,” explains Porter. “When I work with couples, I’m less interested in the content of what they are fighting about than the process of how they fight.”
“Focusing on the content might help them in the moment as I mediate a dispute, but they are just going to end up right back in the therapy office next time they can’t agree,” He adds. “Instead, by helping them create a new process for how they approach conflict to set them up for success as life continues to throw challenges their way.”
Emotional safety is key to a healthy and happy relationship. There are countless ways to create emotional safety, and some may work for you better than others. Consider trying a few of the ways we’ve identified and decide which ones work best for you and your partner.
While it may take time to build emotional safety, the result is a relationship built on mutual trust, respect, and unconditional support. Not only will you find yourself seen, heard, and understood, but you will find yourself feeling more connected to yourself and your partner. Try to be patient with each other, and then watch the benefits of being open and vulnerable unfold.