Creating a Safe Marriage

By Greg Smalley
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Focus on the Family

Your spouse's heart will open only when it feels safe. But what does feeling safe really mean?

The best approach to foster intimacy and deep connection after an argument is to focus time, attention and energy on creating relational space that feels safe. When your spouse feels safe, he is naturally inclined to relax and open his heart. In this peaceful state, openness simply happens. You don’t have to force intimacy or do things to create connection when you feel safe. This is true because God designed our heart to be open. The default setting of a heart is openness. It takes much more effort and energy to stay closed and shut down than to stay open.

Think about a recent time when your spouse hurt or frustrated you. Remember how quickly your heart shut down? Once your heart closed, you instantly reacted in some way (fight or flight) and ultimately disconnected. But your heart was not designed to stay closed. Maintaining a closed heart is like trying to force a huge beach ball underwater. You have to strain and push to keep a ball full of air underwater. It’s the same with your heart. You have to work really hard to keep a heart full of God’s love shut down. Have you ever noticed, when your spouse takes responsibility for her actions and seeks forgiveness, how quickly your heart opens back up? Like that beach ball under the water, once you feel safe, your heart will burst back open. You can go from feeling shut down to instantly feeling connected and open.

Emotional safety sets a peaceful environment that allows people to relax. This is why, in your quest for reconnection after you have argued with your spouse, I want to encourage you to make creating safety a top priority. Hopefully, you now see that the only way to become one is to intertwine two open hearts together.

Creating Safety for Open Hearts

A heart will open only when it feels safe. But what does feeling safe really mean? I asked more than 1,000 couples for help defining emotional safety. Listen to some of their answers:

  • Feeling completely secure
  • Being accepted for who I am
  • Feeling relaxed and comfortable
  • Being free to express who I really am
  • Being loved unconditionally
  • Feeling respected
  • Knowing that my spouse is trustworthy
  • Having my spouse be there for me
  • Being fully understood
  • Being valued and honored
  • Having loving reassurance
  • Being able to open fully in order to give and receive love
  • Not being judged
  • Being seen for who I am
  • Having my flaws accepted as part of the whole package
  • Living in an atmosphere of open communication

Wouldn’t it be amazing for these things to be the foundation of marriage? Feeling emotionally safe is critical for a marriage to thrive.

I define emotional safety as feeling free to open up and reveal who you really are while trusting that the other person will still love, value and unconditionally accept you. In other words, you feel safe with someone when you are confident and trust that he or she will handle your heart – your deepest feelings, thoughts, desires, hopes, and dreams – with the utmost care. So, how do we build a marriage that feels like the safest place on earth?

Emotional safety is not simply a bunch of psychobabble. Safety is, first and foremost, something that our heavenly Father provides for us.

  • The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. (Proverbs 18:10)
  • Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. (Psalm 16:1)
  • In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8)

These are just a few of the many verses that show how the God of this universe goes out of His way to make us feel safe. He wants our heart open so He can love through us. And hearts open when they feel safe. The safest relationship we will ever have is with our heavenly Father. I want to model my earthly relationships after what God does with me. The key to creating a marriage that feels like the safest place on earth is found in Ephesians 5:29: “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.” Creating a safe marriage involves both an attitude and an action. Cherish is the right attitude, and nourish is the powerful action.

Focus on the Family is primarily a donor-funded ministry.

Adapted from Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage, published by Howard Books. Copyright © 2012 by Greg Smalley. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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About the Author

Greg Smalley

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the Vice President of Marriage at Focus on the Family. In this role, he develops and oversees initiatives that prepare individuals for marriage, strengthen and nurture existing marriages and help couples in marital crises. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the …

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