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The Art of Relationships

with Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

There is an art to maintaining the intimate relationships in our lives. Read on to explore our experts' perspectives, and learn new techniques to improve your own relationship skills.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Creating a Safe Space in Your Relationship

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Couple Talking

I was recently solicited to review a book, The Laws of Love by Chris Prentiss. Although I have not read the book, I did read the excerpt that they provided. It emphasized how relationships thrive in what he calls Safe Space.

His definition of creating a Safe Space is treating your partner as if they “cannot make a mistake or do anything wrong.” You must be understanding, respectful, loving, and treat your partner gently. He explains that “your relationship will blossom” to the degree to which you provide such a safe and loving environment. And to the degree that you fail to do this, you will be hurting your partner and the relationship.

Prentiss also states, “Creating Safe Space requires nothing less than becoming the kind of person who looks with perfect equanimity on the shortcomings of your loved one – the kind of person who sees the seeming mistakes, omissions, blunders, failures, and even the intentional hurts and transgressions and makes them all okay.” He follows up later by saying, “How you treat your partner during those occurrences will determine the degree of love and respect you will receive from your partner.” As I read this, I found myself thinking; Yes, he has some very good points, but…

What was missing from the excerpt – but very well may be in the book – is that a relationship is created by two people. The safe environment of a relationship is likewise created by two people. Each person has an influence, and how they work together is extremely important. I agree that it’s essential to be loving, kind, and respectful and to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. However, in the dance of intimate relationships, people sometimes step on each other’s toes. And it is not only okay, but often helpful to acknowledge when this hurts. This doesn’t mean you have to tell your partner everything, or lash out in any way. But your relationship can be made stronger by talking through when your partner really upsets you – especially if your partner’s response is caring and you are open to hearing it. And, it can be made much weaker by hiding such feelings.

I bring up this point because I have, too often, seen relationships unravel as one or both partners tried to remain loving and ignore all upsetting feelings in their relationship. When partners feel hurt or anger or other painful feelings, these pains need healing. While relatively minor feelings can be overlooked and will still heal quickly on their own, significantly painful feelings cannot. When ignored, they resurface later (often in a passive-aggressive way) or affect people’s lives in ways they don’t even realize (such as by them being more distant).

Acting in a loving way is key in any healthy relationship, but so is loving and open communication. Sometimes, only by working together can couples work through negative emotions and continue to feel positively toward each other.

If you would like to join a general discussion about this topic on the Relationships and Coping Community, click here.

Photo: iStockphoto

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 1:00 am

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