All relationships have ups and downs and require a commitment to make your love last forever. The most important thing in your relationship is that both of you feel safe. You and your love need to be each other’s safe place emotionally and physically. Otherwise, the foundation on which you’re building your life together will be nothing but a pile of rubble…and let’s face it, a pile of rubble leaves too many stones to throw at each other.
I remember the first big argument my husband and I had early in our relationship. I don’t actually remember what we argued about, but I remember us having a very heated exchange of words. It had probably something to do with kids…or money….or both. You know, the usual stuff. Right in the middle of the argument, I walked out the door and went for a drive to cool off. My anger hijacked my body and my mind, and I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. It felt good to walk out.
When I returned, I expected to walk into an uncomfortably silent house to a husband who had enough of me. As soon as I stepped in the house though, he came up to me and said angrily, “don’t you EVER walk out like that again during an argument.” I looked at him shocked. How dare he? But he continued, “you left angry, and you got in the car and drove off without even telling me where. What if you had an accident?! We can take a break from arguing in the house, you can’t just leave like that.”
And that’s when I realized how truly safe our relationship was. I knew that no matter how angry or frustrated we got with each other, there was no fear of one of us abandoning the other, or being insulted or hurt. We were each other’s safe place, even during the tough moments.
That kind of safety is crucial for a strong, lasting relationship.
You need to be and feel physically safe in your relationship. During our argument, at no point did I feel in danger of my husband hitting me, and I had no thought of hurting him. We may have been angry with each other, but we still had respect towards one another.
Here are some warning signs for a physically unsafe relationship:
Violence. Hitting, shoving, choking, or showing any aggression is never ok. This also includes destroying things (throwing plates, kicking doors).
Fear. You should not fear being in your partner’s presence because of how they might react to what is said or done.
Inflammatory Arguments that get out of hand.
Threatening or controlling behavior. You two may be soulmates, but you’re still both unique individuals that need to feel safe expressing your own ideas, opinions, and disagreements.
Safety of your children and pets is compromised. Your lover may be sweet on you when you first meet, but any indication of hostility towards your children or pets should be taken as a big red flag.
Emotional Well Being
Intimate relationships often begin with a strong emotional connection, but the excitement of falling in love can often overshadow any red flags that your emotional well being may be in jeopardy. It’s easy to look back at a failed relationship and identify those red flags, but when you’re in the middle of it, you need to rely on your instincts. And listen to your friends and family when they voice any concern.
As the infatuation phase fades, here are a few things to look for that will build a strong foundation for an emotionally healthy relationship:
Acceptance and unconditional love. Life gets tough and messy. And not just major-diaper-explosion-in-the-carseat or coffee-spilled-in-your-lap kind of messy. Sometimes, it can mean collectors at your door or major health issues completely derailing your sense of balance and testing your love for each other. As these challenges arise, you and your love have to be on each other’s side to get through these moments. If you’re a parent, think of the unconditional love your heart holds towards your child. It likely comes naturally and instinctively, and is what helps you accept them even at their most questionable moments. Unconditional love in an intimate relationship requires a bit more conscious thought and commitment so that when life gets tough and messy and knocks you down, you can pull each other back up.
Embracing each other’s authenticity. You got your own opinions and feelings. Probably lots of them. And I’m sure your partner has lots of opinions and feelings, too. Sometimes your opinions will be the same, other times you’ll wonder if you’re even speaking the same language. And if you’re like me, you’ll throw a curveball at your partner by changing your opinion…in the middle of expressing it. Being fully accepted like that without the fear of being humiliated or insulted is key to creating a safe space filled with trust that allows each of you to be your authentic selves.
Mutual respect even when you’re apart. Respecting each other and being considerate of each other’s values, opinions, and feelings is equally important in private as in public, together or apart. There’s nothing wrong with venting to a friend about an argument you have with your love, or seeking out advice from someone who’s been there. However, putting our love down in front of others or talking badly about them is damaging to the trust and unconditional love you’re building.
Empowering and supporting each other. I cannot remember how many different ideas and projects I’ve gotten excited about over the years. Many started with full-fledged passion but got quickly abandoned as my interest fizzled out. I asked my husband once, “don’t you get annoyed with all these different ventures I embark on but don’t seem to finish?” His answer showed me a whole new side of what it means to be supportive of someone. He said of course not, because that’s what I’m excited about at the moment and sometimes you need to get through many ideas to get to the one that sticks. My heart filled with that warm, cozy feeling. Just as he supports and empowers me in my creative ventures, I strive to support and empower him in his. It can be challenging standing by your partner
You and Me…Till Death Do Us Part: Commitment
Lifelong commitment, whether through marriage or not, is a promise to each other that no matter what life throws at you, how tough things get, you will stand by each other till the end. That kind of commitment has to be truly mutual and include a willingness to continue working on the relationship. That includes looking out for each other’s physical and emotional well being. You may not always agree on everything, but as long as your life goals and values align and disagreements are just hurdles to jump over in the journey, not an excuse to leave when things get hard, you have a strong foundation to build on.
And remember, you’re supposed to be in this together. Trust your instincts but don’t overlook the value of your friends and family. They will often see warning signs of an unhealthy relationship before your head comes out of the infatuation phase. A relationship that is unsafe, in any way, is not a relationship and can feel more like a prison. If you don’t feel safe in your relationship and your partner is not willing to work on it with you, consider reaching out to someone for help, whether it’s a friend, a shelter, or even a law officer.