Can you trust your spouse to be there for you, no matter what? Do you sense that he or she understands and values you? Despite any hardships your marriage may endure, do you believe your spouse always cares for you?
If you answered "yes" to all of the above, then you have what is called a safe haven marriage. In my book Safe Haven Marriage, I define a safe haven as "a trustworthy person to whom you can turn, knowing that person will be emotionally available and dependably respond to you in a caring manner."
Our research has found that when a husband and a wife perceive each other to be a 'safe haven,' they report having a good marriage. These couples feel emotionally close, cherished and cared for. When difficulties arise, they are able to turn toward each other for comfort and solutions. They are not trouble free and they may not be passionate or movie-like romantic; but they are there for each other. They trust each other with their hearts.
What are the key qualities of a safe haven marriage?
Attempting to master communication skills, learning all the "dos and don'ts," and avoiding arguments is not what this is about. A safe haven marriage is a way of being together. It is the intentional journey of fostering a close bond, a connection that is sweet, safe and meaningful. And to foster a safe haven marriage, you will both need to become a safe haven for each other.
There are three essential qualities of being a safe haven for your spouse. They are: trust, emotional availability and responsiveness. Research has shown that they are crucial to building a healthy and lasting marriage.
There are two types of trust that are vitally important to fostering a safe haven, and they are reliability and heart trust. Reliability trust is when you have the confidence that your spouse will be dependable, honest and truthful. In a marriage, you should be able to trust your spouse with your possessions, dreams, feelings and future.
There is another kind of trust that is of even greater importance to a safe haven marriage. We call it heart trust. This is when, despite the fights and storms, and no matter what may happen between the two of you, you know that your spouse will always care for and value you. This is the deepest kind of trust the human heart can give or receive, the ultimate in emotional security. You are able to say to your spouse, "I trust you with my heart."
It seems many couples have lost the art of being fully present with each other. People today are often too busy and easily distracted.
Men, to be emotionally available for your wife is to turn your attention toward her whenever she needs you. It isn't only your ears, but also your heart that must be fully engaged with her.
Women, to be there for your husband is to give him your full attention and show interest when he asks you to listen. This is difficult to do in today's fast-paced, digitally invaded world. Nothing can replace slowing down, lowering your phone, closing your laptop, looking into your spouse's eyes and giving your spouse your full attention.
To be responsive means you relate to your spouse in an understanding, well-mannered and considerate way. In other words, you are nice and kind. Then your spouse will feel comfortable approaching you, bringing up a topic even if it is difficult, and knowing you will not only give your full attention, but do so in a caring manner. You will not react emotionally and harshly, but rather be thoughtful, respectful and always try to respond without judgment. You are free to share what you are feeling and experiencing without fear of rejection, criticism, or disinterest. And you will both feel understood, validated and cared about.
How do I start fostering a safe haven marriage?
While some couples can say their marriage is a safe haven with a resounding 'yes' or even 'most of the time,' many couples cannot. Maybe your heart sank as you read the definition of a safe haven and you wonder if you and your spouse could ever have such a relationship. Or you fear you have too many accumulated hurts to make such a marriage possible. Or you don't know if you can ever trust your spouse and risk being vulnerable.
To start the journey of fostering a safe haven marriage, aim to change the quality of the emotional connection between you and your spouse. You might need to begin by apologizing and forgiving each other for all the accumulated hurts. Show empathy for the way you have each protected your hearts when you have felt unsafe. Work to be a safe haven for your spouse by remembering the following:
• Be reliable and really care for your spouse's heart
• Be fully present and emotionally engaged when talking with your spouse
• Be nice and kind (even when arguing or talking about a difficult topic)
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience… Colossians 3:12