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December 9, 2022

Is Your Marriage a "Safe Haven"?

How emotionally connected are you and your spouse? Is your marriage one where you feel understood, and in which arguments can be resolved? Where you trust each other with your hearts? Or instead, do you find yourselves disconnected, with resentment accumulating from unresolved conflict? Do you feel alone, even though you've been married for years?

All couples marry with the hope of experiencing a sweet connection together. But most couples quickly discover that marriage is hard work, and that it is easy to get stuck arguing over differences—and even easier to let unresolved hurts accumulate. The buildup of resentment and resulting emotional disconnection can push a couple further and further apart.

A good and lasting marriage is one where each spouse perceives it to be a "safe haven." That is, a place where they feel known, understood, supported, and unconditionally loved.

In all of the "Safe Haven Marriage Intensives" we have conducted, we discovered that most couples long to experience a 'safe haven'. A place of emotional closeness, enjoyment, comfort, and loving reassurance in a marriage.

Unfortunately, marriage doesn't always turn out to be such a close, connected relationship. It can at times become a battleground where arguments are fueled by hot emotions and negative ways of interacting.

Maybe today, after years of unresolved arguments, you're not feeling connected with your spouse. You love your wife, but just can't turn to her and trust her with your faults, never mind your feelings. And the more you try to get your wife to hear you, the more she defends herself. You end up keeping things to yourself and staying busy so to avoid yet another argument.

What are the key, life-giving ingredients of a "safe haven" marriage?

1. Trust — There are two kinds of trust that are important. One is reliability trust, where you have the assurance that your spouse will be dependable, on time, honest, and truthful. The other trust is heart trust. This is where, at the end of the day, after all the arguing, you can trust that your spouse will be there for you and with you.

What does this look like?

Let your spouse know if you are going to be late. Be honest as to whether or not you will have time to run the errand you are promising to do. Be careful with your words, never call your spouse names or use personal information to hurt your spouse during an argument. It might feel good to vent in the heat of the moment, but try to realize when your words are like arrows piercing your spouse's heart.

2. Emotional Availability — This is where you are attuned to each other's feelings and needs, and there for each other in meaningful ways. You turn your full attention to your spouse when he or she needs you. It is opening not only your ears and your mind, but also your heart to be there for your spouse. You share fully, but also listen closely to your spouse's views and feelings.

What does this look like?

When your spouse wants to share stories of the day, you turn and tune in with your eyes and face to what your spouse is saying. This up-close and personal interaction is what will help you feel connected, cared for, and valued by your partner.

3. Mutual Respect — Respond to each other in a considerate manner. Because you love your spouse, you'll value his or her opinion. This is where you weigh your spouse's perspective with yours and respond with humility and kindness. You are approachable, desiring to understand, and slow to react. Your spouse can trust that you will be emotionally safe and self-controlled.

I realize that these 3 keys are easier to say than do. This is especially true when you're caught up in the middle of an argument. Or when she rolls her eyes as you explain why you are 30 minutes late for date night. Or when he forgets to open your car door again. If you're on a short fuse, you'll likely feel hurt and angry, and all the other times your spouse has hurt or disappointed you will come to mind. And in an instant, you will go from feeling 'this is a nice evening' to 'this is another disappointing evening wasted.'

At times like these, it will be difficult to stay attuned to your spouse, patiently understanding his or her perspective. But it is exactly in these moments that we need to pause, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves, "Is the way I'm reacting fostering the kind of 'safe haven' marriage I want for us?"

The keys to a healthy and long-lasting marriage is emotional safety and the quality of the bond that connects you and your spouse. And realizing that to love well, one needs to be trustworthy, emotionally available, and respectful. Let that be a reminder going into every conversation and in the middle of every argument.

And if you feel disconnected and unable to make your way back home to a safe haven, we encourage you to reach out for professional help and counseling.


Parts of this article were excerpts from the book Safe Haven Marriage: Building a relationship you want to come home to by Dr. Sharon May and Dr. Archibald Hart.

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