Intimate relationships are like a house. When partners are able to create a supportive and secure environment, they can love and be loved for being as they are – perfectly imperfect. We can call this home.
Home provides the opportunity for intimacy to grow, as deep intimacy can only grow when partners feel supported and secure.
In order to establish home, both partners need to tend to their part of the house – their responsibility in developing trust. How do they do this? One way is to lead with vulnerability. For example, instead of saying, “You are never here with me,” they reach for the vulnerable feelings underneath: “I miss you, and want you around more.”
They also understand the importance of empathy. When you put yourself in your partner’s shoes, you are no longer a threat. In my personal experience, when my wife says, “I am trying to see it from your perspective,” it is a huge relief to me. She conveys that she is not a threat to my point of view and is interested in me. It also conveys, “Although I don’t fully understand just yet, I am trying to understand, and I am on your side.”
You also take care of your side of the house by thinking before you speak – asking how what you are about to say is going to feel like for your partner. Are your words going to be unsupportive and unsafe? If so, don’t say them. Lead with the emotions underneath, i.e. vulnerability.
Basically, caring for your relational responsibilities means not indulging in anger and knee-jerk reactions.
When one partner indulges in these, they are knocking holes in their side of the house. When this happens, the house is no longer home for the couple.
Say your partner is the one who is knocking holes in the walls. If you have behaved responsibly by tending to your side, then you can self-regulate, and not respond with hopelessness and anger, until your partner is ready to look at their responsibility. This advice is aimed toward partners whose boundaries may be more porous (anxious-ambivalent) – those who have more difficulty when they feel their partner is upset with them or withdrawn. You can also move forward and say, “We need to fix this soon.”
On the other hand, for those who respond to their partner’s upset or withdrawal with more withdraw (avoidant), your work is to begin repair immediately. Turning towards your partner and leading repair with vulnerability and accountability is how you tend to your responsibility in the relationship. Retreating to a separate “emotional man-cave” is not doing any good for you and for the home.
When the foundation of trust is fairly intact, partners can begin to learn and apply ways to manage each other.
Partners can become aware of each other’s deep fears and vulnerabilities rooted in the past and are able to apply the antidote. If you are unclear of these in your partner, couple therapy will be beneficial.
Nevertheless, if partners don’t tend to their relational responsibilities, they’re left with just the structure of a relationship, not the real thing – a house rather than a home. Home is where partners can be freely themselves without guilt, fear, manipulation, or coercion. It is a place that is supportive and secure. The more time you spend in that home, the more you gain and the more you realize the importance of taking responsibility for your part in the relationship.
For more information on my approach to counseling with couples click here.
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