By Dr. Fred Kleiner
Safety is perhaps the single most important ingredient in predicting the success of any given relationship. For happiness and true satisfaction to occur in a relationship, both partners need to experience that they are free t authentically be themselves, and that who they are is genuinely accepted by their partner, if not truly and deeply valued.
There are two primary components of safety. One concerns the attitude that you hold toward your partner, and the other has to do with the behavior that you demonstrate with your partner that deepens their experience of safety.
The attitude that promotes safety is one in which you affirm and believe that your partner fully and completely has the right to be him/herself, and that you deeply want that for him/her. This is true even at those times when you may disagree with a particular opinion that s/he may hold or disagree with a particular action that s/he may want or need to take. While this attitude allows you to have different opinions than your partner has, and allows you to make requests that your partner consider alternative actions, it grants your partner the sovereignty to do it or think it their way without reprisals from you and without your withdrawing your love from them or shaming, blaming or threatening them in any way.
The foremost behavior that deepens your partner's experience of safety within the relationship is that of active listening. The way that listening succeeds in any given dialogue is to understand and practice the principal of first seeking to understand the other person before seeking to be understood. This principal is outlined as habit #5 in Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The most common mistake that couples make in most conversations is to proceed with going forward with their agenda of what they want the other person to know before they fully and deeply understand what their dialog partner is wanting them to know. This is the conversational equivalent of two people trying to go through a revolving door at the same time; things get very jammed up very quickly.
Successful listening involves knowing and practicing the art of one person communicating a thought or a feeling at a time, with the other partner setting him/herself up to be understanding or receiving what is being sent over before sending a message of his/her own. This is very much like a game of catch, where you must first receive the all before you can throw it back. The analogy is similar to baseball where the pitcher pitches and the catcher receives, or like in football where the quarterback throws and the receiver catches.
Harville Hendrix has a model of this procedure which he calls the couples dialogue that he explains ad speaks to in his books. Keeping the Love you Find, and Getting the Love You Want. John Gray in Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus, and in Mars and Venus Together Forever, speaks to the tremendous importance that listening plays in the creation of a successful relationship.
Fred Kleiner, Ph.D. 5/27/99