A healthy marriage is one in which both members of the couple feel safe. It is only when there is a foundation of safety that the individuals as well as the couple can grow and mature. With it comes the intimacy that is only possible when people feel secure enough to be vulnerable. Without it, any conflict threatens the entire relationship.
It’s true that the marriages of some of the couples I see in therapy should end. Some probably never should have taken place at all. These are the couples who have not been able to establish and maintain safety in their relationship.
Some married for all the wrong reasons: to get out of a parent’s home, for financial gain, or just because everyone else expected them to. Some struggle with verbal, physical, or emotional abuse. In such cases, it’s important to first ensure individual safety. Only when that is established should a couple think about trying again.
But most of the couples I’ve seen in practice are not struggling with the consequences of marrying without love or with issues of abuse. They’ve come for counseling because they long for the connection they once had or their efforts at connection aren’t working. “We can’t communicate” really means “we’re not connecting.” Often enough, one or the other (or both) doesn’t feel safe enough to be 100 percent in the relationship.
Love alone is not enough. Safety depends on attitudes and behaviors that support emotional connection and deep respect for each other. If one or the other feels insecure, distrustful or emotionally threatened, the marriage simply won’t work over the long term. It may last — people stay in unsatisfying relationships for many reasons. But it won’t be an intimate one.
A marriage should be a safe haven for each partner where they feel loved, cherished, and seen; where they can take their togetherness for granted in a positive way. A good marriage is one in which each partner consistently works on the following elements of safety: