Safe. Maybe it’s not a word that comes to mind immediately when you think of what you want in your intimate relationships. Maybe you just assume it’s already there. Maybe it seems obvious or too simple a concept.
But what does that really mean? A short while ago, I wrote a blog about communication between men and women and why we often feel at war with each other when we really just want to connect. We want the same thing – a deep, emotional connection – but we have different ways of getting there. “For women to open our vulnerable soul to another, we need to feel secure. We need to know we can depend on our partner to not just be there, but to stay there.” In other words, women want to feel safe.
Feeling safe is different than feeling trust, though they are related. On the trusted plane, we might talk about my job, my kids, my rescue menagerie or the never-ending project I call a home. I might confide some relationship frustrations or share gossip with you. But you cross the line from trusted acquaintance or friend to an intimate in my ‘safe tribe’ when I know the darker sides of me are safe with you – the side that has serious doubts about my ability to parent, the side that still wonders what she wants to be when she grows up, the side that doesn’t find the idea of “growing up” particularly appealing anyway, the side that thinks we’re never too old to talk about sex, the side that thinks she too intense for anyone to really love, the side that cries during cat food commercials featuring really, really cute kittens… when I share the insane, inane and fearful sides of me, the sides that I think are ugly and weak, and I share them because I know that you’re going to listen and understand. And stay.
A safe tribe does not have to be a large tribe. But the safe tribe does have to:
- Hold space
A safe tribe does not:
- Use phrases like, “Well, that’s what happens when…” or “I told you so…”‘
- Change the subject
What does this mean in our intimate relationships with men? It means we are asking them to provide a safe place for us to fully explore our emotional side, and all the dark corners and brilliant fireworks that come with it. It means asking men to listen, to support and to focus on being present with us, not solving the problem. It means asking men to remind us, in their clear, loud voices, that despite our thunderclouds of emotions and lightening strikes of self doubt, they can accept and embrace our vulnerability and know that we are not weak for sharing it.
Because that’s our fear – you will see our watery eyes or shaking voices or sniffling noses or strident tones and stressed out arm waving as signs of weakness and an inability to cope. Funny thing is, regardless of the despair we may feel in that moment, we’re pretty sure we can cope. We made it this far. But we need the safety of your space to vent, release, process and share that side of ourselves so that we can clear it, release it, and then get back to our lives. And we go back knowing that you get us, you love us, you support us and you will help us, should we need it and ask for it.
It’s not easy. We’re not all comfortable with emotions. And if they’re running high and wild, it can be quite a ride to just be present during the journey. It can be hard to watch someone you love struggle with a problem and bite your tongue on all your great advice of how to solve it. Or, it can seem that the pathos are over an issue that to you, is no big deal. But it is. To her. So find out why. It can be tough to hold space for anger, for hurt, even for love. As she struggles with her gremlins of “I am not good enough” or “I am not lovable”, you may struggle too. So giving her space to work through it and not bringing your own gremlins into the conversation can be challenging. You may not feel terribly safe yourself, in those moments you are providing safety for her. But know that you are giving her something so much more powerful, so much more meaningful, than the back-chatter of her gremlins. And yours.
Funny, isn’t it: we’re so sure that if we show you our “weaker” side – that we have deep self-doubts about pitching a proposal to the executive team at work, that we’re insecure about the jiggle in our belly or that flappy skin that magically appeared under our arms, that we want to age gracefully and have no idea how, that some days we really do want to stay in a fluffy robe, eat bonbons and watch soap operas all day because we’ve just had enough – if we show you that, you will think we are silly and weak and you will leave us.
And yet… yet… should you show us that you have your own demons about looking unprepared at a board meeting, about your own no-longer-washboard abs, about your ability to “perform” in bed and really just wanting to watch college football for 48hrs straight and think about nothing, literally nothing… and yet… if you told us that, it would not occur to us to think of you as weak or silly or a waste of our time. We women have our own double-standards that we apply most harshly to ourselves.
Women want to feel safe but it benefits men, too. The beauty of feeling safe: open, vulnerable, and the full range of emotions that nature has provided us – all yours to experience and explore with us. The conversation is better. The sex is better. The ability to share is better. The connection to someone who “gets” you is better. And we are better – more present, more honest, more able to love – because of it. When a woman feels safe, she will give you her entire world. And trust that you will take good care of it.
So make me feel safe. Make every woman in your life feel safe. If you dare. And see what you get back.
Natalie Hahn is a principal at Dirty Girls Consulting, focused on helping men and women tackle the challenges of communication and life transitions. We explore breaking free of traditional standards, how we communicate between the sexes and redefine the “midlife crisis” to accomplish professional and personal goals, creating an authentic, fully loved life. Read more Dirty Girl Consulting blogs here.