Vail Relationships column: ‘Safe intimacy’ isn’t very satisfying
December 17, 2016
Dear Neil: How can safety be built into a relationship? Do you have any suggestions on how to do so? I'm with a guy who is afraid to risk much because he's afraid of getting hurt again.
Don't Know What to Do in Denver
Dear Don't Know: Connecting with someone, deepening a relationship, bonding and falling in love is not a safe process — and it absolutely requires us to risk getting hurt or rejected. A love relationship is ultimately not about emotional safety and protection.
The man you refer to simply may not feel worthy of being cared for or loved in a relationship. Deep down, if I feel inadequate and fear that I don't measure up, then sooner or later I fear that you'll find out about me, agree that I'm not good enough and eventually dump me. So if I am distant or disengaged from you, then it won't hurt as much when you tell me you're going to leave me.
Challenge this stance of his that he can’t risk because he might get hurt again. There is no energy or joy in being so emotionally protected, and if he stays this way, he will wind up feeling empty, lonely and unhappy.
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"Safe intimacy" isn't very satisfying because there is so much less emotion, intensity, passion, engagement, investment and commitment to being close. You could offer him a great deal of ongoing reassurance that you like or love him, that you'll be patient and that you find him attractive or desirable — but the rest is what he has to do, not what you can offer. Here's what he would need to do:
• Examine his feelings of not feeling worthy of a close or loving relationship. He needs to discover why he is deserving of someone else's devotion.
• Look at his abandonment issues: the fears he has of being dumped, rejected or betrayed.
• Make time for you, and make himself available and assessable to you.
• Commit to letting you in by sharing his hopes, fears and disappointments with you and by listening to you.
• Commit to being more of a giver than a taker.
• Do everything he can to change his low self-esteem. People with low self-esteem assume that as soon as someone else really gets to know them, they'll be rejected.
Don't jump too far
Challenge this stance of his that he can't risk because he might get hurt again. There is no energy or joy in being so emotionally protected, and if he stays this way, he will wind up feeling empty, lonely and unhappy.
Don't jump too far into a relationship with anyone until you have a clear vision about whether he is a good choice for you. If he can't or won't give his heart to you, then he will never love you.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. He is the author of the best-selling book "Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Creating a Vital Relationship." Contact him at 303-758-8777, or visit neilrosenthal.com.
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