The Importance of the Skills of
Being a Source of Safety to your Partner, Friends and Enemies.
© Al Turtle 2005
I have found these skills to be extremely important. As I work with couples, the one common thing they are doing – all of them – that doesn't work is as follows. They are using "Threat" in an attempt to get "Love". This behavior seems so consistent that I imagine that most couples out there are currently doing the same thing.
Being a Threat
It seems amazing, but this is so common. Most couples feel threat when their partner shows up. I like to define Threat as a rise in blood pressure, or as a tensing of muscles, or as an increase in apprehension. Certainly, it an increase in the flow of adrenaline in their blood streams. It is that feeling that goes along with "I'm in trouble" "He/She will be mad at me.” "He/She will catch me." It goes along with worry and guilt – the fear of punishment. However, mostly it is that simple rise in blood pressure that the body makes when it perceives danger.
Active threat involves gestures, language, behaviors such as attacking, interrupting, judging, criticizing, as well as withdrawing, abandoning. It also involves threatening these actions.
Passive threat involves doing nothing when your partner is feeling threatened. When I am in threat, I need help, protection, a support. If the person I need help from does nothing, they are a further source of threat. I think it is kind of like driving to the hospital with a broken leg and when you get there, they refuse to see you. You were in pain before you got there to the hospital, and now you are in worse pain for there is nowhere to go for relief.
Threat exists. Another characteristic of threat is that it is all in the eye of the beholder or the "threatened" person. Whether you are “trying to threaten me or not” has nothing to do with whether I feel threatened. For me, if I feel threatened and you deny threatening me, I will probably feel even more threatened – I feel threatened and you won't help. (See Passive threat above.) I repeat. Being a threat has nothing to do with “what you intend” – it is all in the blood pressure of the other person.
A Source of Safety
About 10 years ago I discovered that many things I did scared my partner – raised her blood pressure. I also found that many things I did to change that situation didn't work. So I determined to become a "Source of Safety" to my partner. I see this as kind of a fountain of youth image: to become a place where safety flows out and where my partner would want to be. "Everybody has a Laughing Place."
This decision, to become a source of safety, was one of the most valuable decisions I ever made in my life! Many years later I look back and see that all of the learning was worth it. My goal is to become a source of safety to your lizard. What can I do right now that might help you feel safer?
At this point I know the many things, that work, that make my partner feel safer – that lowers her blood pressure.
I found out early in my work that we both benefited from this. If one person is tense, the other one will be also. If I work to make her feel safe, I will feel safer. We both get lower blood pressures.
The secret is to do what works. Relaxation is not so much the result of an intellectual activity as the result of a collection of specific and concrete acts. For example, I have known that slow breathing calms everyone. It seems to work much better than the advice to "think calming thoughts,” tho that is nice, too.
Next secret is "what works" is different for each different person. If sitting quietly calms your partner, get good at sitting quietly.
Thus the next step is to completely avoid blaming yourself for your partner's tension. Immediately put them in charge and take responsibility for doing what works for them. Turned the other way around, I am responsible for the safety of my lizard. They can help, if they want me around.
My favorite inquiry, or deepening pull, sounded like this. "It is my goal to become a source of safety to you. I notice that you seem tense. What could I do now, specifically, that might relax you? I am curious." Then I would listen carefully to my partner's response. My goal was to find only specific actions that I could do.
A shorter inquiry was "What can I do to make you feel safer?" The best thing I did was to put up a sign in the house that reminded me of my intent.
Having worked with several thousand couples, I remind people that each of you (an me) only have one primary person to get to understand to have to be a source of safety to — not thousands. What works on your partner? The work is not endless.
However the same technique works with kids, and friends and strangers.
1. Find out what they think will make them feel safer or more relaxed.
2. Check to see that it is doable.
3. Do it, and see if it works.
4a. If it works, try it again later. If it works again, make it a habit.
4b. It doesn’t work, let your partner know and go back to step 1. Improve your information.
There were some situations where doing something to make my partner feel safe, scared me. I've found this won't work in the long run. The goal is that what you do for your partner also makes you feel safer.
One example involved holding back information. My partner would say, "Don't say that! Hearing that thought of yours scares me!” I recall thinking on this request for a while. Then I said, "Let's try this out. Would you rather I shared my thought with you or I just kept my thought a secret from you? Do you want me to lie?" That one forced us both to think. Eventually we found out that neither of us wanted lying. But both of us felt safer if thoughts were shared safely and we crafted safe ways to talk about anything. That was a move toward a deep source of safety. (For more on this, see my article on How Much Should You Tell.)
There is an End to the Work
The task of becoming a Source of Safety is not endless. It did seem like a long journey and did take years to get good at it. However, that was simply the time it took to work on the most typical different circumstances. Eventually it becomes easier and easier and more rewarding. No one goes away from where it is safe.
It's worth it.
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