How do you become a source of safety in your relationship? I was recently asked what practical steps to follow when you see your partner backing away from you – even in everyday situations. I think the questioner was simultaneously looking for specific things to do and trying to head off trouble.
Four Practical Steps For Safety In Your Relationship
Here’s what I have as practical steps to becoming a source of safety in your relationship.
Step One: Notice Your Partner’s Lizard
Providing safety in your relationship starts with your awareness that your partner’s survival system has been activated. A clue to this can be your partner saying, “That worries/scares/frightens me.” An act of Fleeing, Freezing, Fighting, or Submitting is an important clue. (See my Safety Paper). Another valuable clue is that you start feeling nervous or agitated. Survival systems, Lizards, seem to talk directly to each other without words. If you are getting nervous, you are possibly responding to your partner’s nervousness. Notice. Get good at it. When in doubt, have a chat with your partner. “Share with me what do you do when you get nervous that I might be able to notice. I am working on being a Source of Safety to you.”
Step Two: Obtain Input From Your Partner
Stop whatever you are doing immediately and address this problem. Do not ask why s/he is nervous. That isn’t important at this time. Besides, s/he may not know why his/her Lizard has kicked off into “Not Safe” mode. Invite him/her to share with questions like, “What could I or you do now that might make you feel more safe or relaxed?” and “What would help you or us be more peaceful right now?” You are looking for specific things to do, but you may have to accept vague responses at first. His/her Lizard probably knows what it needs, but your partner may have to learn to put its needs into words for you.
Step Three: Do It! Right Now.
After getting your partner’s idea, start the behavior. If s/he asks for quiet, ask for how long, and then do it. If s/he ask for you to rub his/her neck, do it. If s/he says, “Back off!” invite him/her to say how far. Then do it!
Most usual requests involve: quieting down, stopping talking, moving slower, etc.
Not only do it now, but do it several times over the next days and weeks. Observe your partner’s response and invite feedback. Ask him/her, “How does it feel when I …?”
Step Four: Learn It And Make It Automatic
If it works, if it makes your partner feel safer, learn to make that behavior a part of your “normal skills.” Ask your partner to help. Make signs to remind you if you forget. Take pride in your success.
Notes About Applying The Steps
Warning: These steps are really for use after you have mades significant progress solving some of the big problems: like dialog, arguing, pursuing and avoiding, and have studied and started implementing Safety.
The principle here is that communicating and relating when you are calm is more important than what you are communicating or relating about. Get the calmness first, and then start working on the difficulties you have in maintaining a calm demeanor. Never continue what you are doing when tension is too high. Eventually, you will both be able to continue working on tough subjects as you learn to trust the other’s willingness to stop when tension gets too high.
I am speaking to my partner and I notice (1) that she looks fidgety and distressed. I stop (2) and say, “I just noticed your hands twitching. What could I do now that would make you feel more peaceful?” She says, “I need to take a break and use the bathroom.” I say, “Fine. Let me know when you want to continue.” (3) I walk off a little and busy myself with something else. Over the next week, several times when I note her acting fidgety, I take a break and go do something else, telling her, “Perhaps we both can take a little time off. Let me know when you want to talk some more.” If she appears to relax more, then I practice “dropping a subject” whenever she appears fidgety.
Taken from Practical Steps in becoming a Source of Safety to Your Partner © Al Turtle 2005.