Building Safe and Secure Relationships

Creating and maintaining connections that feel safe and secure with your spouse is an ongoing process that requires vulnerability and courage. You need vulnerability to tell your spouse about your inner world, your secret shame, and your hopes and longings for your relationship without criticizing him/her for their shortcomings. It takes courage to listen to your spouse’s inner world, hopes and longings, and relationship disappointments without getting defensive and confrontational in return. Sadly, few of us come into marriage with the skills we need to manage our own inner turmoil and fear during marital conversations that require vulnerability and courage. We have two choices: develop the skills we need if we desire deep emotional, lifelong connection with our soul mate or construct walls that protect our hearts, but leave us feeling isolated and alone.  Many couples need a relationship coach, counselor or marriage mentor to help them develop the kind of skills that build safe and secure relationships. If you want to take up this relationship challenge, the five recommendations below can start you on your journey.

“Love is patient; love is kind. . . .It does not insist on its own way”
1 Cor. 13:4, 5

  1.  Meditate on 1 Corinthians 13. Note the qualities of love that come easily to you and those that are more challenging to maintain when your marriage comes under stress. Make it a point to focus on one quality from 1 Corinthians 13 each week and observe when you do or do not embody this quality in your marriage. Can you ask your spouse to join you in this task and together seek to make 1 Corinthians 13 a part of your daily devotional for the next month?
  2. Take deep breaths. It is natural to become defensive when we feel threatened. But constant defensiveness threatens intimacy because it regularly promotes contempt or emotional cut-off. When you begin to feel defensive, begin to breathe. Slow the conversation down so that you can reset your heart to listen to your spouse’s pain with curiosity and a “tell me more” attitude. Then take responsibility for what you did that resulted in relationship distress. Can you practice breathing through discomfort over the next week?
  3. Find your triggers. Take a mental inventory over the next week of when you are most likely to shut down or shut out your spouse from your inner world. Notice what happens inside you and how those internal signals trigger the words or actions that follow. What was happening inside you during those moments? What patterns do you see emerging when you opt for defensiveness instead of vulnerability?
  4. Own up to your words and actions. Once you have identified one or two triggers, take responsibility for what you say or do next. This step is harder than you think. Every one of us prefers to blame our spouse rather than take responsibility. I call this the “yeah, but you…” moment in our relationships. Once you take responsibility for yourself, you can more intentionally implement 1 Corinthians 13 during your challenging conversations. Do you tend to blame your spouse or own up to your words and actions?
  5. Build an abundance of positive interactions. If your relationship has grown more distant than you want, start to insert as many genuine and heartfelt positive comments about your spouse as you can throughout the day. Do so without keeping score of how your partner responds or if he/she responds at all. This is a commitment you make between you and God to infuse your conversations with your spouse with loving words and actions. For the next week, what is one thing you can tell your spouse each day about what you admire about him/her?


  1.  Sue Johnson, Chapter 2 “Where did our love go? Losing connection” in Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2008.
  2. Jack & Judy Balswick, Chapter 6, “The Intimate Marriage: Knowing and Being Known” in A Biblical Model for Marriage: Covenant, Grace, Empowerment and Intimacy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006

Relational contributor: Virginia T. Holeman, PhD., LMFT, LPCC, Retired Chair of the Department of Counseling and Pastoral Care, Asbury Theological Seminary
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle