Signs You Don’t Feel Emotionally Safe in a Relationship

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Signs You Don’t Feel Emotionally Safe in a Relationship

When my clients in couples counseling or relationship coaching are struggling with communication or conflict, the underlying issue is often that one or both partners doesn’t feel emotionally safe in the relationship. Emotional safety is vital, but it’s also fragile. It’s easy to damage emotional safety without even realizing it. Read on to learn about the signs that you don’t feel emotionally safe in a relationship, and how to build emotional safety for a stronger, closer connection. 

What Is Emotional Safety?

Feeling emotionally safe means that you can be your authentic self in a relationship, openly sharing your thoughts, feelings, and needs without fear of judgment or rejection. It’s about knowing that you’ll be accepted, loved, and treated with compassion and grace, even when you’re imperfect. 

In an emotionally safe environment, you don’t have to hide your true self, and you can express your vulnerability while knowing that your partner will continue to hold you in high regard. Emotionally safe relationships are a safe refuge where you can be yourself, even when you’re not at your best. To put it simply, emotional safety is the feeling of being cherished for who you are, despite the occasional emotional rawness that may emerge.

Why Is Emotional Safety Important?

Emotional safety matters for a few reasons: 

  1. Trust: Without emotional safety, it’s hard to truly trust your partner enough to have a lasting, healthy relationship. You will struggle to open up about your deeper feelings, hopes, fears, and desires, and the emotional intimacy in your relationship will suffer. Creating an emotionally safe environment lets you and your partner feel secure enough to let down your guards and connect with each other on a deeper, more vulnerable level. 
  1. Open Communication: Emotional safety fosters open, honest communication. This open dialogue is essential for understanding each other and resolving conflicts, before they turn into resentments that erode your emotional bond. 
  1. Reciprocity: When you feel emotionally safe, you’re able to receive the love, compassion, and grace you deserve, and to reciprocate it. A loving and caring environment encourages both partners to give back in kind, strengthening your connection.

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Signs You Don’t Feel Emotionally Safe

So, how can you know if emotional safety is lacking in your relationship? Here are some common signs that you may not be feeling emotionally safe:

  • You’re Afraid to Speak Up: You find yourself hesitating to express your feelings, thoughts, and needs. You fear that doing so will lead to negative consequences, like criticism, judgment, or an angry outburst from your partner. So you remain silent, even when something is bothering you, allowing resentment to build. 
  • People Pleasing: You prioritize your partner’s needs and desires over your own, often to an unhealthy extent. You bend over backward to avoid conflict or to maintain a facade of harmony, even if it means suppressing your true self. Over time, this can cause you to feel emotionally disconnected from your partner. 
  • Getting Defensive: Whenever your partner offers feedback or disagrees with you, you feel defensive. Instead of calmly discussing your differences, you react with anger or rush to justify yourself, as if your character is being attacked.
  • Feeling Judged: You worry your partner is scrutinizing your actions, words, or choices, and that they are quick to pass judgment. This leads you to feel insecure and to manage impressions rather than being open and authentic. 
  • Shutting Down or Getting Reactive in Conflict: When conflicts arise, you struggle to navigate them with a sense of balance and calm. You either withdraw and emotionally shut down, or become overly reactive and confrontational. This can lead small problems to quickly spiral into nasty fights

If you are experiencing any of these issues, that can be a sign that it’s time to get support from a good couples counselor. Emotional safety is essential for a healthy, sustainable relationship, and without it, many relationships fail

How to Build Emotional Safety in Your Relationship

Building emotional safety creates a nurturing environment where trust, understanding, and empathy can thrive. The good news is that you have the power to increase the emotional safety in your relationship unilaterally. When you become a more emotionally safe person, your partner will be more likely to respond in kind. Here are a few strategies to foster emotional safety in your relationship:

  • Active Listening: Truly listen to your partner to understand their perspective. Avoid interrupting or immediately defending your point of view. Instead, validate their feelings and perspective and demonstrate how you would like them to listen to you. 
  • Curiosity, Not Condemnation: When issues arise, approach them with curiosity instead of judgment. Ask questions in an attempt to clarify your partner’s point of view, rather than making assumptions. 
  • Self-Reflection: Look within and observe your own emotional reactions and responses. Examine the narratives or stories that play in your mind and how they influence how you feel and react to your partner. Becoming more self-aware and reflective is an important emotional intelligence skill that helps you manage your feelings and build emotional safety.
  • Open Communication: Create a safe space for open, honest communication. Encourage your partner to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. Be receptive and empathetic to what you learn.
  • Set Boundaries: Establish healthy boundaries to ensure that both you and your partner respect each other’s needs, emotions, and personal space. Boundaries help prevent emotional harm and maintain a sense of balance and safety.
  • Seek Professional Help: Consider seeking the help of a good couples therapist. Look for a marriage and family therapist who can get to the root of your relationship dynamics to increase your feelings of emotional safety. 

Support for Emotionally Safe Relationships

Recognizing the signs of emotional unsafety and taking proactive steps to create a safe, nurturing environment will help you build trust, security, and a more loving and satisfying connection. With patience, you can nurture the emotional safety you both need and deserve. 

And if you would like my support with building a more emotionally safe relationship, I encourage you to schedule a free consultation. 


Christen L., M.A., LPCC, MFTC

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