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This Is How To Feel Emotionally Safe In Your Relationship

"Safe" is something all of us should require in our relationship. Emotionally safe included.

Love & Relationships

Every time someone interviews me on what I find to be essential to a relationship, the first word that I bring up isn't love, respect or reciprocity. Through personal experience, observation of friends and couples I've worked with, and just life in general, I think what is most important is safety. It's essential that all of us make sure that we are with someone who is safe and that we are someone who another could consider safe to be with.

I'm telling you, "safe" is the kind of word that is totally underrated. I think a part of it is because, whenever it comes up, physical safety is what tends to come to mind. And so, to hear me say that you should look for someone who doesn't put your physical safety in jeopardy, an immediate "duh" is the response (or, at least I hope that it is). But hear me when I say this—I have never had a man even raise his hand to me; that doesn't mean that I haven't been with someone who isn't unsafe before. Know what else? I've never raised my hand to a man either. I can still admit that I've been an unsafe woman, though—just in a different kind of way.

To be safe is to be "secure from liability to harm, injury, danger, or risk". To be safe is about "involving little or no risk of mishap, error, etc." too. And while no one is perfect—not by a long shot—we all should strive to be the kind of individuals who aren't out here hurting someone or constantly causing errors that end up putting others in harm's way.

That's why I think it's imperative that, when it comes to discussing what it means to be and feel safe in a relationship, the definitions need to go way beyond the physical. Today, I'm tackling the importance of emotional safety. If you're curious about what an emotionally safe relationship should look like, here is a pretty good place to start.

You Listen to Each Other

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I promise you, the older (and hopefully wiser) that I get, the more a quote by a theologian named Paul Tillich resonates—"The first duty of love is to listen." I think it means a lot to me because listening isn't just hearing what someone is saying. A good listener listens without giving into distractions. A good listener doesn't interrupt while you're talking. A good listener asks questions for the sake of getting clarity. A good listener retains what is said. A good listener doesn't derail or deflect. A good listener stays on topic until the matter is resolved. A good listener will strive to sympathize and, when necessary, empathize with where you are coming from. A good listener pays close attention and is extremely attentive.

The reason why, above all else, I choose to share that listening is a sign of being emotionally safe is because, when two people make a point to fully engage one another by listening, they show that they deeply care about each other's thoughts, needs and emotions. Personally, I'm not sure if it gets any safer than that.

What You Both Share Remains Between the Two of You

Proverbs 17:9 (NKJV) says "He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends." What's dope about this particular Scripture is it doesn't say that keeping stuff to one's self keeps the drama down (although it does). No, it states that when you're not out here putting things on blast, the motive is really about love. I totally agree because something I have learned to give more and expect more is confidentiality. My relationships are safer, both ways, because of it.

When you are in a relationship with someone (especially if it's serious), they should be able to feel like they can come to you with all of who they are. They should also believe that they can come to you with just about anything without having to worry about your friends knowing, your mama (or their mama) finding out or that some slick version of what was shared will show up in a Facebook group or sub-tweeted on Twitter. Also, if two people are really respectful of one another, this will remain the case, even if they should happen to part ways at some point.

To be accepted is beautiful. To know that you've got a safe place to share all of who you are is rare, sacred and something to profoundly cherish. It's one of the best types of safeness. It really and truly is.

Dependence Trumps Vulnerability

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Whenever I'm in a session with a couple, something that I share with them is I'm actually not a huge fan of the word "vulnerable". Meaning, I don't think it's something that should apply to two people who have been in a platonic or romantic situation for a while; I think it's more appropriate for new situations and circumstances. The reason why I say that is because vulnerable means "capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon" and "open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc." Although none of us are perfect and we do run the risk of these things happening with just about anyone, who wants to be in a long-term relationship when you're worried that you'll be wounded or hurt or attacked and criticized all of the time?

That's why I encourage couples to go with the word "dependent" more often. To be dependent is to "rely on someone or something else for aid, support, etc." Hey, if you've got a problem relying on your partner to have your back, I've gotta wonder why you're in the relationship in the first place.

You Each Take Ownership for Your Own Actions

Here is one of the most underrated indications of being in an emotionally safe relationship. If you are someone (or you're with someone) who can always point out others' issues, faults and areas of weakness but somehow, you are never able to see your own, you are an unsafe individual. Why do I say that? Because someone who is self-aware enough to take responsibility for their downfalls or offenses, is personally accountable enough to acknowledge how they can better themselves and grow, and is willing to hear you out when you bring certain issues to their attention—they are someone who is constantly on the path of personal growth and evolution.

Meanwhile, someone who is always defensive, finds a way to play the victim and/or somehow turns everything that they do wrong into being everyone else's fault (including yours)—they are emotionally immature, highly-manipulative and, quite frankly, not even close to being ready for a grown-folks type of relationship. And a healthy adult who is trying to make it work with an immature, insecure and potentially toxic one? C'mon now. Y'all already know that's the perfect recipe for an unsafe situation.

Love Languages Are Spoken Fluently

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The picture right above this point breaks down what the five love languages are. The reason why they make the list is because anyone who knows their partner's primary love language, they are someone who really wants their partner to feel loved by them in the most impactful way possible. That kind of laser focus should get major props from us all.

Along these lines, two synonyms for the word "safe" are "preserved" and "maintained". I know quite a few people who claim to love one another. Still, they're constantly complaining about their needs not being met. When your partner knows how to make you feel loved and then they actually put that knowledge into action, they are basically saying "I love you so much that I want to do all that I can to preserve and maintain our relationship." Someone who loves like this is someone you can feel truly safe with, don't you think?

Apologies Aren't a Problem

I'm just gonna shoot this one straight.

Someone who refuses to apologize for what they've done wrong is someone who is mad prideful. How can you truly feel safe with an individual who isn't the opposite of prideful which is humble?

Because just think about it, it really does take some heartfelt humility to admit when you've messed up and then to apologize for it. Actually, not just apologize, but to then put forth some real effort to not do what you needed to apologize for again in the future.

While we're on the topic of pride, prideful people aren't emotionally safe individuals across the board because that trait tends to spill over into other areas and situations. A prideful person thinks they are always right. A prideful person isn't good at taking advice or asking for help. A prideful person tends to be quite critical while, at the same time, abhors constructive criticism. A prideful person has authority issues. A prideful person justifies everything they do—even when it is dead wrong. A prideful person wants fans more than true friends. Please tell me how in the world you can feel emotionally safe with someone like this?

Positive Energy Is Consistent

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I remember watching a throwback episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 and one of the characters saying, "My mom always said that if you're always up, you must be on something." To a large extent, I agree. It's important to say that out the gate because it's darn near impossible to have positive energy all of the time. But what you can do is not be on an emotional roller coaster of pessimism and doom—or allow someone else to put you on one. You can choose to be the kind of person who is more optimistic than not, who is more solutions-oriented than problems-driven, and who tries to bring more joy and peace into your relationship than sadness and stress.

In the article "11 Ways To Bring Positive Energy Into Your Life", the author talks about the fact that positive energy has a direct impact on our health, the quality of our relationships and our ability to reach our personal goals. They also shared that some of the ways to go about harnessing positive energy is to let go of the past, to live in a spirit of gratitude, to love and accept yourself, to not dwell on negative stuff (something that I'll add here is also not to dwell on stuff that you can't change as well) and to laugh as often as possible.

Two people who are intentional about living their life this way? Not only are they an emotionally safe haven for one another, they are pretty close to being an unstoppable pair too.

Love and Respect Go Hand in Hand

If you are currently engaged, a book that I recommend adding to your couple's collection is Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs. There's a Scripture in the Bible that says, "Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." (Ephesians 5:33—NKJV) How this all breaks down is pretty much an article on its own.

For now, I'll say that it's a reminder that women are more "wired" to feel loved; men are more "wired" to feel respected. This and love languages have something in common. When it comes to both, where a lot of us mess up is we give more of what we want than what our partner actually needs.

As far as respecting men goes, respect is about esteem. When I think about what our Black men go through on a daily basis, simply because of the color of their skin, that is enough to motivate me to esteem and affirm them any and every chance that I get. Because if there is any place where they should feel safe, seen and acknowledged (in public and in private), it's from a sistah. Black men feel our love by how we respect (esteem) them.

And fellas, if you're looking in on this, if you're a Black man—your mama's a Black woman. That should be enough of a reason to treat Black women, especially the one you are seeing, like she is to be honored, cherished and adored. We as Black women feel respected by how well we are loved.

Two people who have love and respect constantly present in the life that they share with one another—they are the poster children for what it means to be in a truly emotionally safe relationship. If that is you, congrats. Please hold on to what you've got. It's super special. Safe relationships always are. If that's not you, well, you've got some serious stuff to think about, don't you? You are far too precious to not be in a safe relationship; emotionally safe included.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

The Signs Of A Truly Intimate Relationship

8 Things You Should Do Daily To Keep Your Relationship Strong

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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