emotional safety

Safety in Intimate Relationships: Emotional Safety

Emotional safety is essential in our relationships with others. How do you know if you’re emotionally safe in a relationship?

  1. You can talk to your partner about emotional subjects without worrying about how they’ll react.
  2. Your concerns are taken seriously by your partner.
  3. A partner doesn’t use things you’ve told them in confidence against you.
  4. Your partner doesn’t share things you’ve told them in confidence without your permission.
  5. You can tell your partner about something that they’ve said/done that has upset you without them becoming angry or upset with you.

Emotional safety is just one component of relationship safety. Stay tuned for additional safety in intimate relationships information!

Note: If you are feeling unsafe in your relationship, please reach out to The Domestic Violence Hotline or your local domestic violence organization. You deserve to be safe in your relationships.


domestic violence

Safety in Intimate Relationships: Physical safety

When I talk to people about feeling safe in their relationships, usually physical safety is the first thing that comes to mind. When someone says they feel unsafe in their relationship, we almost automatically assume that their partner is hitting them. However, physical safety goes deeper than that. Below are some red flags for physical safety:

  • My partner has drawn back a hand as if to hit me.
  • My partner has thrown objects around me, but not at me.
  • My partner has hit walls, tables, beds, or other objects when angry with me.
  • My partner has broken objects belonging to me.
  • My partner has hidden objects belonging to me (cellphone, keys, debit card, etc.)
  • My partner has verbally threatened to hurt me, pets, children, or themselves.
  • My partner has verbally threatened to call (or has called) welfare, immigration, or child protective services without justification.
  • My partner has displayed weapons to threaten me.

The two most dangerous times in a domestic violence relationship are when the abused partner attempts to leave and during pregnancy. On average, a person will attempt to leave an abusive relationship seven times before separating from their partner. But your safety and your life are worth it.

Note: If you are feeling unsafe in your relationship, please reach out to The Domestic Violence Hotline or your local domestic violence organization. You deserve to be safe in your relationships.

what we owe

What We Owe Each Other

There are no “perfect” victims.

Every post I’ve seen about Breonna Taylor and other BIPOC victims of institutional violence has included a “wait, but what about the time that…?” comment (or multiple comments). Ask yourselves if you’ve ever been involved, or even adjacent to, something or someone that would fill in that blank. Did you ever go on a date with someone who had a criminal record? Even if you didn’t know about it, would it be something that would be used against you as evidence in the court of public opinion if you, too, were murdered in your home by the police?

Those of us in the mental health field are all too familiar with the mental acrobatics that people who have NOT experienced tragedy use to cognitively distance themselves from something that, in reality, could happen to anyone.* If we tell ourselves that it was because of the rape victim’s drinking, or because the children who were molested had a parent who wasn’t present, or because the domestic violence victim had dropped out of high school, it allows us some comfort that these terrible things won’t happen to us.

The reality is, terrible things happen at a much higher frequency than most people are aware of. And the only people that are to blame are the perpetrators.

Scratch that. Also to blame is the culture that prioritizes some lives over others, treats sexist and violent “jokes” as “locker room talk,” and appoints officials with a documented history of crimes against women.

This is not one of those “it gets better” posts. This is a post that ends with: It gets better when we realize that we’re all in this together, and sometimes, the only thing that separates you from immense tragedy and trauma is a stroke of luck or fate. We are all in the same ocean, but we’re not in the same boat. Some are in rowboats, some are in yachts, and still others are clinging to debris tossed aside by the bigger boats’ occupants.

Philosopher Tim Scanlon wrote What We Owe to Each Other, a complex overview of utilitarian ethics made famous more recently by the excellent television show The Good Place. The answer that I came up with for myself is: Love. We just owe each other love. The principle that has guided this view is influenced by Cornel West, PhD:

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”


* Though, in reality, are significantly more likely to occur if you are already a member of a marginalized group.


Things We Don’t Talk About: Sex and Intimacy

Part of a continuing series of “Things we don’t talk about,” also known as “Why people are in therapy” and “the elephant in the room.”

My mentor, Don Pitts, taught me that “behind every complaint, there’s a request,” so each time I meet with someone who complains about something their partner has (or hasn’t) done, I think about Don. I may need a button that I can press that just has me saying, “Have you talked to your partner about that?” Either (a) it hasn’t occurred to them to talk to their partner about the thing, or (b) they don’t know how to start that sort of conversation. Either way, it can result in unmet needs and resentment that builds up and strangles the relationship.

In order to have an enjoyable, healthy sex life, there must be a foundation of mutual trust and respect. Open communication requires safety: emotional, physical, intellectual, and commitment. (That’s a series for another time!) If any of these areas is a challenge in your relationship, I strongly suggest working on that before attempting to increase sex and intimacy. Once you’ve done that, however, one way to start talking to your partner about sex and intimacy is through taking online quizzes together. Sometimes, this can bring up new ideas, or increase your emotional intimacy through shared information.

There are many resources available to help increase sexual intimacy between partners, but the most important thing you can do for your relationship is to communicate freely and respectfully—both in and out of the bedroom!