We all need a minimum sense of safety and security to relax and get on with our life, whatever we are doing. That level will vary from person to person but the need is universal.

The following story is typical and scenarios similar to this get played out in many relationships.

Michael and Cynthia came to see me because their relationship was at an impasse where every two or three days they were having major arguments, usually about the same issue. Michael worked for 50 hours per week while Cynthia was taking time off work to look after their two children. The argument was almost always about the amount of time Michael spent with his mates, either at the pub, playing golf, or watching sport.

Cynthia felt it was intensely unfair because she was working hard with the children and never got time off for herself. Michael felt justified because of the demanding work he did and he needed the relaxation after a full week.

However, the real problem was not the issue itself but what happened when they started to argue. Each of them was making it unsafe for the other one, and that feeling fuelled so much of the argument and they ended up arguing about the way each of them was communicating, rather than trying to solve the issue of how they could work together in their relationship.

As soon as their tempers flared Michael threatened to leave and cut Cynthia off from any financial support. She would immediately feel unsafe and start to panic. She would then threaten to deprive him off access to their children, and threatened to report his tax evasion to the authorities. So he would feel unsafe and react. And so each argument would spiral out of control and nothing ever got resolved.

This may read like a fairly dramatic example but the principles get played out in virtually most relationship arguments and conflict. When we are angry, or are reacting in some way, it is so easy to use words as weapons. We know that our words will hurt but we go ahead and say them, often with a very lame justification. We all fear being hurt, and when we know it is coming we feel unsafe, and react in whatever way we can to protect ourselves. That is why many of our patterns are called defence mechanisms.

A lack of safety and security leads to tension and fear which will then creep into all levels of the relationship. We need values such as consistency, trust and respect. It is difficult to feel secure with someone who is inconsistent, and may also be volatile and unpredictable. You simply do not know where you are with them, and I have heard many people say it is like walking on egg shells. You simply cannot relax because it feels it could all change in a heartbeat.

Safety and security give a feeling of reliability. You feel you can rely on the other person and the relationship; it feels stable and gives you the reassurance that you can relax and get on with your life. We often think of safety in relationships as to do with abuse and violence but it can exist at many levels. So I invite you to ask yourself the following question, referring them to each of you. Is it safe for you, and is it safe for your partner?

In your relationship -

How safe is it to express an opinion?
How safe is it to get emotional?
How safe is it to challenge your partner?
How safe is it to show your shadow side?
How safe is it to say no?
How safe is it to ask for some change?
How safe is it to express displeasure at something?
How safe is it to pursue your own interests?
How safe is it to make a mistake or mess up in some way?

If there is stress or conflict in your relationship then the first core need for safety may be missing. Go through each of the above questions slowly and carefully as you remain really aware of what each brings up for you. If there is a reaction or an emotion then it is very possible that there is a lack of safety for you in that area. If your partner is ready and willing invite him or her to go through it with you. That can be very revealing! But remember it must first of all be safe to involve them because if any feedback you offer triggers them into anger or defensive then straight away you are not safe.

For so many people the relationship is largely about me – how I feel, what I want, and how you are upsetting me. So the really sobering part of the exercise is to go through and honestly ask yourself how safe your partner feels in each of these areas. You are basically going to find out in what ways you are making him or her feel unsafe, and that can be challenging if you have been focusing on them as being the cause of the problems.

When I hear couples arguing I go through questions like these with each in turn and get them to say exactly how they feel unsafe. I then offer them a strong challenge using the following script.

“Without justifying yourself, without making excuses, without blaming, I want each of you to consider that you, by your actions, are making the relationship unsafe your partner. You have told me you love each other yet you are repeatedly making them feel unsafe. I am going to be quiet for 5 minutes as you think about how that feels.”

When I ask each of them how it feel about 90% say it feels awful. We need to courageously find that level of honesty if we are going to transform our relationships. And this is just the first core need! There are eight more.

That level of honesty can also be scary so please do not be afraid to reach out and get some good support if you feel caught in a situation like this in your relationships.


Author's Bio: 

Clement McGrath brings 33 years of coaching and mentoring experience and a wealth of knowledge to his work. Clement has worked in a variety of roles that have all involved supporting people to reach their full potential and live the life of their dreams.

He has conducted his own private practice for 32 years, has facilitated youth work in a non-profit organisation, has been a contracted provider to a major government department, and director of Life Coach Associates since 2001.

After facilitating Life Coach Associates coach training program for 10 years, he recently stepped aside from that position to focus on creating a variety of programmes that are more accessible to a wider audience.

These include, “Relationship Rescue,” “How to Harness Your Yes Power,” “How to Increase Your Energy and Achieve More,” “Find Your voice: How to Communicate Confidently and Effectively,” and “Awakening to Infinity: A Course in Self Realisation.”

He is available for private consultations and public speaking, and can create customised programmes to address the specific needs of groups and organisations.

Clement is a qualified Breath Therapist, and has studied extensively in the areas of ‘Effective Communication,’ ‘Human Creativity,’ ‘Principles of Peak Performance and Success,’ and ‘Mythology and its Modern Applications.’

He has co-authored the book, “The Way to Freedom,” and is currently completing a book on relationships that he intends to have published in 2015.

Clement lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, with his partner Heather Fletcher.

Contacts for Clement are:



0064 3 355 2297
0064 272 033 694