LANGUAGE & LOVE
Updated: Feb 4, 2021
One of my good friends used to have a running joke about my ex being the SS police. In this case, SS stands for safety and security. This meant that he diligently paid close attention to ensure that any place we went to had a full sweep of safety and security precautions. He also used this to scrutinize any place I went and people I spent time with under that same microscope. It took me a while to see past the due diligence and protective nature of a husband and father to the reality that it was another method of control. Thus the SS police.
I’m not minimizing the role of being a protective man who cares for his family’s well being. However, if a man is genuinely concerned with the safety of his family outside the house he will also recognize the role of psychological safety inside the home and within the relationship dynamic. When that aspect is absent, you just have a man who needs to control the world around him so the bubble he created doesn’t burst or worse the reality of the world outside not being as frightening as it’s made to seem is unveiled.
It took almost 12 years of marriage for me to see and speak up about the control aspect. Then another 3 years of allowing his gaslighting to turn a conversation about his control into a conversation about my insecurity and immaturity in relationships. In the final 2 years, I recognized how his inadequacies and insecurity led him to need power in our dynamic and in my life. By then I had one foot out the door. What I hadn’t thought about until now was the irony “safety and security” presented as a central theme in our lives, yet was missing entirely from the foundation of our marriage. Although it was used as a tool to engage and navigate the world outside, safety and security were not present inside my home.
How we define words and make meaning of them can mean that we value the same things in a relationship or that we are having parallel conversations and living lives that never intersect. My ex defined safety and security differently from me and acted according to what he deemed important. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs starts with the foundational tier of the biological requirements for human survival. The following three tiers are safety, love & belongingness, and then esteem. Those next three levels are key to establishing and sustaining relationships with the people in our lives. Safety is not about physical safety but the psychological safety that provides trust and space where we can let down our guard to be our authentic selves and be vulnerable in a dynamic we trust won’t harm us. This leads to a sense of love and belongingness and then builds our esteem through validation and affirmation.
My perspective on safety and security is aligned with Maslow’s hierarchy more than how my ex perceived it. I was expecting to feel safe to share my fears and needs, speak freely about what was on my mind, and trust that I was respected and loved by someone I was building a life and home with. These differences were never heard when communicated and those needs were never met. What I needed did not align with what he was willing to give. That’s the thing with relationships, there has to be a willingness to give up something for the comfort of someone else. When one person does all the emotional sacrifice they are depleted and left with a chasm of emptiness.
What I needed and wanted was to feel safe to let my guard down and know that I would not be harmed and broken down by someone I trusted. I wanted the security that not only was I physically protected, but I had a partner and companion who guarded my heart enough that he didn’t intentionally cause me pain and acknowledged and owned it when he did.
Some relationships center on one person’s care and consideration over the other and some are partnerships where both people have to consider their impact on the other. When that partnership is present, we care how our words and actions impact the person we have chosen to be in our life. I decided to do that and measured my words while always thinking about the other harm that my ex experienced in life. I actively made effort not to add to his pain or mistrust of women. In return, I became invisible and my value and place in our dynamic shrunk. My need to keep him comfortable led me to stay in discomfort and uncertainty for too many years.
I don’t think I will ever allow that much time and those similar negative patterns to foster again in my space, but I still grapple with putting myself and my needs at the forefront when it comes to my heart. I no longer need a man to provide me safety and security to survive. I am capable of living my life on my own and providing for myself and my children. But one day I hope to find the type of man that values my comfort and needs as a way to create psychological safety and security I can trust and be willing to be vulnerable within. Ideally, that will be a partnership of safety, love, and belongingness where gaps can be filled with open and consistent communication.