Healthy Relationships: Assessing the Emotional Safety

Couples seek relationship counseling for numerous reasons. As a professional who works with many different couples, I’ve noticed one common denominator. Their relationships lack in varying degrees of “emotional safety.” Typically, the couples who present as the most hostile, distant, angry, disengaged or otherwise dysfunctional are lacking the most in emotional safety, right?  Not necessarily. Often those who minimize their feelings or struggle with being conflict avoidant can not feel safe.  The bottom line is,many can benefit from a tune-up in this area. So what is “emotional safety” in a relationship? I see it as the level of comfort both people feel with each other. There are six aspects in which I assess the emotional safety in a relationship. They are:

  • respect
  • feeling heard
  • understanding
  • validation
  • empathy
  • love

How can you assess your relationship based on this paradigm?  Ask each other to rate, from zero to ten, (zero being “never” and ten being “all the time”) how much you both feel each of the six mentioned aspects of emotional safety from each other. 

1) Respect: How respected do you feel by each other? People who report low levels of respect often experience criticism or judgment from the other.

2) Feeling Heard: How much do you feel heard by each other? Those who don’t feel heard complain of being ignored, tuned out or talked over by the other.

3) Understood: How much do you feel understood by each other? People with low levels of understanding from the other report frustration around their partner not getting them or twisting their words into an entirely different meaning.

4) Validation: How much do you feel validated by each other? Low levels of validation are problematic to any relationship in that one or both don’t feel that their partner gets what they’re saying. Its one step beyond understanding and it doesn’t require the partner to necessarily agree with them.

5) Empathy: How much do you feel empathy from each other? A low number here is probably the most troubling of the six aspects in that a lack of empathy in a relationship means a lack of attunement to the others feelings.

6) Love: How much do you feel loved by each other? This encapsulates and reflects the state of the previous five. Couples who report low levels of feeling loved by the other typically have low numbers in the other aspects. If this line of questioning proves to be too difficult for the relationship to handle on your own, find a local couples therapists to help. Sometimes there are deeper areas of prior experience to be explored and learning new communication tools.  The greatest evidence of change in the relationship are these numbers going up – and they can!

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of with emotional and relationship health articles, guides, courses and other tools for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in,, and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers Emotional Health and Relationship Consultations via email, phone or video conference.

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