Healthy Relationships: Assessing the Emotional Safety

Couples seek relationship counseling for numerous reasons.  No matter what they present to therapy with, it often boils down to a problem with the emotional safety in their relationship. It’s not necessarily the couples who present as the most hostile, distant, angry or disengaged who are lacking the most in emotional safety.  Often those who minimize their feelings or are conflict avoidant also are challenged in this area.  Many couples can benefit from assessing the emotional safety in their relationship as a good starting point.   It really boils down to how well do each feel they can rely on each other, be the “port in the storm.”

There are seven aspects in which I assess the emotional safety in a relationship. They are:

  • respect
  • prioritized
  • feeling heard
  • understood
  • validated
  • empathized with
  • loved

Do a quick mini-assessment on your own relationship.  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 seven 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) Prioritized: How much do you each feel prioritized by each other?  People who don’t feel prioritized can start to wonder if they matter to the other.

3) 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.

4) 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 a different meaning.

5) 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. It’s one step beyond understanding and it doesn’t require the partner to necessarily agree with them.

6) Empathy: How much do you feel empathy from each other? A low number here is probably the most troubling of the seven aspects in that a lack of empathy in a relationship means a lack of care to the others feelings, which is hurtful.

7) Love: How much do you feel loved by each other? This encapsulates and reflects the state of the previous six. 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, seek couples counseling. Sometimes there is a need for deeper exploration 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 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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