Relationships are not something that most people on earth are directly taught. Instead, we are indirectly taught about relationships by our interactions with our family members and our peers and by watching movies and reading stories. But these interactions and these stories are not necessarily in alignment and they are also not necessarily a reflection of reality. As a result, what we learn about how to have relationships may be totally dysfunctional. And what we learn about relationships may also be false.
Today, I want to talk to you about one of these false ideas that people have about relationships that makes it a guarantee that their relationships will fail. This is an idea that I come across so consistently when I’m working with couples that it is mind blowing.
The false idea that people have is this: Relationship security is something that is just there (and should just be there) the minute you commit to having a relationship. OR relationship security is something that you build, but then it is there. Once you build it up, you don’t have to do it again. In America, we call this a “one and done”.
This is completely false. If you navigate your relationships with this idea at the helm, your relationships are doomed for the rocks. You are most likely at the place where you understand how ridiculous it would be for a person to think that you should just feel loved in the relationship because they are in a relationship with you and that’s all. You most likely also understand how ridiculous it would be for them to think that showing you love and affection up until the point that it is obvious that you feel loved, is their indication that their job is done… You feel loved now and so they don’t need to put any more energy into making you feel loved, because love is established. It is as ridiculous to think security in a relationship works this way.
Here is the reality… You know… what they should have taught you at school… Relationship security is something that you are consistently doing and consistently building and re-establishing every day in your relationship over the duration of the entire relationship. Every interaction, every conversation, every situation and each little moment that you experience with the other person is an opportunity to either establish and build security or destroy security.
In our current society, most of us get this idea that relationship security is something that is just there (and should just be there) the minute you commit to having a relationship. OR that relationship security is something that you build, but then it is there. Once you build it up, you don’t have to do it again, because chances are that your family (especially Mom and Dad or whoever the primary caregiver was) put little to no energy into ensuring the actual wellbeing of each individual member of the family, but nonetheless, a sense of closeness, belonging, confidence, certainty, happiness and safety was still expected to exist in each member of the family and it was still implied “because you are family”. On top of this, people expect that because they have a specific feeling, it means they have relationship security. For example, the feeling of being meant to be together or the feeling of being committed or the feeling of loving someone, or the feeling of belonging with someone, that relationship security simply exists and is guaranteed. On top of this, movies and stories have indoctrinated us with the idea that love makes everything in a relationship, including security, automatically happen and that if it is meant to be, it will be, with little to no effort on our parts. On top of this, we have seen relationships between two people that are long term, and because we value relationship longevity as a society, we see the relationship as successful and therefore secure. However, we do not realize that the relationship is not healthy nor is it successful, nor is it secure. Instead, one or both of the people in the relationship have decided to simply develop coping mechanisms and establish dysfunctional patterns so as to cope in response to that lack of relationship security. And this gives us an inaccurate picture of how to make a relationship actually successful and actually be conducive to the wellbeing of both people involved.
For the sake of this conversation, let’s define relationship security as feeling safe, certain and confident about each other and about the bond between you. This brings about a natural state of ease, relaxation and wellbeing. A great deal of relationship security involves the specific needs that you have from the relationship, being actually met in the relationship. A great deal of this involves feeling that the other person is really there for you, not just inconsistently or unpredictably or sometimes. And a great deal of this involves feeling like you can trust them. The same is true about all of this for them, but about you. Trust is such a huge element of security in a relationship that it is crucial to understand trust. For this reason, after you have watched this episode, it would be a great idea to go watch my video titled: Trust (What is Trust and How to Build Trust in Relationships). Relationship security is something that is an element of any relationship we have. Whether it is with a partner or sibling or parent or friend or colleague or whatever else. Unfortunately, we are usually only concerned with it in our romantic relationship, which today, most of us consider to be our primary relationship.
When something that a person in a relationship does or does not do, creates a fear, poses a threat, invites the unwanted or creates danger for the other person, or for the relationship itself on a physical, emotional or mental level, some degree of security is lost in the relationship. And guess what, it doesn’t matter whether that threat or danger is or is not real. The reality is that you lose security in a relationship according to each person’s unique, individual perception.
This is yet another reason why compatibility is so crucial in a relationship. When incompatibility exists, it is a real problem for security in a relationship. I’ll give you one simple example to illustrate this. Imagine that you wanted a feeling of exclusivity in a romantic relationship and you wanted a physically faithful partner. For you, your partner being flirty and physically affectionate with other people makes you feel threatened and alone. It is the opposite of what you want. Getting into a relationship with an actor or actress, who is flirty by nature and who regularly has to perform kissing scenes would be incompatible. There would always be a withdrawal from the relationship security bank account. If you get into a relationship with someone incompatible, the amount of effort you will have to put towards trying to create security in the relationship will be like trying to build a sand castle in the rising tide. It will quite literally be impossible to keep up. If you want to understand more about this, you can watch my video titled: Incompatibility, a Harsh Reality in Relationships.
So that you can understand this better, I’m going to give you an example, the first part of this example is the unhealthy dynamic. The second part of the example is what building relationship security would look like in that same example.
Adam is married to Tracy. Adam expects that the fact that he is married to Tracy should provide all the security that Tracy needs in the relationship. If we were to watch his actions, Adam has established an intermittent reinforcement pattern with Tracy relative to relationship security. Sometimes he is available and there for her, sometimes he is not. Sometimes he acts in her best interests, sometimes he plays a defiant zero-sum game. This pattern of unpredictability is destroying her mental and emotional health. He has not taken it seriously that they are already in a zero-security zone in their relationship. As a result (as happens in relationships) the relationship could afford less and less autonomy and less and less separate time. On this day, Tracy needed Adam’s presence. She needed him to want to be with her and want to prioritize establishing security in the relationship. She also needed his reassurance. But Adam was more interested in Tennis. Despite knowing that prioritizing flying to play in a tennis tournament for fun would upset Tracy and make their relationship worse, he decided to go anyway and make her the problem for her neediness. His version of reassuring her was to gaslight her by telling her that their relationship is fine because he loves her (keep in mind that he is acting the opposite) and because they are married and therefore, he is committed to her (keep in mind that he is making himself unavailable when she needs him most). Two months later, Tracy initiated a divorce. The reality is that Adam did not prioritize security in his relationship with Tracy. He was primarily concerned with establishing his own autonomy and individual needs and individual happiness within the relationship. And the way he went about doing this, amounted to not only an intermittent reinforcement pattern, but also a consistent destruction of the security in his relationship with his wife.
If Adam had been committed to establishing relationship security, the first thing that would be different is that Tracy wouldn’t feel like the commitment to creating security was one sided. She wouldn’t feel this way because when security was threatened, his priority for himself would be re-establishing that security. He would be the one taking the initiative to create it because that’s what he wants for his own life and for her and for his marriage. Because of this, he would establish a pattern of “I care that we both feel good and am committed to finding a solution that feels good to us both” rather than simply fighting for his own needs against her and rather than an intermittent reinforcement pattern.
On the day that he wanted to go to the tennis tournament, but knew that it would threaten his relationship security, he would have first tried to find a way where he could make Tracy feel secure and be able to attend the tournament. First, he would establish that he sees the issue, demonstrating that they are on the same page and therefore working together towards a solution. That she is not alone in her reality and that how she feels is a priority for him. She would obviously demonstrate the same. He might suggest that she come with him to the tournament and that he turn it into a together experience for them both. First by demonstrating his desire for her to be there with him when he plays his matches. Then by planning a special date or experience for both of them after the tournament is over. He would demonstrate a “pull” rather than a “push away”. If there was no way whatsoever to bring her with him, and their relationship was at a point where they could not afford physical distance, he would then be faced with a priority check. Does he care more about his autonomy and attending a tennis tournament or does he care more about his relationship with Tracy? This may cause him to face the fact that there are incompatibilities between him and Tracy and potentially even between him and marriage. If he made a decision that his priority was establishing relationship security, he would cancel his trip and demonstrate this commitment in some way to Tracy, such as initiating conversations and time together and reassurance. And he would do so with no resentment towards her because he would be making this decision in alignment with what his own priorities are. As a result, in that moment, he would be building security.
Relationship security is something that you establish, just like building up a bank account. It isn’t like every day you wake up at zero. It is established as a result of demonstrating a pattern of caretaking the other person’s needs, feelings of safety, certainty, accessibility, availability, responsiveness, support, trust and confidence both in you and with you as well as in the bond between you both. And there is more leeway in these relationships where this pattern has been established. But believe me that you cannot just put any pressure that you want on a relationship. You cannot just withdraw and withdraw from the security bank account and expect that the relationship will last. And if you really loved someone, you would not want them to have to withstand the pain of your withdrawals at all. You would want that bank account to be as big as possible. You would want them to feel as secure as is possible.
Each and every moment in any relationship is an opportunity to either establish this security or diminish it. Each time you notice an insecurity or the other person expresses it, is an opportunity to problem solve so as to caretake their vulnerability, therefore add to the security of the relationship or to bulldoze that insecurity and vulnerability, therefore diminish the security of the relationship. Each conversation is an opportunity to either demonstrate workability, therefore increase the security in the relationship or demonstrate unworkability, therefore diminish the security of the relationship. Each act you take is an opportunity to either demonstrate that you are committed to a win-win scenario therefore increase the security in the relationship or that you are perfectly willing to play zero sum games against the other person’s best interests, therefore diminish the security of the relationship. Each moment with the other person is an opportunity to understand them better, therefore better know how to create security in the relationship, or to stay in a narcissistic bubble where you are only concerned with your own truth and your own needs, therefore stay in the dark relative to what would create security in your relationship with the other person.
If you don’t want to put in the work of establishing security in your relationships consistently in each interaction with the other person, you are not actually committed to relationships. You are committed to using relationships for something else that you want. Establishing and reinforcing and building security in a relationship is something that you do every day. It’s something that you are creating or destroying in every moment.