The definition of safe is to be protected, not to be in danger or risk, and not likely to be harmed. A relationship should feel that way. We associate physical abuse with not being safe.
But what else can make someone feel unsafe in a relationship?
As an adult, I dated a man who pushed for physical intimacy early in our relationship. I knew even heavy kissing could influence feelings and wanted to progress slower and get to know him. But when we’d kiss, his hands would start to roam, and I was always pulling them away from my waistline or shirt, then pulling his hands out of my pants.
We started dating during the winter when I was dressed in long sleeves and pants. As the weather started to get warmer, I started wearing long dresses on dates or to church with him. The first time I chose to wear a dress, I was nervous. I wanted to be comfortable in what I was wearing, and dresses were appropriate for the season, but I worried that he’d try to put his hands up the skirt of my dress. I worried that it might be a battle trying to keep his hands away.
Thankfully, he didn’t try to push my boundaries that day, and I relaxed a little. But he did on other days. I tried to talk to him about my feelings. He would respond by saying that he would never do anything to try to hurt me. He would apologize, then later it would happen again, and he’d tell me he was just so attracted to me. It was flattering but wasn’t respectful. We broke up for many reasons, sexual pressure being one of them.
In that relationship, there were times I was uncomfortable and nervous, but it wasn’t until my fellow board member used the word ‘safe’ to describe a healthy relationship, that I realized the feelings of discomfort in that old relationship had signaled a lack of safety.
One should never have to worry about boundaries or values being crossed. I should never have had to worry about his hands being placed on my body if I wasn’t comfortable with it.
Feeling unsafe can be hard to spot or identify. There were many other ways that my previous dating partner made me feel safe. When walking anywhere, he always wanted to be on the outside as a way of protecting me. And on occasions when I drove to meet him (rather than being picked up), after the date, he asked me to call him when I got home so he knew I was safe. There were many other things he did, and comments he made that conveyed that my safety was important to him. So, as I began to feel uncomfortable, it became confusing and hard to identify.
Other examples of being unsafe in a relationship can include:
Not feeling comfortable being yourself or expressing your ideas, thoughts, and feelings. If you worry about being put down or ridiculed, this isn’t safe.
One partner shouldn’t monitor the other person’s text messages or social media. It’s fine to engage in social media in a healthy way. For example, nice or fun comments on each other’s posts. But you should be able to post and comment without worrying what the other person will say.
You should be able to do things you enjoy and spend time with friends without the other person getting jealous, questioning you about what you did, or accusing you.
Going back to the definition of safe, not being safe in a relationship is any act one person does to the other that makes them feel at risk or likely to be harmed. It can be verbal, emotional, or physical.
In comparison, things that make someone feel safe in a relationship include:
Understanding and respecting each other’s values and beliefs
Supporting each other
Takes accountability for words or actions that hurt the other person
Wishing you safe and healthy relationships.