You’ve probably heard that in order for someone to emotionally open up, they need to feel emotionally safe to do so.
In psychology, emotional safety refers to an emotional state achieved in attachment relationships where in each individual is open and vulnerable. When a relationship is emotionally safe, the partners trust each other and routinely give each other the benefit of the doubt in questionable situations. When emotional safety is lost, the partners are inclined to be distrustful, looking for possible hidden meanings and potential threats in each other’s words and behaviors [Source: Wikipedia].
1. Attachment 2. openness 3. vulnerability and 4. trust. I could just stop right here.
But emotional safety is so important that, it’s probably the single most important factor in getting back your ex.
The loss of emotional safety is the first sign that things are not going too well in the relationship. The first thing many of us notice is our then boy/girlfriend, partner, spouse or significant other talks to us less and less. When we ask questions, we get one word or one sentence answers. When we try to engage them in conversation, it’s like they are there but not really there.
This is the first stage of someone checking out of the relationship. They are still physically there but emotionally checked out.
Next thing we notice is them spending less and less time with us. Even with the time they spend with us, they are not their happy, playful and open selves anymore. Dates are cancelled, time spent together gets shorter and shorter, and getting them to actually spend time with you is like asking them to do you a favour.
This is the second stage of someone checking out of the relationship. First they emotionally withdraw and then they physically pull away.
The last stage is when they tell you they want out.
Over the years helping men and women get back their ex, I’ve noticed that getting back together is almost like two people walking the relationship backwards.
The first signs that an ex is warming up to you is that they want to talk to you more and more. In the very initial stages, you may get one word or one sentence answers to your questions, but as things warm up, your ex opens up more and more.
The next sign that he/she wants to get closer to you again is them wanting to spend physical time with you. The more dates, the more progress towards getting back together.
If after 1 – 2 months of keeping in contact with your ex, you are still getting one word or one sentence answers to your questions, it’s usually not a good sign. It means he/she does not feel emotionally safe with and around you and is keeping you at a distance. That’s what those one word or one sentence answers are, keeping you at emotional distance.
Same thing, if after 2 – 3 months of regular contact, your ex still does not want to see you in person or want to spend physically time with you. They are telling you they do not feel safe to allow you back into their lives. There are many reasons for this, some very specific to a particular relationship.
You may even re-establish contact, chat here and there and hang out a few times, but that’s just your ex’s way (consciously or sub-consciously) of testing the emotional environment for any warning signs of emotionally hurt in some way.
If for any reason they feel (it’s a feeling people, and not always rational) the emotional environment is still unsafe or not what they are looking for anymore, you’ll begin to see the pattern of emotional pulling away again.
Testing the emotional environment and emotional pulling away can go on for a while; until your ex is convinced it’s safe to get in fully, or decides it’s best to avoid any potential for emotional hurt altogether.
The task of creating an emotional environment that makes your ex feel emotionally safe to open up again, to be vulnerable again, to trust again and to attach again falls on you.
In general there are things that make all of us feel emotionally safe. Some things are more important to some people than to others, and some people need more of one thing than the other.
For example, some people need to to talk openly about everything and some people need small doses of emotional sharing. Some people need a text or call every few hours and some people need contact once a day/week. Some people need more us-time and some people need more me-time. Some people need more validation and others need to feel heard. Some people need to be able to trust and others need to be trusted more.
The reason for the break-up and the reason for your ex not wanting to try the relationship again hold a lot of information as to what you need to do more or less of to make your ex feel more emotionally safe. What have they told you makes them feel emotionally safe? What did you notice just before they started emotionally withdrawing? What topics do they avoid talking about? What questions do they not respond to or cause them to stop responding? All these are good indicators of not only what makes them feel emotionally safe, but how they feel about getting back together.
To get to why they may still be holding back, you need regular contact. Avoiding your ex or avoiding talking about emotions and feelings does not create emotional safety, in fact it does the very opposite. It creates what’s called in conflict management a “distancing spiral.” It’s very difficult to make progress in a “distancing spiral”, let alone have a relationship.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few important emotional safety needs, create a plan that incorporates into your communications and efforts to get back together at least 3 – 5 of those needs. If you can incorporate at least one in every conversation (text, phone or face-to-face), you’ll see things progress faster.
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