Written By: Sharon May, Ph.D. and Alan Hart, MS, MAT
Can you trust your spouse to be there for you no matter what? Do you sense your
spouse understands and values you? Does your spouse consider you and responds
in the best interest of you both? Despite all your hardships do you believe your
spouse really cares for you?
If you answered the above questions with ‘yes,’ then you have what we call a safe
Why is it important for a marriage to be a safe haven?
In my book “Safe Haven Marriage,” I define a safe haven as “a trustworthy person to
whom you can turn, knowing that person will be emotionally available and respond to
you in a caring manner.”
Our research has found that when a couple perceives each other to be a ‘safe haven’
they report having a good and lasting marriage. These couples feel emotionally
close, cherished and cared for. When difficulties arise they are able to turn toward
each other for comfort and solutions. These couples are not trouble free or
argument free. And they may not be passionate or movie-like romantic, but rather,
despite the struggles of life, they are there for each other. They trust each other
with their hearts.
What are the key qualities of a safe haven marriage?
Mastering communication skills, learning do’s and don’ts or avoiding arguing does
not create a safe haven. A safe haven marriage is a way of being together. It is the
intentional journey of fostering a close bond, a connection that is sweet, safe and
meaningful. And to foster a safe haven marriage, you will both need to become a
safe haven for each other. There are 3 qualities essential in order for you to be a
safe haven for your spouse.
The 3 building blocks that our experience conducting marriage intensives has
shown to be key to fostering a safe haven marriage are: trust, emotional availability,
and responsiveness. Research has shown that these qualities are crucial to building
a healthy and lasting marriage.
The two kinds of trust that are vitally important to fostering a safe haven are
reliability and heart trust. Reliability trust is when you have the assurance that your spouse will be dependable, on time, honest and truthful. In marriage you should be
able to trust your spouse with your possessions, dreams, feelings and future. In all
that is important to them, spouses ought to be able to know that their partner will
be respectful, dependable, responsible and reliable.
There is another kind of trust that is of even greater importance to a safe haven
marriage. It is called heart trust. This means you are convinced, despite all the
fights and storms you’ve had in your marriage and no matter what may happen
between the two of you, you spouse will always care for you and value you. This is
the deepest level of trust the human heart can give or receive. This is the ultimate in
emotional security. You are able to say to your spouse, “I trust you with my heart.”
It seems many couples have lost the art of being fully present with each other.
Couples are often too busy and easily distracted. To be emotionally available for
your wife is to turn your attention toward your wife whenever she needs you. It is
to allow not only your ears, but also your heart to be there for your wife. To be
there for your husband is to give your husband your full attention and show interest
when he asks you to listen. This is difficult to do in today’s fast-paced, digitally
invaded world. Nothing can replace slowing down, lowering your phone, closing
your laptop, looking into your spouse’s eyes and giving your spouse your full
To be responsive means you respond to your spouse in an understanding, well-
mannered and considerate manner. In other words, you are nice and kind. Your
spouse feels comfortable approaching you, bringing up a topic, even if it is difficult,
knowing you will not only give your full attention, but listen and talk in a caring
manner. You will not react emotionally and harshly, but be thoughtful, respectful
and respond without judgment. You are free to share what you are feeling and
experiencing without fear of rejection, criticism, or disinterest. You both feel
understood, validated and cared about.
How do I start fostering a safe haven marriage?
While some couples can say their marriage is a safe haven with a resounding ‘yes’ or
even ‘most of the time,’ many couples cannot. Maybe your heart sank as you read
the definition of a safe haven and wondered whether you and your spouse could
ever have a safe haven relationship. Or you fear you and your spouse have too many
accumulated hurts to make such a marriage possible. Or perhaps you don’t know if
you can ever trust your spouse and risk being vulnerable so to be a safe haven for
each other. Maybe you realize you need to begin a journey of healing and becoming
a safe haven for each other in order to transform and save your marriage.
To start the journey of fostering a safe haven marriage, aim to change the quality of
the emotional connection between you and your spouse. You might need to begin by apologizing and forgiving each other for all the accumulated hurts. Show
empathy for the way you have each protected your heart when you have felt unsafe.
Work to become a safe haven for your spouse.
To be a safe haven remember the following:
Be reliable and really care for your spouse’s heart
Be fully present and emotionally engaged when talking with your spouse
Be nice and kind (even when arguing or talking about a difficult topic)
Excerpt from Sharon May, Ph.D. and Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., “Safe Haven Marriage:
Building a relationship you want to come home to.” Nashville: Thomas Nelson
Adapted from Sharon May, Ph.D. and Alan Hart, M.S., “Safe Haven Marriage