couple safe

While having brunch with a good friend, the subjects of marriage and parenting came up. My friend, Kimber, said it is better to make a partner or child feel safe than make them feel comfortable. “What is the difference?” I asked.

She said, “If someone feels safe, they can be vulnerable. If we strive to only make them comfortable, they never have to be vulnerable.”

Comfort first?

In both my marriage and with my children, I had been focusing on comfort for a long time. I spent many years polishing my anticipation skills and my reliability. Not that there is anything wrong with reliability, but perhaps my goal to consistently meet the expectations of my kids was teaching them they do not have to say or do anything uncomfortable. I will anticipate their need or fear and blunt it for them.

For example, there were times in retail stores when my son did not want to ask a salesperson for help. I did it for him because I sensed his discomfort. I should have let him ask for help. It would have been uncomfortable the first few times, but then it would be easy in the long run.

As I focused on comfort, I missed opportunities to allow vulnerability.

I’ll help you so you can stay comfortable

There were times when I took on responsibilities for my kids and my partners in the name of helping them and keeping them at an emotionally comfortable level.

Taking over their responsibilities is a vote of no confidence. It is also a fine way to build up resentment. For example, I’ve taken over the trash collecting duty when my husband forgets. If he has not put out the trash cans by the time we go to bed, I do it. I assume he will not remember in the morning as he did not remember that night. I also stew with irritation when I find myself doing it again.

I know he has been busy at work so I keep his stress levels low (comfortable) by taking care of things that are his responsibility.

High expectations limit safety

On the other end of the spectrum, the high expectations in our home sometimes make us all feel unsafe to the point where we do not want to fail or show any weakness. Anything done short of perfection is called out by me or another eagle-eyed demander of order. These demanding expectations encourage not only perfection, but finger pointing and excuses if the goal is not achieved. It sometimes feels like blame and shame are our home’s second languages.

There were/are times when I did not make our home safe enough to admit mistakes or fears. The lack of safety led to lack of vulnerability, which ultimately diminishes connection between people.

Safety breeds connection

Asking for help and admitting weakness followed by assistance and empathy, creates close bonds and intimacy. More than anything, this is what I would like in our home.

Comfort does not always bring intimacy. It may make someone feel gratitude in the short term but in the long term it robs them of vulnerability and growth. Safety in situations that push someone outside of their comfort zone is a powerful gift. Safety and challenge foster courage and connection.

Do you promote safety or comfort at home? At work? Where are you keeping yourself comfortable? 

Photo via Irene Strong @ Unsplash.


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