You have a big impact in creating the conditions where it feels safe for them to let down their normal reserve – the emotional armor – and connect with you at an emotional level.
Here are 5 areas where your careful attention will create more emotional safety and connection.
1. What you say and how you say it
Words have power. They can stick in the memory for a long time. Once spoken, you can’t take them back.
Similarly, not saying anything when something needs to be said or acknowledged creates a gap.
Something is missing. That missing piece can create distance in the relationship.
The challenge for most people is to find the best balance between speaking up for yourself and not being too harsh.
Judgment and harshness don’t strengthen relationships. Yet being yourself is important, and sometimes certain things need to be said.
It’s also helpful to be comfortable enough with yourself so that you’re not threatened by disagreement or disappointment. Sure, you experience emotions, possibly even highly charged ones. But you’re secure enough in yourself that while it may rock the boat it doesn’t sink the ship.
Curiosity is an asset even with people you’ve known forever. Open ended questions are valuable, though too many questions can feel intrusive. Skills for eliciting without asking a direct question – such as reflection or mirror listening and revealing something about yourself – can make this easier.
2. Body language
Is your body language open, relaxed and confident? Or are you hunched forward, closed off or looking away?
Your body language speaks louder than your actual words.
A closed body – things like crossed legs or arms over your chest – creates distance and the other person may not feel safe talking with you.
Looking away or focusing on distractions – like a mobile device or the TV – has a similar impact.
Approaching someone directly head on can feel confrontational. Sitting or approaching on an angle helps if the person is not fully comfortable with you, or you need to talk about something that may be challenging or uncomfortable.
Your body language also affects how you feel. One of my intimacy coaching clients didn’t feel very confident. Together we experimented with his body language.
When he walked more purposefully and sat in an open posture he noticed that this simple change helped him feel more confident. And, it felt more pleasant and safer to be around him that way, too.
It’s also worth noting that if you and your partner are from different cultural backgrounds there can be different assumptions about what certain postures or words and phrases mean. It’s worth talking about these differences from time to time. Knowing in our mind what something means to someone else doesn’t always translate to how we feel about it.
3. How you handle time
When I was in graduate school, I remember one professor who was endlessly busy. Much more than the other faculty.
It was hard to get an appointment with her. But when I met with her, it was as if her world stopped. She gave all her attention to the person she was with, even if it was a very short appointment. This created safety, emotional bonding and made it seem like time slowed down.
Are you too rushed or can you stop to be fully present with someone – even if you have only 2 minutes together?
If your mind is off in the future or the past even when you have an hour together, then it’s less likely the person will feel safe around you.
4. How you touch them
If you’re spending time with a date or life partner there’s a good chance you will be touching him or her.
If body language speaks clearly, how you touch says even more.
Do you remember the story of Goldilocks? She found 3 bowls of porridge in the bears’ home. One was too hot. Another was too cold. The third was just right.
Two things to pay attention to when it comes to touch are the speed and firmness of your touch.
It’s possible to move your hands too slowly, though many people make the mistake of moving their hands too quickly.
Firmness also matters. Too light and you seem tentative and uncertain. Too heavy and you may seem overbearing.
How you touch will depend on who you’re with and what you’re doing together. Practice, and if you can, ask for feedback. Try to find that “Goldilocks touch” of just enough speed and firmness, but not too much of either.
5. How you listen
What is it like for people when you listen to them? If you’re busy thinking about what you’ll say next, they’ll sense that you’re not really paying attention.
Curiosity will help you show genuine interest, even when it’s not your favorite topic.
Show you understand through reflecting back some of what you’ve heard.
This is a great way to create safety, to acknowledge them and to elicit more from the other person without it seeming like an interrogation.
How you react and interact while listening will convey caring or indifference much more loudly than you may think.
You have a big impact
Whether you pay attention to it or not, you have a big impact in creating the conditions where it feels safe for him to let down his armor.
All these areas apply whether you’re talking with a casual friend or spending private time with a life partner or sexy date.
While you can do a lot to help your partner feel safe, ultimately it’s their responsibility. As long as you are reasonable and caring, then it’s part of the other person’s self-care responsibility to learn how to feel safe and to ask for what she needs to feel safe.
If you pay attention to these 5 areas, it’s more likely that you can go to a deeper space of intimacy and connection together. The experience will also be more happily memorable.