A Safe Haven Home

Why can't you ever support me?" Sylvia yelled.

Feeling he failed again, Don defended himself, "I work hard to support this family. What more do you want?"

Sylvia snipped back, "You don't care about me or this family."

"You don't understand me!" He slammed the door behind him.

Neither parent saw Johnny's tears as he clutched his baseball in hopes of playing with Dad. Neither did they hear their 15-year-old daughter slam her bedroom door to shut out the hostility.

This is not a "safe haven" home. Don and Sylvia's conflicted relationship fails to create the secure environment their children need for healthy development.

A relationship becomes a safe haven when we know that a person will consider our perspective when making decisions and be caring and loving when he or she responds to us.

Created for relationship
God designed our relationships to be havens of safety — a harbor so secure that even through life's storms we feel safe enough to grow. We needed our parents to be a place of security when we were children, and we need our marriages to be the same.

A relationship becomes a safe haven when we know that a person will consider our perspective when making decisions and be caring and loving when he or she responds to us. Such a relationship becomes a source of strength on the journey through life.

Children need to feel emotionally connected so they can develop well. But too often parents are preoccupied with their own struggles for safety. The home becomes chaotic, and children end up feeling alone and disconnected.

Creating emotional safety
Recent research shows that marital satisfaction and longevity depends on a couple creating an emotionally safe connection. If you feel insecure when connecting to your spouse, you probably won't open your heart, nor will you find comfort in tough times. You will fight to change each other, and if you can't leave your arguments and reconnect in a healthy way, you are headed for an unhappy marriage.

A home that is not a refuge doesn't bode well for children either. This results in poor school performance, lack of resilience in stressful situations and emotional explosiveness because children tend to keep things inside.

Here are a few suggestions to create a safe haven for your spouse and your children:

1. Be emotionally available.
Spouses and children want more than money and a schedule. They want you and your complete emotional attention. Be available by caring about what they care about.

2. Respond with consideration.
Your loved ones need to know you won't emotionally overreact, but will respond in a controlled, thoughtful and considerate manner-no matter how tired, angry or frustrated you are.

Be intentional with your responses. Before reacting to the immediate situation, slow down, and state the facts: "I see your baseball stuff is at the front door, but I thought tonight was our date night." Stop to ask for more information. Be willing to consider another perspective besides your own.

3. Be trustworthy.
Trust binds hearts together. There are two kinds of trust: dependability trust and emotional trust. Dependability trust assures your children and spouse that they can rely upon you. You show up at the soccer games as you promised, and you take out the trash as you said you would.

Emotional trust assures your family that you are emotionally predictable and invested in them. Your spouse and your children have a deep sense that despite all the differences, you have their best interest at heart and you truly care for them.

Creating a safe haven home is a journey, but it will help you strengthen your marriage and your family. And it will make your relationships closer than ever before.

Taken from Focus on the Family magazine, Feb/Mar 2004.
Article copyright © 2004, Sharon Hart Morris and Archibald D. Hart.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

Sharon Hart Morris is a marriage and family therapist and the director of Marriage, Family and Relationships Institute in Pasadena, Calif.

Archibald D. Hart is a psychotherapist and professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He co-authored Safe Haven Marriage with his daughter, Sharon Hart Morris.