The Safety Zone: Understanding a Woman's Need for Safety
Updated: Feb 26, 2022
Women have a deep need to feel safe and secure. When they do not feel safe, they scramble to try put up barriers for self-protection. Sometimes the feeling of being insecure is a legitimate, obvious reason, such as walking through a high crime area of town. Other times the feeling of being insecure is due to false perceptions of a situation, such as assuming her husband does not want to talk because he is angry with her.
These generalizations will not apply to all women and relationships. Our culture has changed drastically with gender roles being blurred. However, I do believe that these issues ring true for most women and apply to most marriages.
Women, by nature, are nesters. They want to have a secure place to live, the ability to provide food to their family, ad make sure that the theiric needs are met. When financial difficulties come into play, this basic need feels like it is put in jeopardy. Often times this can be a cause of major communication breakdowns in a marriage relationship. She wants to feel safe and secure, but her husband often misunderstands her heart in this matter. Her need for security can come across as selfishness, being money-hungry, or demanding. A husband will often feel inadequate to meet the financial demands of his wife or feel that her expectations are unrealistic. When a woman feels unsafe about the financial situation, she may demand control of the finances to try to make sure that needs are met for her family.
Implementing a budget can help significantly in this area. Making sure that money is available for the primary needs of the family can put her at ease. Dave Ramsey recommends spending all of your money on paper before you spend a dime. This means being intentional about where your money goes and planning ahead for emergencies. Couples will usually discover that peace and happiness are not so much about how much money they make, but about how well they steward the money available to them.
Have your heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? It is an interesting concept. The basis behind it is that people must focus on basic survival needs before they are able to focus on relational needs. When someone is in survival mode, they can be hostile. Once the basic needs are met, they have a sense of security allowing them to form relationships and help meet the needs of others. The desire for love is a basic human need, but is secondary to having food and shelter.
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The idea of an enemy lurking can be terrifying to a woman. Whether it is fear of being robbed, raped, or killed, many women have a sense of worry about their own wellbeing and for their children. Most women recognize that they could easily be outpowered by a man and want to feel a sense of control over their surroundings. A woman who has previously experienced an attack will typically be more vulnerable to fears. Wives look to their husbands to feel safe. They want to know that their husband has a plan to protect his family in case of an emergency. This can range from an armed robbery to the threat of a spider in the living room. Most women will look to their husbands to be the hero to step in and protect them from a threat.
Having a plan in place for emergency situations can help reduce anxiety for women. What is the plan if her car breaks down on the side of the road? What is the plan if someone tries to break into the home? Do you have a plan in place for natural disasters? Taking the time to talk through perceived threats and coming up with a game plan can help reduce anxiety and give her a sense of security. Perhaps a self-defense class is necessary. If she feels vulnerable it may help to have pepper spray or a stun gun to feel safe. The big issue is having open communication in your relationship about expectations and understanding what she needs to feel safe. Some women struggle deeply with feeling unsafe while others feel very little threat.
The primary issue behind emotional security is trust in the relationship. Can she trust telling her husband how she feels without it being used against her or ignored? Will he understand her intentions? Will he respond lovingly? If the answer is no, she will build an emotional wall for self-protection. Her experience growing up will influence her ability to trust, to communicate, and have healthy perceptions. Insecurities from childhood can have a significant impact on the marriage but can be addressed and overcome with some work.
Healthy communication skills can help wives feel safe, heard, and understood. Active listening is a good way to reflect what has been said to help the other person feel understood and it shows empathy. Learning to use I statements reduces blaming and communicates responsibility for your own emotions rather than putting the responsibility on your spouse. When your spouse is communicating a difficulty, it helps to listen and ask questions rather than offer advice. When they are done processing the situation, you can ask if they want ideas, but focus on listening to understand rather than trying to fix it. It is also helpful to have healthy coping skills to stay calm. Defensiveness will lead to arguments, which can quickly spiral out of control. If you feel angry and defensive, it is best to ask for a few minutes to yourself to calm down. You can resume the conversation when the anger has subsided.
A wife wants to know that she is the only woman for her husband. Sometimes her fears of being cheated on come from past experience, insecurity about herself, or they are based on a real threat. A husband can’t change his wife’s self-talk and self-image, but he can encourage and support her. He can be deliberate about telling her why he loves her, the beauty he sees in her, and giving her physical affection. Oxytocin is released through physical touch and it is the chemical component leading to attachment. It is a necessary aspect of healthy relationships. A sexual relationship is vital to maintaining a healthy marriage. Men tend to crave sex the longer they go without it, however, women tend to lose interest the longer they go without it. Marriages with the highest satisfaction report having sex 2-3 times a week.
Husbands can help their wives feel safe by being transparent. Secretive behavior usually leads to her assuming the worse possible scenario. Sharing passwords to social media, having access to one another’s phones, and having open communication of daily activities can reduce suspicion. Offering information about who you are out with, what the activities entailed, and where you were can also reduce anxieties. The third degree is generally not necessary when trust is established and information freely flows.
Pornography is a sneaky enemy to intimacy that impacts a huge percentage of marriages. It leads to a reduction in sexual satisfaction and makes the wife feel insecure in most situations. She feels compared to the unrealistic images and feels that someone else has invaded her bedroom. When her husband gets gratification from other images, it also makes her feel unneeded. Also, if there is a history of adultery, healing is necessary to re-establish trust and intimacy. When a woman is unable to trust a man emotionally, it is usually very difficult to become intimate. I would highly recommend seeking counseling if these issues are a concern in your relationship. There are many support groups available to help with these difficult situations.
Commitment to the relationship is the cornerstone of marriage. Without it, the marriage is not likely to withstand the test of time. Every marriage has ups and downs, times of refreshing and deep emotion, and times of emotional drought. There will be times in your marriage that you just do not feel it. This is where commitment comes into play. It is easy to stay committed when you feel passionate love for your spouse. It is much harder when those feelings taper off. When the feelings start to subside, people (both male and female) panic and wonder if their relationship will ever be meaningful again. The temptation to find greener grass is real. Without a commitment to the relationship, many walk at this point. Marriage is a roller coaster of emotion. Sometimes you are on an upturn when everything is falling into place and the passion is satisfying. Other times you feel like you are in a free fall. Conflict, responsibilities, age, and many other issues can get in the way of intimacy. The good news is that if you can hang on for the ride, there will be another upturn. In marriage, you must work for it, but it will happen if you and your spouse are committed to making your marriage work. Just as there are seasons in the year, some more satisfying than others, you will have seasons in your relationship. Hold on! Don’t let go.
When a woman believes that her husband is not in the relationship for the long haul, she will sense a threat and try to prepare for calamity. Emotional walls will go up and she will feel fragile. I often see couples plotting, trying to gain control in the relationship, and preparing for a possible divorce when they feel that their spouse is not fully committed to the relationship. Their sense of security has been stripped away and they enter survival mode.
Again, this sense of threat to security can come through false perceptions of a situation. For instance, if an argument takes place and the husband says, “I need to leave to get some space,” and walks out the front door, his wife might perceive it to mean that he is wanting to leave the relationship. He simply was saying that he is angry at the moment and wants to take a drive for a while to calm down and think things through. If the wife has abandonment problems from past relationships, she may be more sensitive to these remarks. A woman needs to make sure that she is thinking the best of her husband and asking questions to avoid making false assumptions. For the husband, avoiding threats can improve her sense of security. In the heat of an argument he may say that their relationship may be doomed, threaten divorce, or threaten to withdraw in some way. This will increase her anxiety about the relationship. Another way to increase her sense of security is to tell her of his commitment to the relationship. Discussing desire to grow old together, reassurance that he is not going anywhere, and discussing her fears can help her feel safe.
From a Christian perspective, the husband is called to be the head of the household. This means that he will lead his family and be accountable for them. This involves establishing healthy habits or prayer, bible reading, and proper living for the family. He will set the example for how he wants his family to behave and will provide consequences for his children when they make poor choices. He will make sure the family is in a relationship with other believers.
When a wife can count on her husband to pray for her, to give good counsel, and to consider the long-term effects of his decisions, she will feel secure and at ease. When his actions are contrary to his faith, it will make her feel a sense of threat. Support and accountability from a church family can be very beneficial in maintaining a healthy spiritual life.
Obviously, this aspect of security is very important to some families and a moot point in others. The issue is to consider all aspects of security and make a plan to address them. You may find that the wife feels very strongly about one aspect of security and other issues are not as important. Whereas another couple will struggle with different issues. Being able to openly communicate about what the needs are will help you to be sensitive to the needs and respond accordingly. As a therapist, I have found that it is often a misunderstanding of the need that causes conflict in marriages. When you understand why the need is there, it is easier to respond to it. If the husband believes his wife is being selfish or demanding he is less likely to be responsive. However, if he understands the heart cry of his wife and her need for security, it is easier to accommodate those needs.