HarSafe 08-04-57  

Safe Haven Marriage

Building a Relationship You Want to Come Home To  


Archibald Hart and Sharon Hart Morris

W Publishing Group, (Thomas Nelson), 2003, 200 pp.,

ISBN  0-8499-1777-8



This father-daughter team helps us discover how to heal and emotionally reconnect in marriage.  The father is a professor of psychology and Dean Emeritus of Fuller Graduate School of Psychology.  The daughter is co-founder and Director of the Marriage, Family, and Relationship Institute at La Vie Counseling Center in Pasadena. 


The book is written primarily to those who long to be emotionally connected with their spouse.  It examines relationships through the lens of attachment theory.  They call their method of marital therapy emotionally focused therapy. 


The book outlines three key aspects of a safe haven marriage, provides a description of a counseling tool called attachment theory, outlines destructive interactional patterns, and shows how to heal the broken bonds. I found it full of very practical insights. (10-11)


Definition.  Safe haven.  "A trustworthy person to whom you can turn, knowing that person will be emotionally available and will respond to you in a caring manner." (1)


"You see, behind all the fighting, yelling, crying, and withdrawing, counselors nearly always find two struggling human beings with broken hearts longing to be understood, accepted, and loved just for who they are." (7)


"We define distressed marriages as those where spouses are no longer emotionally connected in a secure and loving way." (9)


John Gottman's research found that the number one predictor for divorce is not fighting, nor the content of arguments, but emotional disconnection. (16)


By recognizing the places you are vulnerable because of past hurts, you become aware of them when they are touched.  Then you can remind yourself the pain is not due to what happened now but what happened a long time ago.  It helps you make sense of your emotions. (18)


The piling up of constant irritations, frequent criticism, daily slights, insensitive remarks, irritating acts, can "wear away the cartilage of your heart, so that every time it beats it hurts."  (19) 


However, the problem in many marriages is not the accumulation of small incidents but the result of specific events that produced a profound awareness that "your partner just wasn't there for you when you really needed him." (21)


"The more differences there are between your family background and lifestyle preferences and those of your spouse, the more likely you are to disagree and have conflict." (24)


"Imagine taking the very essence of your being--your heart--and placing it in the hands of your spouse.  Your heart becomes your mate's to care for, safeguard, cherish, and love.  This necessitates a willingness to be vulnerable and take a bold, risky step." (28)  It's a giant step of faith.


"The building blocks…essential to a safe haven marriage are trust, emotional availability, and sensitive responsiveness." (29)


Attachment theory rests to some degree on the discovery that "the emotional health and well-being of a child was greatly affected by the mother's emotional accessibility and availability, and by whether the mother responded to her child with care and concern." (29)


Reliability Trust.  "When you have reliability trust, you have the assurance that your spouse will be dependable, on time, honest, and truthful." (30)


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, that your spouse will always care for you and value you."  Your spouse is genuinely interested in your welfare.  (32)


Emotional Availability.  You turn your attention to your wife whenever she needs you, your ears, your mind, and your heart--your full attention and interest. (34)


Sensitive Responsiveness.  You can receive your spouse's innermost thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires readily and without judgment.  You respond with understanding. (37)


"If couples are willing to take a few first steps toward open and honest clarification, the restoration of a lost emotional connection becomes easier.  In short: Find out what's wrong.  Don’t be afraid to ask.  Get more information about why your spouse is mad or withdrawn, and make it an opportunity to exchange perspectives and to consider your spouse's concerns.  Then provide comfort or even offer constructive ways to do things differently." (41)


Chapter 4.  What Connects Your Hearts?

"We literally attach ourselves to significant people like some sort of emotional Velcro.  Our hearts and lives intricately connect to those we deeply care for." (49)


"Relationships and their implications affect the chemical processes in our brains that regulate our emotions…." (52)


"The emotional tie that connects two people in a significant relationship is called an 'attachment bond.'"  "When we sense that our spouse is not there for us or that our connection with our spouse is threatened, we make attempts to restore the connection." (52)


"If your experiences with your parents and earlier relationships confirmed that people are accessible and that you can reach them with ease, you will use tactics such as asking, sharing your thoughts, crying, expressing sadness, talking, and otherwise communicating.  But if you feel that despite your efforts, no one will respond to you with care and concern, you may feel like screaming.  Or you may begin to shut down the desire for comfort from others.  You begin to feel that being independent is actually strength.  These attachment behaviors are often automatic responses, done without thinking." (55)


"Fears of being abandoned or found unlovable are fundamental human fears.  They are so basic and so profound that they can trigger very severe reactions in our nervous systems." (56)


"Childhood relationships serve as a lens that colors the way we see others when we grow up.  And we bring this into our marriage relationship.  Children learn early on whether or not their parents will be there when they reach for them.  The responses of their parents communicate to them how lovable they are, how lovable others are, and how safe the world is." (59)


"Conflict is often a way you and your spouse discover the truth about each other and come to terms with your differences.  But once you work through the conflicts and difficulties, what lies ahead can literally become a heaven on earth…." (61)


"…as we pass through emotional challenges, we ask ourselves two questions.  First, we ask, 'Am I lovable? Am I the type of person others can enjoy and love?'  Next we ask, 'Is this other person willing and able to love me?  Is he the sort of person who will love me?  Will she be accessible, caring, and willing to be there for me when I reach for her?'" (62)


There are four possible responses:

£     "I am lovable, and others are lovable and able to love me.

£     I am lovable, but others are not willing or able to love me.

£     Others are willing and able to love me, but they don't because I am not a lovable person.

£     I am not lovable, and others are neither willing nor able to love me." (63)


"We bring into our marriages our internal working models, our ways of being in relationship.  And we have preconceived ideas and expectations as to how our spouse will respond to them." (64)  "Over the course of your life, these internal working models are revised and changed according to your experiences with those closest to you." (65)


"Your attachment system is a marvelous mix of emotions, behaviors, and beliefs, all programmed into your brain to help you stay in relationship with those you have bonded with.  In marriage, this attachment system is natural and purposefully designed to keep husband and wife emotionally and physically connected."  "Whenever your attachment to your spouse is threatened, attachment behaviors are triggered in an attempt to get the attention of your spouse, in order to recover your emotional and physical connection." (65)


"The attachment emotional and behavioral system is triggered when you feel that your attachment bond is being threatened.  You sense that your spouse is not close, emotionally available, or responsive." (69)


The four attachment styles are described below. (70-71)


1.  Secure.  Connected with certainty. Comfortable with closeness.  Doesn't fear abandonment.  Views self as lovable. 


2.  Anxious.  Connected with uncertainty.  Preoccupied with relationships.  Desires closeness and worries about its absence.  Feels insecure and not always lovable. 


3.  Avoidant.  Connected carefully, uncomfortable with closeness.  Self-sufficient, doesn't fear abandonment.  Feels worthy of love.  Avoids certain emotions that will trigger the attachment system.


4.  Fearful.  Connected cautiously.  Fearful of closeness.  Anxious about being abandoned.  Fear they are not worthy of love.  Emotions are scary and overwhelming. 


"Over time securely attached people become instilled with a sense of value and self-worth." (74)  "Secure couples quickly get back on track after fights." (76) 


"Anxious couples have learned from early childhood that their connection with their parents may be lost, so they do all they can to stay as close as possible.  They became people-pleasers, performers, caretakers, silent observes, and even angry pursuers, all in hopes of avoiding being unloved." (77) "When anxious people marry, they experience their spouse's love as unreliable and unpredictable."  "Deep down they doubt their worthiness."  "They often overreact.  They accuse, criticize, blame, punish…" (78, 79)


Avoidants hold a negative and often cynical view of others. (79)  They distrust others and so limit their dependence eon them.  They tend to stay detached and unemotional.  (80)


Fearfuls desire closeness but are afraid of it.  Being close means getting hurt.  It is a source of both comfort and pain.  Therefore they often display contradictory behaviors, demanding attention (pursuing) and then pulling away.  (82)


The reflection questions provide a simple test to assess your attachment style.  See pp. 86-87.


"The way couples exchange differences of opinion or argue is a form of dance.  They dance around in an attempt to be acknowledged.  Counselors call this an interactional pattern.  It is the dance inside the emotional fight."  "Husbands and wives are intricately connected in a pattern of interaction that becomes habitual over the course of a marriage--it is deeply entrenched." (92)


"It is often the case that arguments start when one spouse is hurt because he feels unseen, misunderstood, and devalued." (93)


Four events that make a spouse feel their partner was not there for them: criticism, unfair requests, cumulative aggravations, and rejection. (94) 


"We all react in our emotional lives in much the same way we react to danger in our everyday lives.  Our options are to fight, flee, freeze, or tend and care." (97)


The healthiest way to approach your spouse, which may sound difficult, is with secure confidence and assurance that when you begin to talk…both of you will be heard, understood, and valued.  (97)


The attitudes of criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling will destroy a marriage.  Criticism attacks the character of your partner.  Criticisms are broad, generalized complaints in attack mode.  "Why don't you ever help me with…?"  Contempt attacks one's sense of self-respect. "You idiot!"  Defensiveness escalates the conflict by blaming the other person.  Stonewalling simply stops responding, puts up an invisible wall and becomes indifferent.  (98-101)


Chapter 7.  Dealing with Marital Emotions.


Emotions serve several purposes.  They tell us we have a need.  They direct our thoughts and give meaning to our thoughts.  They prompt us to respond and inspire responses from others.  (115-16) 


Emotions fall in two categories.  Primary emotions are the healthy, core feelings we have.  "Secondary emotions are reactions and attempt to manage our primary emotions.  They occur when we feel overwhelmed or aren't quite sure what we're really feeling is safe."  "When we habitually rely on secondary emotions, we lose touch with our primary feelings and don't know how to express them.  Secondary emotions are usually anger…, frustration, anxiety, resentment, and guilt.  We express them by:

£     Being critical and blaming

£     Justifying an defending ourselves

£     Masking what we usually feel through addictions, workaholism, busyness, or distracting activities such as television and computer games

£     Stuffing feelings and numbing ourselves to certain emotions"  (118)


"It is as though you get your emotional wires crossed."  "It often ends up like this:

'I'm hurt but I won't tell you--instead I'll pull away and maybe even explode.' Or,

'I am embarrassed and feel self-conscious, so I'll get angry and criticize you.' Or,

'I feel afraid that you might leave if you know how I really feel, so I'll push you away." (118)


A negative, rigid cycle that destroys emotional connectedness is set in motion.  


"…we often avoid certain emotions because we imagine that they indicate some kind of weakness.  Other times we fear that if we express a primary emotion, we will lose control." (123)


"The question is, How can we learn to share our emotions and longings in ways that our spouse can respond to warmly and receptively?"  It means not focusing on the hard, crunchy exterior but on the heartfelt, softer core inside. (124)


"Attachment isn't just about relationships; it is also about learning how to regulate our emotions."  (127)  "…we need to work with our spouse so we are both able to access and acknowledge our primary emotions, and to express them in healthy and adaptive ways." (128)


"When each partner is able to access what the other is feeling and needing, a deeper and more complete understanding of each other's genuine longings and needs emerges, along with the capacity to respond to these needs.  This is called expanding your emotional base." (128) 


Some steps: (129-134)

£     "Acknowledge differing emotional temperatures." 

£     "Respect the way your spouse feels and expresses emotions."

£     "Search for your primary emotions."  What were you actually feeling?

£     "Focus on feelings rather than details."  Talk through why it seemed to make sense for you to defend yourself or to criticize your wife.

£     "Express your feelings."

£     "Use self-control when expressing emotions."

£     "Don't let your spouse's emotions overwhelm you."

£     Listen!  Give your spouse your full attention.  Look beyond her words and try to discover the emotions that lie behind them.


"When you realize you are defending yourself instead of listening and understanding, stop, and start over." (135)


"Offer a solution only when your spouse asks for one." (135)


Chapter 8.  Emotionally Reconnecting

"The key to emotionally connecting during and after disagreements is for both spouses to be aware of their emotions, to communicate about them, and to manage them." (142)


"There are three key aspects of changing your interactional pattern, reconnecting your hearts, and fostering a safe haven.  First, you need to gain an understanding of the ways you argue, discuss, interact, and react to hurts in your marriage.  Second, the withdrawer will need to go through a process in order to reemerge and emotionally reconnect.  Third, the pursuer will go through a similar process to soften her approach and emotionally reconnect." (143)


Chapter 9.  Healing Hurts of the Heart

"Some hurts just don't go away.  In some marriages, they keep resurfacing over and over again…."  "These healing-resistant, wounding events become like land mines."  "When touched, they explode." (161)  "Unresolved hurts like this, which build up a wall between spouses, are called 'attachment wounds.'" (162)  "An attachment bond is an emotional connection you make to a specific, irreplaceable person." "If you are married, marriage becomes your most treasured relationship." "Attachment injuries disrupt the precious bond that connects you and your spouse." (163)  "A host of doubts and a deep sense of insecurity arise.  You begin to reevaluate your sense of self-worth…."  "One specific incident…becomes a 'symbolic marker' of the relationship's insecure bond." (164) 


"Offenses become damaging when a spouse is vulnerable, when comfort from their partner is essential…."  They feel a sense of "being abandoned and left to care for themselves in life-and-death terms…."  "The wounder's inability to understand the injury results in failed attempts at reconnection, and the couple remains emotionally apart."  "Failed attempts to restore the bond continue to confirm that the offending partner is unpredictable and unsafe.  The hurt partner cannot or will not let go of the injury…." (166) 


A series of steps toward healing are suggested. (170 ff.)


"Couples can weather many difficulties."  "But when one partner takes sex outside the relationship [through pornography or adultery], that bond is broken." (176)




* * * * *

Your comments and book recommendations are welcome.

To discontinue receiving book notes, hit Reply and put Discontinue in the text.