Reassuring the More Vulnerable Partner

Posted on July 13, 2020


We all go into close relationships with two basic questions: 1) Am I loveable? 2) Are you safe for me?  Humans, not being binary but somewhere on a continuum between extremes, are somewhere between a “yes” and a “no” on these questions.  If we took an internal family systems approach, we might say that there is a part of you that feels not loveable.  Or there is a part of you that feels unsafe.  How we answer these two questions is a function of 1) childhood experience; 2) experience in previous romantic relationships; and 3) experience within the current relationship.  Additionally, there could be some biological, social, or spiritual aspect of temperament that comes into play here.

When one partner needs reassurance, the other partner can sometimes receive this as an indictment of themselves.  If you question whether I love you or not, and I feel that I have made that clear throughout our relationship, I might feel 1) slighted that you would question my love after all I have done and do in this relationship, and 2) feel hopeless that I can ever be enough for you.  Alternatively, if things happen and you immediately perceive me as not a safe person for you, I might be insulted that you would experience me as such.

I would suggest that if you are the partner in the relationship who is more capable of secure attachment (that is to say that you answer a more solid “yes” to the two questions), that part of the gig you signed up for (when you vowed to agape love your mate) is to reassure your more vulnerable partner.  Accomplishing this would be much easier if your mate asked for reassurance in constructive ways.  However, the more vulnerable partner usually doesn’t say, “Boo, I am feeling vulnerable and just need some reassurance that you love me and will protect my heart.”  More frequently, this need will be expressed as protest, often accompanied by criticism.

While being criticized is really not okay (it is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse in relationships), we all need love the most when we are at our least lovely.  I am not suggesting that you are obligated to be on the receiving end of verbal abuse, but if you can respond with empathy, compassion, and understanding to your partner’s distress, you can help be the healer in the relationship.  You can still have boundaries and ask for your needs to be met in the relationship, while also giving your partner the assurance that they are loved and that you are committed to being a safe place for their heart.   The more you can respond with that reassurance, the less frequently your partner will need it.