Safe Love / by Michelle Cowan

Where does love meet self-preservation? When does a relationship become too much for me? How do I balance my desire to help another with my own needs?

Some call it loving with limits. But for a romantic like me, who prefers a limitless view of love, it’s easier for me to call it loving safely.

Thinking about true love as a safe love helps me to not put up too-thick barriers of self-protection. I don’t have to be in defense mode all the time, on guard against all the people that could potentially hurt me. Relationships are complicated and difficult. I’m going to get hurt occasionally. I don’t want to hang myself up on that reality and block myself off from deep connection in an attempt to ward off pain.

Instead of living a mistrustful life and avoiding any potential complications, I can enter into relationships with open eyes and make decisions based on the safety of everyone involved. If I start realizing that I don’t have the internal or external resources to deal with the issues someone else brings into my life, I need to back off and/or tell the other person that it has become too much for me. I have to be even more in touch with myself than with the other person.

When I think about my relationship choices in terms of safety, backing off, breaking up, or having difficult conversations seem like less hurtful actions. I’m not blaming; I’m not running scared. I’m not being inconsiderate or self centered. I’m doing what’s best for everyone involved. I’m trying to love in the best way I know how, and that could take the form of limiting the amount or nature of contact I have with someone.

A relationship is never worth spiraling myself into peril. Facing fears is different than putting myself in danger, and communication is often the key to deciphering which category a particular situation falls into. I can acknowledge my fears or doubts and even discuss them with the other person most of the time before making any rash decisions. If I think that things we are doing or habits we have with each other are putting one or both of us in potential jeopardy, I can say so. I don’t have to keep my mouth shut to preserve positive feelings.

When I have engaged people I care about in these difficult kinds of conversations, one or both of the following usually occurs: 1) the relationship grows more intimate; or 2) I learn something meaningful about myself and humanity. Number two is a guaranteed result, as long as I’m paying attention. Number one is a bonus. Other relationships have to end or change in significant ways.

For today, I am listening to my friends’ problems, hearing their joys, and staying involved as much as I can. But I am also honoring my need for rest, for introspective time alone, and for safe distance from potentially harmful behavior. My goal is safety, my shield is awareness, and my sword is honesty. May I fight the honorable and loving fight.