The names Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are not unfamiliar when it comes to the highly publicised acrimonious marriage and fallout. Both parties have accused each other of physical and emotional abuse, leading to a divided public opinion on identifying the victim and perpetrator in the situation. VOX reported that “This story is overwhelmingly messy and complicated”.
Reportedly, Heard had previously expressed about Depp: “I felt like this man knew me, saw me, in a way no one else had … When I was around Johnny I felt like the most beautiful person in the world.” What could have caused such a drastic shift from intense affection to overwhelming resentment? How can we safeguard our marriages from such drastic reversals?
Feeling emotionally secure in a relationship means having trust and closeness, enabling us to be ourselves without fear of judgment or rejection. Conversely, feeling unsafe in a relationship leads to fear and anxiety. To cultivate a nurturing environment for our relationship, fostering a secure space to cherish each other’s love, here are 3Cs.
A. Be Compassionate
If your best friend calls you at 2am in the morning, will you hang up because you are tired, or pick up because you have compassion for him/her? When you show compassion or kindness to your partner, you are telling your partner you care.
Showing some kindness goes a long way:
Do more than your fair share – more chores, more inconveniences, more sorrys first. Go above and beyond. Compassion is not calculative.
Do less talking – Listening isn’t preparing a response, it’s about understanding. Speaking less isn’t avoidance; it’s actively engaging in listening by reflecting and seeking clarification.
“The first duty of love is to listen”. – Paul Tillich
B. Be Calm
When we sense a threat, our instinct is to fight or flee. However, our body reacts similarly whether facing a physical threat, like a charging tiger, or a partner’s criticism—we may retaliate or withdraw. While this response is valuable in times of danger, it harms relationships when we feel threatened by our partner, impacting our sense of safety.
Even in the best relationships, hurtful words are sometimes spoken unintentionally. Rather than reacting to these perceived threats, maintaining composure allows our rational mind to handle them positively.
Let’s start by maintaining calmness:
De-stress daily – Daily stress can diminish our compassion, causing unexpected anger in response to typically non-triggering words or actions. When choosing strategies to de-stress like meditation or exercise, ensure they enhance your overall well-being across body, mind, and spirit.
De-escalate with time-out – In moments of losing our composure, rather than letting emotions take over and triggering fight/flight responses, it’s beneficial to practice de-escalation through timeouts.
The 4 Rs of time-out are:
Recognise when you are being in fight/flight mode with overwhelming negative thoughts.
Request for a time-out specifying the time you needed (at least 30 mins).
Relax during this time by doing things you like and not thinking (absolutely not thinking) of the conflicts.
Resume the conversation once both are calm enough for a safe dialogue.
C. Be Curious
Emotional connection demands deeper understanding beyond surface knowledge. Merely experiencing actions or words doesn’t reveal underlying values or beliefs, often leading to misunderstandings and conflicts when assumptions are incorrect. Fostering an emotionally safe relationship involves discovering rather than guessing at intentions. Curiosity, not judgment, nurtures intimacy.
Curiosity is the key to unlocking greater understanding:
“Tell me more” – By adopting a scientist’s mindset, we refrain from assuming and instead encourage our partner to share openly. This approach fosters appreciation rather than evaluation of our partner’s words and actions.
Embrace the unknown, giving benefit of the doubt – By adopting a judge’s stance, we presume our partner’s innocence until proven otherwise. Choosing clarification over complaints paves the way for trusting each other’s intentions.
For additional insights on nurturing relationships, I suggest exploring the following books:
Emotional Safety: Honoring Yourself While Creating Trust and Presence to Experience Meaningful Relationships by Alex Avila
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman
Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson
If you would like to speak to a counsellor, reach out to us via [email protected] or call us at 62355229. We provide free counselling for couples. Alternatively, approach CPH Online Counselling services for live web chat counselling (live chat), phone counselling (arranged through live chat) and email counselling at https://www.cphonlinecounselling.sg/hc/en-us
Written by: Timothy Thong, Counsellor, Fei Yue Community Services