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Live Life Fully: How safe do you feel in your relationships?

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- "When relationships don't work, it's because somebody doesn't feel safe."

When I heard that statement from a counseling psychology professor, it really had an impact on me. What a simple, yet profound concept.

 That got me thinking beyond the obvious. Of course, one wouldn't feel safe in an abusive relationship -- or in an unpredictable household ruled by addictions. What about the more subtle elements, though? There are lots of factors that can affect how safe we feel in a relationship:

 n Control

 n Anger

 n Trust

 n Disrespect

 n Inability to "be who you are"  

Think about it. If you're "walking on eggshells" in any of your relationships, the relationships aren't working.

 If you're being controlled or manipulated, it's only a matter of time before resentment sets in. Although it might not manifest externally, you'd better believe it's building up inside, and that poison is toxic.

 You might want to ask yourself a few questions:

 n Are you constantly being criticized?

 n Do you feel "put down?"

 n Are you afraid to speak up?

 n Do you feel unappreciated?

 n Are you a doormat, putting everyone else's needs above yours?

 n Are you "not allowed" creative expression to be who you are?

These are just a few questions to consider. Energy ebbs and flows in relationships, and we all have bad moods and bad days. If the balance has tipped way over to one side and stays there, though, that's a whole different ball game.

 You may have your reasons for allowing some tradeoffs -- or maybe the patterns have been repeated so long you don't think there's any hope to change the dynamic. Just know this: you can't change what you don't acknowledge. If you keep on doing what you've always done, you'll keep on getting what you've always gotten.

 We teach people how to treat us. If you want to change a response mechanism, the key is to take a step -- and keep reinforcing it over and over.

 At first, the other person in the relationship is unlikely to be affected. People do what works, and that person has become used to their behavioral patterns -- and your responses. Consistency is the key. Pick one thing and do it over and over. For example, you may want to say "no" to a particular demand for a change.

Here are a couple of neutral, yet powerful, phrases to try out:

 n "That won't work for me."

 n "I don't appreciate being disrespected."

And resist the temptation to babble on and explain. This will actually water down the effect. Less is more in this case.

 Here's to feeling safe -- and to better relationships. No more eggshells!

Linda Arnold, MBA, is a certified wellness instructor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications company specializing in advertising, public relations, government relations and interactive marketing. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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