In our marriage, we do our best not to shy away from a good fight. Resolving conflict in a healthy manner is high on our priority list. But even better than a good fight is a fight that is avoided. I’m not talking about ignoring the conflict or sweeping things under the rug. I’m talking about bridging the differences before a conflict occurs. Fighting takes a lot of energy and time, so if we can save it up for something more fun, we’d much rather do that.
According to authors and speakers Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot, 90% of conflicts can be avoided when a person is able to empathize with the other person. Part of empathy involves an understanding of the other person’s point of view and the motive behind their words and behaviour. In a marriage conference where we heard the Parrot’s speak, they explained a tool that we found quite useful in helping us toward greater empathy with each other. They called it Emotional Safety Needs.
There are four main types of emotional safety needs. These needs are driven by personal fear factors. When a need goes unmet, the fear factor kicks in and the person feels unsafe and becomes defensive. Every person has a combination of these needs, with one typically being the dominant need. When you can identify your spouse’s main need, it can help you understand what is motivating their actions and speech. When you are aware of his or her need, you can also strive to meet that need and make it less threatening for your husband or wife in everyday situations, as well as in the midst of conflict resolution.
The four personal fear factors that cause people to feel unsafe are:
Time – when you feel like time is being wasted (eg., the other person is taking forever to get to the point)
Approval – when you feel like others don’t approve of you (eg., the other person isn’t respecting you)
Loyalty – when you feel like things are unpredictable (eg., there’s too much change on short notice)
Quality – when you feel like things haven’t gone through the right process (eg., things aren’t being done in an orderly fashion)
My top need is for approval. I feel unsafe if I think you don’t like me, aren’t rooting for me or aren’t respecting me.
In our first year of marriage, there was a time Tim asked me to move the car in our apartment’s parking garage. I was in the process of getting new glasses and the ones I was wearing did not let me see very clearly. I told Tim I’d rather not move the car but he insisted that I could do it. I ended up moving the car, but I got very angry at him and actually told him I was too angry to talk to him in that moment. In retrospect, I saw that my anger surfaced because I felt threatened and unsafe. I couldn’t tell if Tim had my best interest at heart when he made the request.
Empathy, in that situation, would have meant that Tim would have seen that I had felt unsafe and vulnerable and he would have understood that I was scared. His response might have been different. If, in that moment, he had known my emotional safety need, we might have averted that fight.
Which emotional safety need (Time, Approval, Loyalty, or Quality) is your top one? Answer in the comments.