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April 7, 2019

The A.R.E of Safe, Intimate Relationships.


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A loom is a device used for weaving that holds the threads under tension in order for them to interweave.

Whilst this structure is of uttermost importance in the weaving process, I have always been interested in the relationships of those doing the work.

Weaving dates back to ancient Egypt, when looms were worked on by one or two people, usually fathers and sons or mothers and daughters. It was a family business of creating cloth and artistic tapestry. Parents taught their children how to use thread and tension to create art; it involved time, presence, patience, attunement to each other, forgiveness for mistakes made, and responses that could adjust tension and thread to complete the task.

Looming was so much more than cloth.

What about the artwork of relationship tapestries? How can the observations of the ancient art of looming provide our modern generation with principles needed to weave our relationships with threads of safety and security? Are there gems of wisdom within the practice that allow us to create a relationship tapestry guided by a loom for genuine, loving, and heartfelt connection?

Sadly, the breakdown of relationships seems to suggest that we do not know what emotional connection is or how to create safe emotional connections.

The need for emotional connection and intimacy is an innate need and so too is the need for safe and secure connections. As psychologists suggest, as soon as there is a need there will be a behavior. We are driven to seek out emotional connections and we should never feel ashamed of that; however, we also require safety and security in those relationships in order to fully connect.

What’s the problem with that situation, you might ask? Well, we also might have had painful emotional connections that have left us, as early as childhood, unsure of how we can feel safe and loved. We also might not have been taught how to connect and how to bring our full selves into relationships. So, we create a template to avoid pain when security and safety feel uncertain.

The template (and loom) is: This is how you behave when you feel threatened or unsafe in a close emotional connection and this is what you do in order to avoid getting hurt.

We use this loom whilst seeking out emotional connection. Sadly, the loom was a survival response; the tension of the loom is either too tight or too loose or simply not there, and this usually creates more pain. What a sad state of being—we so yearn for connection, but connection only brings us pain.

So, where do we begin?

Dr. Sue Johnson in her book, Hold Me Tight, talks about the need for a secure bond. Neuroscience suggests that there is scientific evidence that the brain needs safety in order to relax its defenses. That the human need for connection can be met only when safe and secure bonds of attachment are provided.

See, the brain has a survival loom and the moment there is a sniff of danger—a lack of safety in our connections—the survival loom is activated. The moment we think we are being disrespected, controlled, judged, rejected, abandoned, threatened, and exploited, our responses will be to either run for the hills, build a wall, lash out and criticize the other who is causing our pain, or pretend to be dead. It is simply fight, flight, or freeze.

The more painful connections, especially earlier, parental ones, the more easily activated the loom will be.

Let’s be honest, there are no perfect parents, so most of us have a loom like this anyway. But when there has been repeated failure to have any form of safe connection with another human being, the more challenging this hardwired response will be. The brain will declare a state of emergency every time there is a trigger to the alarm or a perception of being hurt by the other person. The brain needs a secure connection in order for the defenses to relax.

When the defenses relax, we can learn about ourselves and our partner, and we can even learn new ways to communicate to promote safety for each other. But if there is no safety, there is no meaningful connection, and there will be more attempts to avoid pain—our partner becomes the enemy, and the conflict will intensify.

Johnson identified the A.R.E. of secure, safe connections. She sums this up in one question: Are you there for me? Isn’t that the main concern when we connect? Aren’t we all asking if that person is truly there for us? Is my partner there for me? Can I say, “We got this,” instead of, “I got this?” Can I say this regardless of how long we have been together? We ask this question in our closest and most intimate connections—be that with a close friend, parent, or romantic partner.

Because if the answer isn’t yes, then the tapestry is tangled and messy because the tension is either too tight, too loose, or simply not even there.

The A.R.E. of safe relationships is this:

1. Accessibility

Is the person predictably accessible when I reach to them emotionally or physically? No human being can be there for us 24-7; the issue here is whether more times than not, when I call for you, you consistently turn to me and see my need.

My person needs to be accessible. I do not have to leave multiple voice messages and send a barrage of texts because I cannot find you. And I trust that when I do not hear from you there is a valid reason and that you are not deliberately avoiding me.

2. Responsiveness

This means to trust that the other person is going to respond when I call. See, it isn’t only that you hear and turn to me but that you will feel for me and will provide a response that lets me know that I am not alone. I will know from your response that you are with me and that you will respond in a way that holds me together.

This doesn’t mean that you will always be able to be there or solve all my problems—but it is trusting that I am not alone as I face my problem. You will not say to me, “I am too busy for you” or that I am just “too much.”

3. Engagement

This is to know that my person will give me their full presence and attention, even for short periods of time, and to know that they are engaged with me. When people are engaged with each other in an uninterrupted way, they know that they matter.

My person will not sit on her phone whilst I’m talking to her. She will not spend copious amounts of time scrolling Facebook or messenger whilst in my presence. My person will not be too busy or appear distracted while I’m sharing my deepest feelings with them. My person will make me feel like I matter by being fully available to me in a realistic space of time. I also know that even when I am not with my person I still matter to them. Out of sight does not mean out of mind and heart.

When we go looking for close, intimate connections with other human beings, I think this is the love we are truly seeking. Our constant disillusionment with relationships leaves us hopeless that love like this does not exist. Even after decades of marriage, couples assert that they feel like strangers where they once enjoyed close connection.

We are so wounded that we end one relationship in search of a mythical mate to heal us. Maybe, before we seek love with someone or even reconnection, we can use the space of coaching or therapy to bring awareness to our own wounds and reactions. A therapist can provide a safe and secure therapeutic connection that is predictably accessible, responsive to our pain, and engaged in our growth and healing. This connection helps us relax our defenses and teaches us how to be accessible, responsive, and engaged in our close connections.

If people could be aware that this is what they need to work toward, we would not need to be so defensive in our connections with others. We would not see each other as the enemy; infidelity and hookup cultures provide an illusion of intense connection, but it isn’t sustainable nor is it always safe.

Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters knew that to create cloth and art there needed to be a cooperative relationship between them. There needed to be commitment, effort, and time—but most of all, perseverance.

In order to heal, we need to consciously decide to use a loom that is balanced, flexible, and promotes safe, secure connection so that we can truly say to the other: I am here for you.


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