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Paradox of Safety
Gary Brainerd
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The Paradox of Safety and Risk

There is a famous quote from Helen Keller, “"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all."

                             Helen Keller

I like this quote very much because it recognizes with some class that life has risks and that the ideal of complete safety and security is pretty much a myth.  And yet, I believe that in the area of intimate, committed relationships, a fascinating paradox exists: A couple must increase safety in order to deal with fear.

If you have not yet read the section on "brain physiology" (See Three Brains and a Partner) and the section on Mate Selection please do so now.  Also read the Module on Cuts and Scabs: Wounds and Protections.

This section on "the paradox of safety" will make a lot more sense to you after you have read those articles.  They will also help you to see why we recommend to couples the use of what I call "safety procedures" in dealing with virtually all conflict in relationships.

Without a clear understanding of brain physiology and the mate selection process, many of the procedures recommended in the WEB site will seem strange, overly formal and completely unnecessary.

Formal Dialog

For example we recommend that for a period of time (one to two years), whenever you are talking seriously to each other about relationship issues, you use a formal structure for communicating that divides clearly between the roles of sending and receiving (See Couple's Dialog and The Conscious Dialog Process in the Educational Module area. These links will only work inside the Workstation).  In normal conversation, the sending and receiving roles change quickly, often without awareness and sometimes happen simultaneously in the same person. 

Conflict by Appointment Only

We recommend the seemingly strange proposition that conflict be dealt with by appointment with each other, rather than by spontaneous arguments or discussions and that you both practice being "pure" senders and "pure" receivers, staying in the same role and only switching roles formally and intentionally when dealing with conflict issues.  

For example, when couples are using this approach to work on their relationship, they will act in what others would see as very strange ways.  One spouse will say to the other, "I felt upset by something you said earlier today.  I'd like to make an appointment with you to do one of the couple processes we are learning."  The other partner will agree ASAP and they will determine a time when they can talk and work --BY APPOINTMENT.  

Communication and Your Heart Rate

The reason for this admittedly strange way of relating to each other is based on our understanding of the Old Brain, its tendency to perceive emotional hurt as a survival issue and its power to take over when the level of anxiety or reactivity gets too high. 

There was a fascinating experiment where researchers hooked up couples to heart rate machines and encouraged them to deal with conflict issues.  Whenever either partner's heart rate got above 95 (and that's not very high), NO CONSTRUCTIVE COMMUNICATION OCCURRED.  We believe that is a very significant piece of research and is completely consistent with what we know about the Old Brain and the Mate Selection process.  The reason we recommend the "safety procedures" taught in this WEB site is to help "manage" the Old Brain and keep the fear factor tolerable, so that constructive growth work can happen.

Safety: A Big Deal

We make a big deal about working to create emotional and physical safety in a relationship.  We recommend 90 consecutive "Safety Days." We will teach you how to physiologically soothe each other and how to become self-soothing and we recommend creating safety through becoming sources of pleasure and fun for each other.  

The Paradox

What you will see again and again as you do the work of your relationship is that what one partner needs the most, the other will not be able to give without facing some old anxiety or concern and without developing an underdeveloped skill or ability.

Here’s the paradox.  We are encouraging you to increase the level of safety in your relationship so you can more effectively face your deepest anxieties. The main purpose for creating safety for each other is help create an atmosphere and offer understanding and support for the other to meet, face, walk into their own deepest fears -- all in the service of love and growth.  This is what makes the relationship task the greatest of all journeys.

Growth will not happen without risk-taking.  Risk-taking is more likely to occur in an atmosphere of increased safety.  And so we recommend that you use and practice the Safety Procedures recommended in the Couple’s Workstation.



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