There’s a reason why so many books, movies, and songs are about love relationships. Relationships can satisfy a yearning for security, comfort, peace, protection, and support. How many of us have been explicitly taught how to cultivate this kind of relationship, though? Most of us tend to carry out what we have observed in childhood – that which was deemed “normal” in our families of origin. If what was “normal” was distant, cold, chaotic, or cruel, creating a relationship of safety, comfort, and care can prove to be a bit tricky.
What if I told you that you didn’t need to have a perfect childhood to create a secure relationship? Turns out, there are other ways to cultivate care without having learned it from your parents (though that can be helpful for those of us who had the luxury). No, you don’t need to come from a secure family to function securely in adulthood. What does that look like? Let’s take a look:
Secure functioning is a relational posture, a framework that is supported by both partners participating in the relationship through choices, agreements, and behaviors that reflect fairness, justice, sensitivity, protection, and collaboration. Coined by Dr. Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, Secure Functioning assumes that both partners are fully capable of co-creating the relational environment that they both want. This way, both partners can still be themselves fully and authentically while working together to help each other out in this world. Let’s explore Secure Functioning a bit further:
Fairness: In a Secure Functioning relationship, fairness means that the relational dynamic is balanced. Neither partner is doing more or less than the other. Both partners have an equal say in decision making and are willing to be influenced by each other. Fairness encourages each partner to contribute to the relationship mutually, fully respecting the other’s involvement.
Justice: Justice is an ongoing mindset, as well as the repairing of hurt when we wrong our partners. In a Secure Functioning relationship, justice encourages both partners to recognize when they are behaving at the cost of their partner or at the cost of the relationship. Both partners are held accountable to repair hurt, make amends, and do better in the future. Neither partner gets away with doing what feels better at the cost of the relationship or at the expense of their partner.
Sensitivity: Sensitivity is a continually developing awareness of who your partner is, what their needs are, and how to be caring towards them. Sensitivity encourages both partners to keep each other in mind throughout the day, as well as in speech and behavior.
Protection: In a Secure Functioning relationship, both partners protect each other in public and in private. This means you keep each other’s best interest in mind and don’t throw each other under the bus. Protection is emotional and physical – Secure Functioning partners do not do anything to hurt each other, embarrass each other, or make fun of each other, whether they are with other people or are alone.
Collaboration: Full mutuality is expected of Secure Functioning relationships. Everything is done by working together as a team. Decisions are formed in a “good for me, good for you, and good for US,” fashion, so that neither partner loses out on the deal. Collaboration includes participation in the happy times and in the hard times. Remember, both partners are creating their relational environment. Collaboration embodies the meaning of “it takes two.”
Secure Functioning couples don’t necessarily come from the most secure backgrounds. In fact, many couples co-create a more secure relational environment in rebellion of their relational histories. These relationships are decidedly protective of both partners, and the couple forms plans and agreements that both partners follow in moments of insecurity. These couples may still have disagreements, pain, or trauma, but the way that they handle these things is protective of and sensitive towards both partners. Secure Functioning couples have all connective systems on board – touch, physical closeness, eye contact, novelty, quick relief – to help them nurture an environment of care in their relationship. They do not intimidate each other; rather, they use methods of attraction (enticement, persuasion, allurement, intrigue, etc.) to be each other’s whisperers. The Secure Functioning couple respects the autonomy and independence of both partners, fully acknowledging that relationship is a conditional choice that both partners need to benefit from.
Your relationship is an investment in your health just as much as your partner’s. Make it a priority. This is absolutely necessary if you want to function securely because prioritizing anything else above the relationship already shows unfairness and injustice – you’re not putting your partner above your own desires and ambitions, or you both aren’t agreeing about what your priorities are together.
What is the glue that holds your relationship together? What are you in relationship with each other for? How does your relationship serve you both? Do you agree on a shared purpose?
What do you want your relationship to help you accomplish? Is there something that you’d like your relationship to help you achieve? What do you want your relationship to look like? Does your partner agree?
Discuss how you want to operate within your relationship, and write down short, punchy statements that you both come up with together. For example, “We protect each other at all costs,” or, “We are each other’s go-to person, no exceptions.” The beauty of this process is that every couple has its own culture, and you get to come up with principles that are unique to your relationship.
PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy) is Dr. Stan Tatkin’s method of working with couples on cultivating a Secure Functioning relationship. PACT therapists are trained in helping couples to cultivate a secure environment in their relationship no matter what their backgrounds are. PACT therapy can help you to develop sensitivity towards each other, operate fairly, repair hurt, and connect on a deeper level on your way towards Secure Functioning.
Secure Functioning is a relational stance that enables couples to care for each other in a way that has both partners feeling protected, loved, accepted, and supported at all times. This is the kind of love that folks yearn for but that is not automatic. After all, human beings are wired for survival, which means that we can behave quite harmfully in relationship, especially when threatened by each other; however, human beings are also wired for a second thing – connection. Adopting Secure Functioning in your relationship can help you to reach levels of connection that are deep, safe, and sustainable. If you want to learn more about Secure Functioning, contact a PACT therapist and schedule an appointment.